"Formation" by Beyoncé
The glory of Beyoncé’s newest single is in its moments of sheer blackness. When she talks about her love for hot sauce, “Jackson 5 nostrils,” and post-coital trips to Red Lobster, there is the feeling that Beyoncé has written a song specifically for black ears, finally. But because she is Beyoncé, she can also demand, on the largest stage in America, that the whole nation bear witness to her pride and her heritage. That’s what she did on Sunday. (February 7, 2016 Super Bowl Half Time Show) “Formation” is a late entry into the dialogue about black lives, and it largely sidesteps the politics. Still it feels essential. After grief comes anger, and after anger comes action — and here comes a literal rallying cry from the queen of empowerment anthems. The release of its music video this weekend sent shockwaves of glee through social media.
Beyoncé is certainly not the first celebrity to cause a stir by inserting race into her art, but there's a reason why her recent actions are resonating.
Quite simply, she is one of those stars of color who -- until now -- has been beyond race for the mainstream audience. That was the basis of a recent Saturday Night Live" skit that portrayed white fans freaking out about her "blackness," as conveyed by her new "Formation" music video and a Super Bowl halftime performance in which her backup dancers dressed in Black Panther-esque outfits.
The halftime show has prompted a number of discussions both pro- and anti-Beyoncé. Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan backed the superstar during a sermon Sunday. Fans rallied around the singer on social media, and a protest at National Football League headquarters in New York ended up drawing only Beyoncé supporters.
However, police have argued that the imagery in the music video is anti-law enforcement, and her apparent tribute to the Black Panthers fell just as flat, given that group's history of tensions with authorities. Departments across the country have been discussing symbolic stands against the singer, whose video also featured imagery closely aligned with the #BlackLivesMatters movement. One scene in the "Formation" video features a young African-American boy in a hoodie dancing in front of a line of police officers wearing riot gear; then, the words "Stop Shooting Us" appear in graffiti on a wall.
New York’s former mayor is not pleased with the Queen B.
Rudy Giuliani, a onetime Republican presidential contender, has rebuked Beyoncé for what he described as an “attack” on police officers during her Super Bowl halftime show performance.
"This is football, not Hollywood, and I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive," he said during a morning appearance on Fox News Channel.
"And what we should be doing in the African American community, and all communities, is build up respect for police officers. And focus on the fact that when something does go wrong, okay. We’ll work on that. But the vast majority of police officers risk their lives to keep us safe."
We caught up with stylist Marni Senofonte who styled Beyoncé for her performance with Coldplay and Bruno Mars. Senofonte has worked with Bey on several projects. Here, she talks Beyoncé's Super Bowl wardrobe, the nod to Black history and paying homage to Michael Jackson.
Q:Beyoncé’s jacket and harness reminded us of another Super Bowl performer.
A:That’s right. When Michael Jackson performed at SuperBowl on January 31, 1993, he wore a jacket and harness. Beyoncé wanted to pay homage to Michael. She has always said he is her biggest music influence and Michael’s halftime performance marked a change in global interest for the halftime show.
Q:There fashion seems to make a social statement as well. What was the message Beyoncé wanted to get across in your discussions on styling?
A:It was important to her to honor the beauty of strong Black women and celebrate the unity that fuels their power. One of the best examples of that is the image of the female Black Panther. The women of the Black Panther Party created a sisterhood and worked right alongside their men fighting police brutality and creating community social programs. That they started here in the Bay Area, where the SuperBowl is being held this year, was not lost on her. And they made a fashion statement with natural afros, black leather jackets and black pant suits. That image of women in leadership roles; believing they are a vital part of the struggle is undeniably provocative and served as reference and reality.
The video for “Formation” is set in post-Katrina New Orleans, where the flooding erased entire neighborhoods of the black middle class. Where the public education system was so bad that, after the storm, it was more or less gutted and replaced with a system of charter schools.
Beyoncé, who grew up in a two-parent middle-class family in Texas, is one of the bright exceptions. She succeeded despite the forces that could drag her down. But what about the many others who weren't so lucky, whose efforts never met their just reward?
On “Formation,” Beyoncé sings as if hard work leads directly to success. For black America, there is at best a vague correlation.
“I dream it, I work hard, I grind 'til I own it,” she says. “Get what's mine (take what's mine), I'm a star (I'm a star).”
But when she says things like “always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper,” you have to wonder about Beyoncé’s own politics. The Black Panthers were not gracious. They saw barriers to economic advancement, and sought, sometimes violently, to break them down. This approach contrasts sharply with the philosophy implied in “Formation.”
Beyoncé is a titan of capitalism, her own special economic zone. When "Formation" dropped, her online store was already stocked with merchandise sporting the song's catchphrases. A sweatshirt that says "I twirl on them haters"? $60. A baseball cap that says "hot sauce"? $36.
Which leads to this cynical reading of “Formation”: Beyoncé waited until black politics was so undeniably commercial that she could make a market out of it. This was a genius thing to do. It's part of why the song is so glorious. Her talent for business is one reason she "slays."