On February 6, the day before Super Bowl 50, Beyoncé released a new music video, “Formation.” (Warning: Lyrics contain profanity). The song is bold, yet powerful, which distinguishes the well-known pop star from other artists in her field. There’s no doubt Beyoncé is becoming more and more involved with political activism, whether it has been her support for President Obama or songs such as “Flawless,” which have served as inspiration to feminists across the world.
“Formation” is yet another display of Beyoncé’s growing role as not only a pop icon, but also as a political activist. Released in the heart of Black History Month, the song serves as an anthem for black pride. In the beginning of the video, Beyoncé rests on top of the hood of a New Orleans police car in the middle of a flooded street, which serves as a visual reference to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The video’s setting of New Orleans is only fitting as the lyrics of the song boast about Beyoncé’s southern black heritage.
“My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana
You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bama
I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils
Earned all this money but they never take the country out me
I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag.”
Later in the song, Beyoncé flashes her diva attitude:
“You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay
I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making.”
It is a message of power and a celebration of blackness. The song shows Beyoncé’s pride in her roots, while also exclaiming that her success is paving the way for others to become a “black Bill Gates.” Beyoncé went on to debut her new song for the first time during the Super Bowl halftime show, and Twitter and other media sites exploded immediately after the performance, with people on either end of the spectrum: either applauding the singer’s efforts or left in complete disgust.
Her Super Bowl performance created polarizing opinions. She, along with her background dancers, sport attire that referenced the Black Panther Party, gathered into an X formation during her introduction (suggesting a connection to 1960s civil rights leader Malcolm X), and she then proceeded to throw up the black power fist. The outrage was tremendous, especially among conservatives, with even one Tennessee sheriff blaming Beyoncé for a shooting incident that took place outside of his home. One headline on the conservative site The Gateway Pundit read: “Gross. Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Performance Was a Racist Political Statement In Support of Marxist Cop Killers.”
Rudy Giuliani expressed his opinion of Beyoncé’s halftime performance in an interview on Fox News.
“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.”
The former New York mayor also complained how Beyoncé’s performance did not provide “decent wholesome entertainment” and that she used the spotlight as a “platform to attack police officers.”
Not only did the performance cause outrage, but so did the music video. Former NYPD detective Harry Houck called the video racist when asked about his opinion, much to the displeasure of the three other panelists who were also being interviewed at the time.
Scenes such as a young, hoodie-wearing African-American boy dancing in front of a line of police officers in riot gear, and images of graffiti with the words “Stop shooting us,” all reference the series of recent deaths of African Americans committed by police officers.
A Miami police union has called for a nationwide boycott by law enforcement labor organizations of Beyoncé’s upcoming Formation Tour. The president of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, Javier Ortiz, commented that Beyoncé intended “to divide Americans by promoting the Black Panthers and her anti-police message.” Despite the threat made by the union, police officers will still be providing security at all the locations of her tour.
Beyoncé’s “Formation” was intended to be an anthem of pride for black millennials and a celebration of black culture. But yet, the discussions about Beyoncé’s new song have been mainly focused around race and the police system, a topic that always seems to be prevalent in the media. Are people overreacting? And are people such as Giuliani missing the point of the true meaning behind Beyoncé’s work? According to a satirical skit done by Saturday Night Live, the answer to both of these questions is yes.
The reactions of the Collegiate community have been much more mild in comparison to the rest of the media world. John Hazleton (‘16) says “As far as the black culture part, I didn’t really mind it, but I could see why people reacted [in such] a way.” Excellence Perry (‘17) also added that “It wasn’t the Beyoncé I know, but I still respected what she was doing.” It is also notable that Madison Stewart (’16) believes “That song is my jam, not going to lie.”
However, no matter what the overall opinion is, there is no doubt that “Formation” is yet another example of how Beyoncé continues to use her status as an icon to shed light on issues that reflect the changing dynamics of American society.