Beyonce has been slaying us with musical surprises ever since the un-promoted drop of her self-titled album back in 2014, the one that brought us hits like Partition, Flawless, and a wealth of visuals to last a lifetime. On the eve of Super Bowl 50, in which Coldplay will headline assisted by Yonce herself and Bruno Mars, Queen Bey has released a new track, and that’s just the beginning.
The new single, Formation, came complete with a stunning music video that doesn’t disappoint from the highly symbolic, well-thought out videos she’s released in recent years. What makes Formation so culturally earth-shattering is not that’s it’s her first song in two long years, but that it’s her first obviously political one. In a time where many have questioned the benefits of Bey’s image being one that is seen and not heard, it’s clear she took this as an opportunity to make a statement that she is well aware of the Black experience in America, that she embraces it amidst her fame, and she owns the strong allegiance she’s worked so hard to create. It’s a bold statement that lets all of her fans–and critics–know where she stands on America’s hottest issues, and she doesn’t have to sit in front of an interviewer to do it. Famed photographer Gordon Parks said that his camera was “a weapon” against injustice, and Beyonce uses her art as a weapon in a fierce way, one that many fans and celebrities across the country are proud of.
The problem with the Beyonce machine is that no one criticizes or questions her approach. While the Internet buzzed about Queen Bey “snatching edges and lives” no one saw–or at least acknowledged–the inherent flaw in Beyonce’s flawlessness. After one watch of the video it’s easy to be taken by the stunning visuals, impressive dance numbers mirroring Egyptian-style art, catchy lines, and political images: “Stop Shooting Us” written on a wall, a boy in a hoodie with his hands up to police, and images of Hurricane Katrina. But let’s remove our Beyhive caps and take a closer look.
Yonce has the tact to flag an advisory warning on the video, which certainly needs it, though it shouldn’t have to. She opens the song with a skillful homage to her family, blackness and a bit of shade thrown to the Illuminati mess that follows her every move:
Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess
Paparazzi, catch my fly, and my cocky fresh
I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin’)
I’m so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces
My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana
You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma
I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils
Earned all this money but they never take the country out me
I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag
It’s an awesome refrain–confident, direct and proud. Everything you expect a Beyonce track to be. But then the interlude comes in, and well, let’s just say the empowerment we think we’re getting is not what it appears:
I did not come to play with you hoes, haha
I came to slay, b****
I like cornbreads and collard greens, b****
Oh yes, you best to believe it
While it’s great that Bey is announcing her authority and sharing in our collective love for cornbread and greens, it’s problematic and disappointing that her version of feminism still includes calling other women hoes and Bs. Let’s keep that thought and continue.
The chorus of the song continues with Bey proclaiming her power and work ethic: “I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it…I slay.” All great things. She encourages other women to “get in formation” and live up to the bar that she’s set so high. The next verse is the “line heard round the world” (something about Red Lobster as a reward for intimacy within the Black community, which I won’t repeat here) that includes a word choice seeming to exist purely for shocking purposes, or the opportunity for Bey to flip the bird at the camera, possibly in response to the media, systemic injustice, who knows.
While there’s more moments worthy of applause–“I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making” and “Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper”–Bey again goes back to the crutch of the B-word: “You know you that b**** when you cause all this conversation.”
Formation is a song you could probably write your cultural studies dissertation on quite honestly. It’s riveting, political, and makes a statement as any good form of art should do. Even The New York Times had a round table discussion about it. But the reason why all women should take issue with Bey’s constant use of the B-word is because its history and current use is negative: it shames women for strong qualities, emasculates men for sensitivity, and is used profusely by attackers, abusers, and sexist urban male artists. To refer to another woman as such is a violent way to dominate her because you feel you’re better or have achieved more success. It’s not at all empowering. It skews our mentality towards the word so when we hear it in an abusive setting we are less likely to recognize its sting. The use of the B-word to refer to oneself as a powerful woman, is an ignorant attempt to transform a bad word into something good–which simply does not work. And when Queen Bey tells us to “get into formation” all of her fans fall into this dangerous cycle of violent, sexist language, beautifully packaged under the booty-shaking guise of Beyonce’s modern-day feminism. No. We cannot bash urban culture for objectifying women and calling them derogatory names from one side of our mouths and proudly sing Beyonce’s equally abusive language from the other side. Yonce perpetuates a false image of womanhood and is teaching generations of Beyhive fans and her own daughter to carry the same torch. If you don’t believe me, here’s an excellent and short video from Laci Green on why the B-word is damaging to the psyche and impossible to reclaim.
I still love Beyonce and I still think she makes great music. She is a true testament of hard work and talent, so don’t take this as a message to throw away your CDs and turn your backs. However, let’s not proclaim that everything Mrs. Carter touches is gold, because it’s not. As with any public figure and leader, everyone should be held accountable for their actions and stood to task when their messages encourage socially and psychologically damaging behavior. Beyonce’s fans have to stop glorifying sexist language, regardless of its intention. Kudos Beyonce, on a video well-done and taking an affirmative stand for Blackness in America, it is greatly appreciated. However, your much-needed message was drastically marred by the use of a very derogatory word towards women. Let’s all lay the B-word where it should have stayed, on a scrap piece of paper in the recording studio. This is one fan who will not be fooled.