A woman of few words, Beyoncé knows how to get people talking. She knows how to play on our appetite for catchy colloquialisms, making memes and merchandise out of words like surfboards or #hotsauce. But with her newly released single Formation, she’s not only made some more idiomatic contributions but has also gone a bit deeper… actually, a lot deeper.
Formation is both a celebration of Black culture and a call to action. The word itself, especially in the context of the video and the song’s lyrics, is a double entendre referring to Bey’s origins as well as a call to organize. While the singer declares “My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana / You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma,” the video takes viewers on a tour of New Orleans past and present, and shows the highs and lows of the Black experience—the way we dance, the way we do our hair, our challenges and potential successes.
Minus the I’m-so-fly bits that are typical to this genre of music, the video is a philosophical blueprint of how, despite the issues we’re facing, we can still win as a community. The overall message is simple: work hard until you have what you want. She sings, “I see it, I want it / I stunt, yeah, little hornet / I dream it, I work hard / I grind ‘til I own it.” But what makes her message effective is how it’s delivered.Formation is a philosophical blueprint of how, despite the issues we’re facing, we can still win Click To Tweet
Formation is not a lecture. Beyoncé isn’t scolding us; she’s using positive reinforcement and celebrating us. The aspects of Blackness that are typically looked down on are put on a pedestal in her video, letterboxed with smooth camera pans, moody coloring and shabby chic set design. Her lyrics praise Black beauty, “I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils… I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros.” And her visuals are equally complimentary, showing Black men and women of different shades, sizes and classes standing or sitting regally. Her supporting cast feel less like props and more like members of an army.
In addition to revering us, she fully aligns herself with Black American culture, referencing little idiosyncratic aspects of it: “I like cornbreads and collard greens, bitch… I got hot sauce in my bag, swag,” while also very overtly highlighting the devastation of Katrina and police brutality.
The most effective part of her message happens toward the end where she puts her message out to us as a challenge, essentially saying prove yourself or get eliminated, which is what the world says to everyone. But there’s something about Beyoncé saying it with her leotards and her twerking dancers. In the age of 30-day-butt-lift and 7-day-clean-eating challenges, this generation responds well to a good challenge and accepting a challenge from Bey means a chance to be a part of her squad, even if it’s just figuratively.Anyone or anything that gets too much praise is always prime target for criticism. #Formation Click To Tweet
Of course the video and song has its critics. Anyone or anything that gets too much praise is always a prime target for criticism. Some don’t like the “ratchetedness” of the video and lyrics. But those are the elements that make it most powerful. Unlike some, Beyoncé isn’t saying that you can’t succeed if you’re wearing socks with sandals or rocking a blue wig. She’s saying quite the opposite. She’s challenging what we associate success with and in doing so bringing the idea of it closer to people who may be far removed from it. Here’s a woman that’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars and is a mega star, but we can see ourselves in her because, like many of us she’s ‘Sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser.’ That’s the power of the lyrics and imagery of this video. Beyoncé’s a symbol of success but she’s not male, she’s not white, she’s not in a suit. She’s glam when she wants to be; ratchet when she wants to be; she’s got her hot sauce in her purse and still indisputably slays.