Since Beyonce performed her new single “Formation” in her superbowl halftime performance, there has been a wave of discussion surrounding both her performance and the video. And, of course, in typical right wing extremist fashion Fox news chagrined the performance with Rudy Guiliani accusing Beyonce of not providing a “wholesome” performance. Simultaneously the Black Lives Matter movement has embraced her as a spokesperson for their message. Having watched the superbowl performance as well as the video and read the lyrics, I am left more fascinated and bewildered by the entire phenomenon.
The lyrics of the song, if written first causes a vast divide from the powerful images of the video. In truth there are only a couple of allusions to Black power or militancy. This leads me to believe that the at the penning of the song Black empowerment was not the intent. However, the visual that the video provides is so artistic, powerful and provocative and even in its tasteful artistic angle, the allusions are fairly clear and they do inspire some message about the Black experience and empowerment. I performed a small experiment wherein I watched the video on mute and then with the sound on to compare the impressions that were made upon me. When I watched the video with the sound on I was mostly confused and conflicted. Between the images that I was seeing and the lyrics that were being sung over them I wasn’t sure what to feel. On mute the images affected me differently. I felt like I could clearly see a theme being shared. But as a complete offering I am still uncertain about the message being sent.
While the right wing wants to portray that the video and the performance are somehow some politically incorrect anti-American display and the Black “militancy” (I use that word sooo loosely) wants to portray that Beyonce has suddenly awakened and claimed her “agency” in an attempt to create a revolutionary “platform,” I see something totally different from both interpretations.
I see a couple of possibilities in the Formation phenomenon. Knowing that Beyonce has not historically been “political” or “revolutionary” or “feminist” or “conscious”. What I do see is what Beyonce is known for in much of her lyrical offerings: self empowerment. Perhaps that is because she links Black empowerment with self empowerment from the sheer fact that she, herself, is Black so empowerment of herself also says to her Black empowerment. Or it is possible that the song was written and the director’s vision for the video was a little more political and she agreed. Or perhaps Beyonce chose those images because given the current political climate in Black America it would be extremely provocative and garner publicity.
I am more likely to believe that the true intention behind it is somewhere in the gray area in the middle of all of the above thoughts. I truly think that the video was intended to be reflective of the Black experience and our distinct culture as Black Americans past and present. When I look at the images of the video and the allusions of her performance that is what I can most clearly see.
The issue is that in general in America when we begin to speak about the Black people’s past in this country – with all of its horrors and tragedies – we suddenly see that as some political message or some ‘statement.’ And every time some message of Black empowerment is even suspected of being made, mainstream America gets its feathers ruffled and begins to decry reverse racism or denounce the message as inappropriate. And the Black community sees these messages as “political” or “revoutionary,” which in most cases is an overstatement. So while I can appreciate Beyonce’s choices in regards to her video and performance and I do believe it had to be a conscious decision as she must have known that it would cause controversy but I can’t go as far to say it was revolutionary or even political. It is, however, indicative and representative of the beautiful thing that is happening in the Black community at this time.
What America must understand is that what they are seeing is the redefining of what it means to be Black in America and what makes them uncomfortable is that it isn’t them controlling the narrative. We, as Black people, are defining themselves and finding a true sense of pride in who we are – including our past. That is what I see in Beyonce’s choices in her performance as with a number of other artists who are now becoming “political.” It’s not political at all. It’s a very clear indication that Black people are making themselves whole without apology. America; deal with it.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man