Monday, February 8, 2016

Beyonce's Formation: The Reversal of a Movement

People haven't spoken about Beyoncé this much since her sister Solange served up a plate of ass whoopin' on Jay-Z in that elevator. No matter how hard I tried to avoid typing this post today, I ultimately could not avoid it. I should state for the record that I am a former Beyoncé fan. I was with her up until her fourth solo album. After that, as a mother, I didn't have it in me to follow her into her trap music phase. All that dancing around half dressed is something she should have outgrown by now. I certainly can't allow my daughter to think that it's okay to be Drunk in Love, waking up realizing that although she was too drunk to give consent she had sex the night before. I also can't have my daughter thinking that it's chic to give head in a limousine, even if she were to politely ask the driver to roll up the Partition please. So the argument that we as Black people need to support her is moot, if supporting her has a negative counter effect on my daughter. I don't mind if Beyoncé sings mostly about sex, money, liquor and haters now. I don't care that she walks around in a onesie every time her feet touch the stage. It's her prerogative. But, I don't buy her music or watch her videos anymore. Nevertheless, I was sucked into the whole Formation debate. So here I go.

It seems to me that everyone is either over-evaluating or overhyping the release of Formation. Let's begin with a look at the lyrics. She goes into a repetitive trap song rant about haters, making money, her sex, hot sauce, collard greens, loving her daughter's afro, loving being Creole, and not being a member of the Illuminati. No matter how hard people try, they cannot convince me that there is anything political about those lyrics. Not once does she mention Black Lives Matter, racism, or even stop killing us. Still, privileged white people are outraged at the political message of a song that is completely non-political. Black people are waving a Beyoncé flag praising her for speaking out on Black issues, despite the fact that she has yet to utter a single word on the subject. Are people delusional? Are they reading a version of the lyrics that I haven't? Granted, I am no longer a fan. But the lyrics are the typical, "I got haters" lyrics that every musician eventually releases. My favorite example of this is Britney Spears. When she released her Blackout album, she hit the ground running with Piece of Me. "I'm Mrs. Ex No Longer Rich and Famous. I'm Mrs. Oh My God That Britney's Shameless. I'm Mrs. Extra Extra This Just In. I'm Mrs. She's Too Big Now She's Too Thin. You want a piece of me." It was an excellent clap back at all of her "haters" (a term I secretly wish would die a violent death). Formation is Beyoncé's clap back song. It is not a political statement. And you know what? I'm okay with that. It has a good beat that I can dance to, you know, if my kids aren't home. I'm not okay with people turning it into a mantra for a movement because it is far from that. To do so would actually set the movement back.

Let's look at the video. It's 4 minutes and 49 seconds long. It is an excellent homage to the streets of Louisiana. Every image can be attributed to a heritage that is at home in that state. Everything from African culture to Creole culture, famous paintings and photographs in live art format. It was a beautiful work of art that was somehow politicized. Maybe it was the less than 10 seconds of a hooded boy dancing in front of cops before they raise their hands and the camera cuts to an image of "stop shooting us" spray painted on the wall. Here is where the line between "she's advocating for Black Lives Matter" and "She's talking about the violence in the streets of Louisiana" is drawn. The fact that there are arguments about the meaning proves it is unclear. One thing's for sure, Beyoncé is proud of Louisiana. It shows in the video. But at what point did she say Black Lives Matter? At what point did she mention Sandra Bland? There is something despicably opportunistic about releasing a potentially socio-politically controversial video on the anniversary of Sandra Bland's birthday. The song is a clap back. The video is about Louisiana pride. Where does Sandra Bland come in? Why evoke that association and memory by releasing this video on her birthday if not to capitalize on her murder? Beyoncé has never spoken publically about racial or social injustice. She talks about her hips, her money, her billion dollars on the elevator, but not Black Lives Matter. I also find it suspicious that after all that Jay-Z has done for protestors in private, he felt the need to release a press statement announcing to the world that he just donated $1.5 million to Black Lives Matter movement. It "coincides with the same time his wife is releasing a non-political song with a politically suggestive video, on the anniversary of Sandra Bland's birthday. 

And Lastly there is the Super Bowl 50 Halftime debacle. You can read my review of the halftime show as a whole. But the summation of Beyoncé's part is, she marched out in the shape of an "X", did the same dance moves she's done for the past 10 years, and evoked the memory of the Black Panther Party. It was at this point I hit my Beyoncé Formation limit. Yes, I liked the black band on the leg in memory of the dead. Yes, I liked the play on words "get in formation", being get information. But that was about it. I was outraged that she misappropriated the memory of the women of the Black Panther Party merely for career advancement. Women in the Black Panther Party were intellectual equals to their male counterparts. I was never upset with the exclusion of black women from white feminism, because the Black Panther party defined black feminism. There was no need to alter the natural state of our hair or walk around disrespecting ourselves, looking like prostitutes because we were more than just our bodies. We are not the sex objects that white America had reduced us to. But that message was buried in Beyoncé's performance. 

Yes, Beyoncé is entitled to freedom of sexual expression, but she had no right to reduce the memory of the women of the Black Panther Party to sexual stereotypes in booty shorts. She had no right to associate the Black Panther Party with racial stereotypes by going on about hot sauce, materialism, and haters. She crossed the line. This was not an honor. This was single handedly undermining the years worth of hard work that went into reversing negative stereotypes about black women. Police officer Daniel Holtzclaw raped several black women because he viewed them as being nothing more than sexual objects. He knew no one would care about them because to White America, Black women are nothing more than big lips, big asses, that twerk and have sex with anyone who is willing. Beyoncé succeeded in confirming that stereotype. She is an influential musician. Young women everywhere will think they are being true to the movement when they rock their afros and booty shorts. Their mouths will say they are "conscious" or "woke" but their behavior will send the message that they are nothing more than sex objects that will drop it down low for the almighty dollar. This was not what the Black Panthers stood for.

Formation is a clap black song, strategically released on Sandra Bland's birthday. The video was purposely socio-politically charged to keep Beyoncé's name in our mouths long after the single falls off the charts. Although she has yet to say anything publically in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, she will forever be tied to it because of her video and Super Bowl performance. To the Beyhive, this is one of her best singles yet. They're proud of her implied support of Black people. Her Super Bowl wardrobe and "X" formation are good enough for them. From this moment on, no one will ever be able to say to them that she has done nothing for her people. As for me, I need more than a suggestive video and a halftime twerk show to believe she is actually a supporter of the movement. Until then, I'd appreciate it if she stopped undermining it.

No comments:

Post a Comment