by Tess Adair
Last week, I saw Beyonce’s new music video for the song Formation. I can’t stand football, so just as I have for 26 years, I skipped the Super Bowl--but after watching Formation about 50 times in a row, I figured it was worth it to find a clip of Beyonce’s part in it.
Yep. Worth it. As Colbert put it--”Beyonce won the Super Bowl.”
Formation is something a bit new for Beyonce. Queen Bey is not prone to protest--apart from incorporating a dash of girl-power feminism into her brand, she doesn’t often make political statements. In fact, she’s a bit of a crowd pleaser.
And a lot of that crowd is white.
White people love Beyonce. She figured out the pop music game, and then she dominated it. She’s the very best. White people love her. White people don’t see her as a black artist. White people don’t identify her with the black community at all, in fact.
So they were a bit shocked to see her new video. Shocked to see her identify herself as black. Shocked to see her plaster her own face all over images of blackness.
After all, police brutality and Single Ladies exist in separate universes, don’t they?
Beyonce knew how to play the game. In America, playing the game means a few very specific things, like pandering to the right crowds. There’s a reason white people love Beyonce--she knows how to make them love her.
Beyonce is a capitalist icon as much as she is a pop star. You don’t get to be as big as she is without mastering the business side of things, too.
Funny thing about white America--we don’t want to acknowledge or lift a finger to do anything about the plight of black people, but boy do we love to pick a few favorites and make them rich as fuck for entertaining us.
Pop stars, sports star--a few actors, but only the ones that can battle it out for the ten or so black roles we allow each year.
We love our black stars. Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj. Will Smith, Chris Rock, Halle Berry. Uh, insert your own football/basketball/baseball players here. I don’t do sports.
We love them, and we want to see them and we want to hear them. But only so long as they don’t make us hear or see other black people, too. You know, the ones we haven’t elevated.
We don’t want to see that.
And yet this past year, we proved pretty conclusively that theirs might be the only black voices we will listen to. I don’t know if any of you remember this, but at UM Columbia this year, the school completely ignored black students’ protests of their treatment on campus--until the football team joined in.
Football we pay attention to. Money we listen to.
I’m guessing Beyonce remembers.
I love Formation. I know it wasn’t made for me, but I love it. I am capable of loving something that wasn’t tailor-made to appease me. Something that wasn’t designed as an anesthetic to help me forget everything we haven’t fixed about the world. I wish more people were capable of that--in fact, I believe more are capable of it than actually do it. Too many people last Sunday decided to run their mouth about her performance without taking a moment to consider what it meant.
But fortunately for us, those blow-hard voices aren’t the only voices. And they weren’t capable of drowning out the Queen.
Formation is stark and beautiful, a masterpiece on multiple fronts. I see it almost like an abstract art project--images of perfectly constructed aesthetics, images of social conflict and injustice, images of the old deep south. Almost like a painting of Americana, but reclaimed and un-whitewashed.
One of the strongest moments for me is the ending line. It serves as a kind of insider’s nod, an acknowledgement of Beyonce’s ability to play the game as well as a hint to how one might use the game to one’s own advantage.
“Always stay gracious
best revenge is your paper.”
In case you’re confused, Beyonce helpfully makes the universal money symbol of rubbing her fingers back and forth.
Like I said before, Beyonce is a capitalist icon as much as she is a pop star.
She’s worked and she’s suffered to get where she is--and she’s endured some pretty absurd controversies courtesy a few haters. (Anybody remember when people accused her of bleaching her skin? As if that would be anything but an indictment of the society that encouraged it. Or that time that Fox News decided Beyonce was corrupting all our youths? Yeah, there’s been some dumb shit aimed at her.)
But she’s come through all of it. And she gets the last laugh--the best revenge is her paper.
Well, that, and her voice.
White people. We just don’t know how to ignore that voice.
Okay, ladies. Now let’s get in formation.