This month saw Queen Bey (a.k.a. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter) release her latest single Formation. After a break following her self-titled visual album, Beyoncé relaunched with a provocative, attitude-filled track.
Ever one to knock our socks off with a surprise ‘girl power’ anthem, the single was released just one day before its debut performance at The Super Bowl 50 at Santa Clara, California. However, it was met with a barrage of controversy over its content.
This is when it kicked off.
Unlike its anthemic predecessors Single Ladies and Run the World, Formation has caused widespread controversy prompting figures like former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, to publicly criticise it as an attack on the American police force. It even sparked an organised protest set to take place at NFL headquarters in New York. (Three people showed up)
Beyoncé rocked up to the Levi’s Stadium that night flagged by a fleet of dancers in all black attire topped off with matching berets; a uniform associated with the American socialist organisation, the Black Panthers Party (BPP).
The BPP emerged in 1960’s California as an anti-racism and anti-capitalist movement. Its core cause was that of challenging police brutality. Not only were these political overtones present in her performance, but the official video for Formation contains numerous references to post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Its African American community has become severely disenfranchised since the disaster in 2005. Alongside this are visuals of graffiti stating “Stop Shooting Us”. The video ends with Beyoncé atop a police car that is sinking below floodwater.
On the TV show Real Time with Bill Maher, rapper and activist, Killer Mike, believed that much ado is being made of a song that cannot hold the weight of the issues it’s believed to highlight. He argues that it is instead a celebration of black culture and a display of the artist’s pride in her heritage.
Black people are severely underrepresented in media and popular culture. This single needs to be looked at with a wider perspective. As an African-American woman, Beyoncé has succeeded in becoming the biggest female entertainer in the world right now. She has maintained this status over a number of years and shows few signs of stopping.
Would it not be a shame if Beyoncé were to shy away from the powerful representational role she plays in pop culture? The significance of individuals being able to identify with a role model or hero figure cannot be underestimated. In Beyoncé’s case, she provides an example for women and for women of colour in particular. This allows people to imagine greater possibilities for themselves as to what they can achieve in their individual lives.
However, there is the implication that the mainstream majority would like Beyoncé to remain representative of the masses in all that she does. This was illustrated in the sketch aired on Saturday Night Live this weekend entitled: ‘The Day Beyoncé Turned Black’. Check out the link below.
It is perhaps time for mainstream media to incorporate other cultures and genres. To have a global icon like Beyoncé set that trend sends a strong message of acknowledgement, in particular, to the African American community that is all too often expected to adapt and assimilate to media expectations.