Beyoncé’s “Formation” is Visually Powerful…But the Lyrics Don’t Match It

My thoughts exactly…

I wanted you to watch the video first before I said my peace.

There really isn’t a lot to say about the visuals themselves.  Katrina, Black Lives Matter, “stop shooting us”, the police with their hands up after witnessing a dance by a young black man, Beyoncé drowning on a police car in New Orleans; all of it is an homage to a culture that is stigmatized when the heirs of it display it but monetized when appropriated and watered down.  Add to that the fact that Beyoncé apparently directed this and you have the feeling that she might have missed a calling that could have brought her both critical and mass acclaim.

The problem comes when you separate the track from the video.  I have a little exercise for you; read the lyrics all the way through once.

We would like to thank a Naussicaa Regis for the full lyrics.

What happened after New Orleans?
Bitch, I’m back by popular demand

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 his money but they never take the country out me
I got hot sauce in my bag, swag

Oh yeah baby, oh yeah I, ohhhhh, oh yes
I like that I did not come to play with you hoes
I came to slay, bitch
I like cornbreads and collard greens, bitch
Oh yes, you best to believe it

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 his money but they never take the country out me
I got hot sauce in my bag, swag

I see it, I want it I stunt, yeah, little hornet
I dream it, I work hard I grind ‘til I own it
I twirl all my haters Albino alligators
El Camino with the ceiling low
Sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser
Sometimes I go off, I go off I go hard, I go hard
Get what’s mine, take what’s mine
I’m a star, I’m a star
Cause I slay, slay I slay, hey, I slay, okay
I slay, okay, all day, okay I slay, okay, I slay okay
We gon’ slay, slay
Gon’ slay, okay
We slay, okay I slay, okay
I slay, okay
Okay, okay, I slay, okay
Okay, okay, okay, okay
Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Prove to me you got some coordination
Slay trick, or you get eliminated

When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, cause I slay
When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, cause I slay
If he hit it right, I might take him on a flight on my chopper, cause I slay
Drop him off at the mall, let him buy some J’s, let him shop up, cause I slay
I might get your song played on the radio station, cause I slay
I might get your song played on the radio station, cause I slay
You might just be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay
I might just be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay

I see it, I want it I stunt, yeah, little hornet
I dream it, I work hard I grind ‘til I own it
I twirl all my haters Albino alligators
El Camino with the ceiling low
Sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser
Sometimes I go off, I go off I go hard, I go hard
Get what’s mine, take what’s mine
I’m a star, I’m a star
Cause I slay, slay I slay, hey, I slay, okay
I slay, okay, all day, okay I slay, okay, I slay okay
We gon’ slay, slay
Gon’ slay, okay
We slay, okay I slay, okay
I slay, okay
Okay, okay, I slay, okay
Okay, okay, okay, okay
Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay
Prove to me you got some coordination
Slay trick, or you get eliminated

Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, I slay
Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation
You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper

Girl I hear something, thunder
Golly this is that water boy, oh Lord

Now read them again, omitting the underlined lines. Now read them again, omitting the underlined and italicized lines. Do you begin to see the problem that I see? No? Let me explain.

One or two lines of track about awareness and black pride do not make a theme. Just like Flawless, which was initially heralded a feminist anthem, most of the song is a brag and/or defense track about the singer herself. The underlined snippets are the parts of the song that are most unabashedly about black pride and black empowerment. Notice how few of them there are? The italicized lines fall into a grey area where they can be seen as being a part of the black pride theme but also can be seen as a defense/regaling of Beyoncé. Even if you add the sum of both together; you still have more than 3/4 of the song which is about her having sex with Jay Z, looking great in her expensive clothes, (not really) ignoring her haters, and how much life she gives her fans.

One of the things that we believe here is that lyrics have to be taken as a whole and what the majority of the song points to is what the song is actually about. A lot of singers make songs for the Twitter age; tracks that really don’t mean anything but have lines that can quoted in 144 characters so that those who are on the fence or haven’t heard it will think there is a deeper meaning behind it. Beyoncé, with many of her singles, has become a queen of this kind of marketing (oh yes, that is exactly what it is). Most of her songs aren’t as lazily written as most songs of this ilk (7/11 excluded), but she does know what drives a large part of her fanbase; her fabulousness, her fierceness; and a desire to see her as wholly representative of black culture in a desire to see themselves in her.

It cannot be said enough; Beyoncé having pride in herself is not the same as having pride in the culture as a whole. I have no doubt that she is proud of who she is and gets sick of rumors about her and the fact that so many people like to take unfounded shots at her at times, but shutting down your antis is not the same standing up for black culture. Beyoncé rocking braids is not necessarily a tribute to her African roots. Her pride in her southern style that is not unique to black people is not a wider commentary on the legitimacy of that culture. The two are not mutually inclusive. That would be like saying Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off is an homage to American exceptionalism just because she dresses like a cheerleader, talks about things that everyday people do and has a multiracial cast of dancers.

And, the sad thing is, if the song and the video had been two separate entities, this commentary wouldn’t exist. If the visuals had been teamed up with a Black Butterfly-type song where the lyrics reflected the mood they set, I would have loved it. If she had also released a fun track about how awesome it is to be Beyoncé and how she doesn’t care about what we think about her with visuals to match it, I also wouldn’t have had a problem. But going less than halfway on the song just allows those who don’t want to acknowledge the powerful message of the video to simply listen to it on the radio or in their playlist and ignore what could have been a large theme. It feels like a cop-out; a way to still be commercially viable to a large audience while satiating the base. And that feeling of calculation is the worst part of it.

via Beyoncé’s “Formation” is Visually Powerful…But the Lyrics Don’t Match It | Kel .

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