With the rampant criticism over the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations and the continuing momentum generated by the Black Lives Matter movement, it would be an understatement to say race is a very rampant and current issue in America right now. But that’s when art comes in; holds mirror of truth to society and asks the questions politicians seem always too scared to answer.
However, the person asking these questions isn’t necessary coming from a source you would expect; it isn’t Spike Lee nor Kanye West or even Kendrick Lamar, yet in fact its Beyoncé. Sure as a person Beyoncé is constantly upholding black rights and equality, but as an artist her work rarely ventures into the realm of political or racial commentary and instead vies for radio plays and Billboard 100s. With a police car submerged in water, a young black kid, dancing in front of a wall of white police officers and a dance troupe crowned in lush’s afros. Formation clearly has much more important things to say than “Put a ring on it”, “Graining on that wood” or “[You] got me looking so crazy in love”.
“What happened at the New Orleans” – a stark reminder and a fearlessness in the face of controversy
Beyoncé stood on top of a half-submerged police car in the foreground, whilst in the background is the harrowing sight of real people’s homes swallowed by water also. Within the first 20 seconds we get a visually punching motif that blatant references and indicts the Bush administration inability to act quick enough in aid of the victims of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The image is stark and powerful and serves as a reminder of the destruction once caused by the disaster and the aftermath still reverberating till this day. Just like the police carrying a police car with Kendrick Lamar in it, Beyoncé also shows with this one shot that she isn’t afraid to be critical towards the police or the government, regardless of what controversy it might cause.
“You’ll haters corny with that illuminati mess” – addressing the silly idiots on the web
Drawled out in a dry tone, Beyoncé is clearly showing annoyance at the half-baked, potty conspiracy theories constantly spread around the web about her and her husbands supposed connection with the illuminati, an accusation that is of course idiotic and untrue. Using it has her chorus is both hilarious and by her actually mentioning it instead of ignoring, hopefully it will douse the flames stupidity.
“I like my baby hair with baby hair and afro”/ “I like my negro nose with Jackson five nostrils” – challenging beauty standards
You would have thought getting bootylicious to be put in the oxford dictionary would have been enough to encourage the mainstream to be more accepting of alternative beauty. However, with the constant slew of jokes and memes concerning Jay Z appearance infecting the internet and a five thousand strong petition urging Beyoncé to comb Blue-Ivy’s hair. The shunning of the two characteristics closely connected with African ancestry – a wide nose and afro hair, shows us that blonde hair and blue eyes is still the de facto ideal of beauty. Making it all the more inspiring and important for Beyoncé to feature her daughter in her proud afro glory and using a whole host of beautiful afro adorning angels as her backup dancers.
“Texas Bamma” – reminds you of her roots
Unbelievable rich, famous and beautiful, you would be forgiven for thinking Beyoncé was created on a different planet and like the son of krypton sent to earth to stand head and shoulders above us mere mortals. But Formation affords us a rare glimpse behind the veneer of pop stardom perfection, by offering us a Beyoncé more concerned with her rich past rather than her rich present (sure both are rich but for completely different reasons). You would be forgiven for forgetting Beyoncé’s deep connection to the south, which is something hardly mentioned in any of her previous work. However, in Formation she proudly embraces and makes allusions to her Creole roots and Texas upbringing by confidently anointing herself as a “Texas Bamma”.
Another really telling and potent motif from the music video was the image of the young boy clad in a black hoodie, enthusiastically dancing in front of a line of police officers in riot gear whilst behind him is a wall is emblazoned with “Stop Shooting Us” graffiti. Clearly this is in acknowledgement of the murder of Trayvon Martin among others at the hands of police brutality. The youthful image reminds us that these young men weren’t all hardened criminals or gang bangers, but were often young men and occasionally mere boys who lost their lives to the people who were supposed to be protecting them.
The subsequent #BLACKLIVESMATTER campaign born out of outrage, hurt and question of police practise, has been a contentious issue raging cross the States. The solution and outcome is still a long way from gaining any clarity, but Formation is a welcome reminder that these young men and boys were human begins full of life, passion and love and weren’t just mere statistics to be chalked off.