Getting in Formation: Track Review & Social Commentary

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Alright… So where do I even begin? So much to unpack. Ugh, get a snack, a blanket, and get comfortable for this one. So…

If you’re unfamiliar with what’s going on, Beyonce dropped a visual for her new single “Formation” this past weekend, a day before her Superbowl halftime performance. Her music video, in particular, has sparked a lot of controversy. It’s jam packed with evoking images such as Bey sitting in a large pool of water on top of a sinking New Orleans police car. It appears to be a scene reflective of Hurricane Katrina. There’s another scene where a young black child is dancing in front of a line of cops and when the child strikes their final pose, the police raise their hands in the “hands up, don’t shoot” manner. After that scene, the camera then pans across a brick wall that has “Stop shooting us” spray painted on it.

So yeah, controversial.

Before I express how I feel about the visual itself, let me express how I feel about the actual song.

I enjoyed the song. I thought it was fitting for the theme she was going for, which was embracing her Creole roots back in New Orleans. I liked the evident New Orleans jazz horns playing in the background along with the drum roll in between the hook and the verses which reminded me of Mardi Gras parades. It flowed.

I found the song lyrically provocative too. The imagery was very vivid and unapologetically black and southern. “I like my baby’s hair with baby hairs and afros…” (in reference to Blue Ivy and the controversy around her hair), “I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils,” (in reference to her husband, Jay-Z), and “I keep hot sauce in my bag. Swag.”

I also liked that she included audio clips from Messy Mya and Big Freedia in the track. I think that was a good example of appreciating Black LGBT culture without stepping over bounds as a cis-heterosexual person.

It was fun, playful, and clear that she was expressing pride in her heritage. I wasn’t mad at her for that.

So now, the music video.

Here’s some critiques I’ve heard from fellow Black Americans and I will share if I agree or not after I list them off:

  1. “Her lyric ‘mix that creole with that negro and make a Texas-Bama’ is ignorant. Both of those groups are black.
  2. There was colorism throughout the video. Blue Ivy, a light skinned child, was in the middle of two dark skin girls. In dancing scenes, it was always Beyonce and a couple of light skin girls in the middle with the dark skin girls on the outskirt.
  3. Beyonce is commodifying the Black Panther Party by having her backup dancers dress like them in her Superbowl performance.
  4. Beyonce is a ranging hot capitalist. How dare you claim she’s some black revolutionary?
  5. Beyonce had all her dancers wearing afros but yet and still she continues to have blonde hair and wear weaves.
  6. So ya’ll gonna praise Beyonce but when Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole said the same thing, no one said anything.
  7. It’s not Beyonce’s place to do a scene reflecting Hurricane Katrina when she’s not from New Orleans.
  8. Beyonce is just doing this because it’s a trend and being “pro-black” is the thing to be now.
  9. She said she wants to be the “Black Bill Gates?” Why aspire to be like a white, rich man?
  10. Beyonce was being racist and anti-police.

Alright, ya’ll ready for what I have to say? I can 100% guarantee you, you either gonna hate it or love it but here goes nothing. Here are my answers to those critiques.

  1. Reminding us that Creole and “Negro” are both black identities is pretty much stating the obvious. When I heard that lyric, I didn’t take the distinction in a racial sense but in a cultural sense. Creole people ARE of mixed ancestry and there IS a culture that is unique to them. That’s not to say one is better than the other but that they’re different and when joined together, they got a bad ass “Texas-Bama.” For example, my family and I are from Charleston, South Carolina and we have Gullah or “Geechee” roots. Gullah culture, itself, is distinguishable among Black American culture as a whole. My family’s experience as Geechee Black Americans will differentiate from other Black Americans’ experience and there’s nothing wrong with that.
  2. Ok, look. I try not to be dismissive but I’m just not feeling this argument. For one, Blue Ivy IS Beyonce’s child. Naturally, she probably will be the center of most of the shots. I mean… When Beyonce says “I like my baby’s hair with baby hair and afros…” she’s talking about Blue Ivy in particular which is why Blue is in the center of the shot. I doubt the purpose of the two dark skin girls standing beside Blue was to highlight Blue being light-skinned. I saw it as an attempt to be inclusive because I know for a fact, if Beyonce had not had dark skin girls or women in the video people would’ve had an issue. Now, about the dancers? Majority of them were either brown or dark skin. Very few of them were light skinned. Yes, there were shots where the lighter girls were in the middle but there are also shots where the darker girls are front and center. Even in Beyonce’s Superbowl performance, the darker girls were right at her side during her dance off against Bruno Mars. It’s just… nah, I can’t get with that argument.
  3. You know what gets me is that an actual Black Panther, Nile Rodgers, said he enjoyed Beyonce’s tribute to them in her halftime show. I believe it’s automatically seen as commodity because Beyonce is a commercial pop artist and unfortunately, anything she does will be seen as just going after profit.
  4. Again, look. I know the general basics about economic systems. I understand the basic cons of Capitalism. I still have yet to grasp a firm understanding of what Communism and Socialism is and what those both look like. But one thing I do not understand is, how do people expect someone to not participate in Capitalism in a country that is literally built off of and is ran by Capitalism. To me, Capitalism seems inevitable. How does one navigate a system that is ran by Capitalism without participating in it? How? I don’t understand that and I don’t think it’s fair that people expect Beyonce, a pop singer, to be scripted on Marxism, Communism, etc. Why does it take Beyonce doing a Superbowl performance for anti-capitalist think pieces to come out? Why don’t ya’ll hold black male performers to these same standards? Where were ya’ll when male rappers are boasting about money, cars, and other material things? You’re mad at a Black woman for making a profit off exhibiting resistance to a society that is built against her through her art? No, go back to the drawing board with that one. Also, I can only speak for myself, but I never claimed Beyonce was some sort of radical nor do I think Beyonce, herself, was trying to claim herself as a radical. She was just showing she was proud of her roots and wanted others to feel the same.
  5. For the umpteenth time, a black woman’s hair does not symbolize how she feels about her blackness. There are black women with afros as big as the sun with self-hate as long as the Nile. How a Black woman chooses to wear her hair does not always reflect on her internal feelings about her blackness. Again, why is it that black men are not also held to this standard? Black male singers such as Chris Brown and Sisqo dyed their hair blonde and no one was screaming about them being “self-hating?” Also, again, blonde hair is not exclusive to white people or non-black people. There are black people with naturally blonde hair nor is blonde hair cultural.
  6. Um…. Kendrick Lamar’s “unapologetically black” album “To Pimp a Butterfly” has gotten SEVERAL Grammy nods. It’s even up for “Best Album of the Year.” His song “Alright” has been chanted at so many protests. J. Cole has also been applauded for his work in the Black community. So many people were raving about him being at protests and helping single moms out. Just say you want to make cishet black men the center of the dialogue again. Let’s not be dishonest and suggest Kendrick or J. Cole were never hailed for their “pro-blackness.”
  7. Ok, so I actually agree with this one. Her mother is from New Orleans but Beyonce is directly from Texas. I could see how that could be seen as stepping over bounds and being insensitive to the people who actually suffered from Hurricane Katrina.
  8. Beyonce and Jay-Z are both private people. They’re not ones to be frank about what they’re doing but one things for sure: 2016 is not the year they suddenly decided they were proud to be black. Sean Bell was murdered in 2006 right? Well, soon after Jay-Z opened up a trust fund for Sean Bell’s kids and put them through school. When Trayvon Martin was murdered, Jay-Z and Beyonce met with his family and showed support and solidarity. Beyonce and Jay-Z both bailed Ferguson protesters out secretly. Need I remind you, it was the media who put it out there that they were doing that–not Jay-Z and Beyonce themselves. Beyonce and Jay-Z, you know the terrible Capitalists, donated over a million dollars to Black Lives Matter and towards the crisis in Flint. It’s tripping me out that people have the gall to say that’s insincere. Man, what? So we just dropping millions of dollars on movements we’re not really invested in? Can I also point out how Jay-Z and Beyonce openly supporting Black Lives Matter does not work entirely in their favor. Do you see all these white people boycotting Beyonce because of “Formation?” The same white people who are the main ones putting money in Bey and Jay’s pockets? A black artist openly supporting Black Lives Matter may win over black people and people of color but it definitely puts them at risk for being blacklisted by their main source of income–white people. And hello, even if Beyonce and Jay-Z did decide that they want to be proud of their blackness now, who cares and who are you to say they can’t be? Didn’t we all start somewhere? I’m proud of any black person for starting their journey of unlearning. Stop expecting people to be Assata Shakur and Malcolm X overnight.
  9. I feel like people are reading too deep into this line. Bill Gates is known for being very successful. Beyonce aspires to be as successful. I didn’t take that as her saying she wants to be the spitting image of a rich white dude. It’s not that deep man.
  10. So this “argument” has came from White Americans and it’s laughable. Apparently saying “Stop shooting us” is racist and hatred towards the Police despite the fact that over 200 unarmed Black Americans were killed by law enforcement last year. What would you suggest we do? Shut up and keep getting mercilessly killed? If you think Beyonce telling cops to stop killing black people is racist perhaps it is you who should do some self-reflecting….

All in all, I think some of the criticism is valid but also think the rest is just people being nit-picky and finding something to “critique” for the sake of critiquing. I don’t think Beyonce is above criticism, of course, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with every critique thrown at her. She is not God. She is not absent of flaw. I know. I didn’t agree with her cultural appropriation stunt with Coldplay. I’m not a part of the “Bey Hive” although I do love Beyonce’s music, so don’t even try that. Kendrick Lamar is one of my favorite rappers and when he made those comments about Ferguson I was quick to call him out on his bullshit. I also still regularly call out my favorite male artists’ sexism. Please believe, I have absolutely no issue with critiquing my faves but when I don’t feel like criticism is valid, I’m going to express that. You can either take it or leave it. Either way, I will not apologize for how I feel.

It’s frustrating for black people to beg black celebrities to make noise about black issues and when they do so, they’re called insincere and accused of only doing it for monetary intent. My issue is we don’t give people room to grow and we expect people to get it over night. That’s not fair or realistic. This “criticism” comes from a pretentious place and I’m not feeling it. So much criticism but no one is answering this question:

What do you want black celebrities to do? Stay silent? Say something? Donate towards movements? Because either way, there’s always dissatisfaction. Where do we go from here? How do we grow from this?

Let me know because from what I see, no one has the answer.

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