This “black consciousness” anthem is seemingly a direct response to the racial tension that has flared monstrously across the United States in the last two years.
“Formation’s references are designed for maximum resonance – or perhaps alienation, depending on where you stand,” wrote Alex Macpherson in the Guardian. “It’s a song ostensibly about Beyoncé’s identity that forces the listener to acknowledge their own identity – a bold move from the world’s biggest pop star, who over her career has been no stranger to the kind of song written so vaguely as to apply to anyone and anything.”
With its bold imagery – a flooded New Orleans, the colonial era garb of slave owners, and a graffiti message reading ‘STOP SHOOTING US’ – Beyonce’s surprise Super Bowl single was sure to cause a stir. Opinion pieces have strewn from every possible outlet, praising it, probing it, and picking over its politics. Those who have taken issue with the underlying “black power” message in Beyonce’s song and video probably aren’t too familiar with black history.
The messages and imagery in ‘Formation’, none of it is ‘new’ per se. Just before Christmas, hip hop artist Jidenna dropped a no-nonsense video to his ‘Long Live the Chief’ single, which featured striking visual symbolism itself. And to look even further back to the not-too-distant past where black consciousness began to flourish, musician Erykah Badu presented a two-part Radio 4 documentary into the role black music and art played in the black community after the 1960s Civil Right Movement.
But, naturally, the reason some people are wising up these views – for black rights – as “controversial” now is because Beyoncé has made it clear that she shares them. Upsetting the natural order – and presumable those who’d prefer she remain some kind of robotic pop idol – Beyoncé’s latest single is the continuum of a long line of artworks about black rights.
Formation is available to stream now.
- ‘Skipping Stones (feat. Jhené Aiko)’ by Gallant (produced by Adrian Younge, co-produced by Stint)
- ‘Who Am I’ by Katy B, Craig David & Major Lazer
- ‘Never Find Another’ by Kenzie May
- ‘Lvlup’ by Liana Banks
- ‘One Time (Louis Futon Remix)’ by Marian Hill
- ‘Sweet Waste of Time’ by Tayá
Image: Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia Records