My consistent criticism of popular culture is its often indifference to contemporary conflict. Admittedly Hollywood offers starlets, singers and others of the same sort a view from the top that all too frequently distances them from reality. Reality, well specifically speaking- black reality observes a prominent presence in Superstar Beyonce’s latest video Formation. While the majority of Beyonce’s career has been of feminist motive, empowering women in gold sequenced attire-Queen Bey takes on a seemingly activist stance–embodying a formation that counters her previous “safe” positioning.
The video- set in modern New Orleans, features Beyonce in a number of striking poses in ensembles ranging from victorian to contemporary athletic. The lyrics are raunchy. Her attire-couture. Blue Ivy-precious. While Beyonce’s proclamation of “Creole” heritage may be attributed to an attempt to dilute her blackness, and her shameless rendering of the “f” word attributed to an attempt to appear more “urban” than uppity- Formation embodies the extreme and exists to shock. However, the most shocking of what is obviously an attempt to launch a new initiative exists in the singers diverse attempt to encompass conflicts central to blackness– from lyrics to backdrop.
I. Central Issue: Hair
“I like my baby hair with baby hair and Afro.”
Since her birth, Blue Ivy has been the source of extensive criticism for her hair. Up until this video, Beyonce maintained a relatively quiet stance. This statement, accompanied by a cute cameo by Blue Ivy, makes a strong statement about black hair in it’s natural state; suggesting that underneath the blonde hair society has come to associate with Beyonce, lies love for her “nappy” roots. Since hair has always been a source of humiliation and exploitation for black women, featuring Blue in her natural state is empowering not only the innocence of childhood but the innocence of black childhood-free from western influence and standards of beauty. It is also worth mentioning that the video generally omits the straight-haired aesthetics, as Beyonce and all black dancers don inauthentic hair (and colors) but of ethnic texture. This is of course not a feat, but overtly asserts a more cultured initiative that the typical long, straight weaves that have intertwined with contemporary black femininity.
II. Central Issue: Negro Nose
“I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils”
While the late great Michael Jackson endured a public struggle with his black aesthetics, this is a conflict all persons of the black diaspora face to various extents. Thus, to assert love for the source of the Sphinx’s shattered nose whose genetics and insecurity descended down to contemporary Africans in America and beyond– is nothing short of empowering.
III. Central Issue: Police Brutality
Formation also features a hooded black child breakdancing in front of a gang of shielded police officers. With the increasing number of contemporary lynchings carried out by the police, its acknowledgement by A-list stars has gone largely under discussed. Bey breaks this silence as the dancing, hooded child- faceless in a sea of blue, seemingly signifies the unbreakable black spirit that no bullet or coward with a badge can sever.
IV. Eff the Police
Perhaps the most resounding image of the video is the footage of Beyonce on a sinking police car. Immediately, I thought of 2005s act of racial genocide, known to most as Hurricane Katrina. It then occurred to me that much of the video appears to take place in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The French Quarter went largely unscathed during Katrina due to its high levees absent from communities containing the darker- hued and less wealthy. While Beyonce’s placement on the wrong side of the levees implies a placement on the wrong side of history, the drowning cop car counters this misalignment in silently proclaiming ” F*ck the police.” This assertion encompasses the shared 90s frustration and tenacity of NWA, rendering a deserving epithet to a force of white supremacy designed to distress, destroy and divide the black community.
Transformation through Formation?
Beyonce resurrects from her two year hiatus as a negro (or creole) with an attitude in her own right. While Formation isn’t exactly angry, it encompasses the anger of a generation fed up with consistent injustice. Now, I am in now way asserting Beyonce as a contemporary Assata Shakur. However, I do commend Beyonce for using the power of her platform to voice the concerns of those who supported her in her rise to fame- black people.
Popular culture, from the Superbowl to the Oscars works to distract blacks (and society) from the sole month dedicated to the richness of black legacy. Thus, I can’t think of a better way for a black pop star to commemorate black history month that to redirect societal attention back to black.
Cheers to Beyonce for assuming a “formation” that aligns her where she belongs- with her people.