What I do want to talk about is my obsession with Beyonce's "Formation" video. Here it is, if you haven't seen it yet.
Up until Scalia's death last Saturday and the ramifications for the Supreme Court nomination process/presidential election/all total shitfuckhell breaking loose, and all of the chocolate that tradition and compulsion forced me to eat in honor of Valentine's Day on Sunday, "Formation" was pretty much all I thought about. I watched it whenever the kids were gone and discovered that I had been muttering the song's lyrics under my breath when Maddsy asked me "You have hot sauce in your bag?" as I was absent-mindedly singing while washing dishes.
So far Madds hasn't asked me anything about Red Lobster, so I guess I do have some self-control. I take small but significant comfort in that. But that is the lyric whose ramifications I wonder most about. Red Lobster already reported a "Beyonce Bounce" after the song dropped. Did the chain also notice a spike in Valentine's Day reservations this year, and were those primarily made by very satisfied-sounding women? Are more ladies paying checks there? Are more gratuity totals ending in ".69?" Did Beyonce pull an Oprah-Weight-Watchers move and buy a huge share of Golden Gate Capital (Red Lobster's parent company) before releasing the song? Are people getting freaky at home with Cheddar Bay Biscuit Mix in misguided attempts to be both sexy and frugal? So many questions, Bey! So few answers!
Anyway, during this week of obsession, I asked my incedibly smart friends to recommend good articles on "Formation," its meaning, and its reception. Here is what we came up with, and I thank them heartily for steering me in the direction of strong, interesting analysis. So here is my gift to you, fellow fans. Think of it as a belated Valentine. I may not be able to get your song on the radio station, but I can regift you these links. Enjoy!
Look, someone had to point out that the majority of the song's lyrics alone aren't revolutionary in the same way that the video is. Because, honestly, what are lyrics about Givenchy dresses and Red-Lobster-worthy lays doing in a video that is such an eloquent cinematic statement of southern Black heritage? I mean, high five on your Roc necklaces, and I'll lift a Cuervo (no chaser) to your vengeful paper any day, but none of those particular lyrics will give me shivers, make me cry, or haunt me like any image from the video. The video is the art here. The song itself is good workout fodder with a few great lines about Black pride.
"It’s time for us [white people] to stop singing along — to Formation, to Kendrick Lamar’sAlright, to any song that has the N-word or celebrates blackness in a way we will never understand. Our ancestors signed away that right when they signed their names to contracts that said they owned human beings or signed tabs in restaurants that didn’t allow “colored people.” If your ancestors were abolitionists or civil rights protestors, maybe you knew these things a long time ago, but for the rest of us, our people were either active racists or passive enablers, a pitiful legacy if ever there was one."
BOOM. (Except for when I'm subconsciously muttering under my breath while doing chores, right? Right?)
SNL had a great take on this idea this weekend in their video "The Day Beyonce Turned Black":
You must read this. It is such a great, rich read of "Formation" as resistance that relies expressly on the people at the margins of an already marginalized demographic, and I want to quote the entire thing here because it is so good. Instead, I'll tease you with this:
"Formation, then, is a metaphor, a black feminist, black queer, and black queer feminist theory of community organizing and resistance. It is a recognition of one another at the blackness margins–woman, queer, genderqueer, trans, poor, disabled, undocumented, immigrant–before an overt action... To slay the violence of white supremacist heteropatriarchy, we must start, Beyoncé argues, with the proper formation. The proper formation is, she contends, made possible by the participation and leadership of a blackness on the margins. The celebration of the margins–black bodies in motion, women’s voices centered, black queer voices centered–is what ultimately vanquishes the state, represented by a NOPD car. Beyoncé as the conjured every-southern-black-woman, slays atop the car and uses the weight of her body to finish it off, sacrificing herself in the process. Like so, so, so many black folks in the margins in the movement for (all) black (lives matter for) liberation."
Whoa. It makes me breathless in anticipation of Part 2.
Because being Black or having a mama from Louisiana does not give you ownership of New Orleans's trauma. Yes, Bey, you can use images of Katrina and the Federal Floods as symbols of the country's neglect of its own Black citizens, but you can't do it without hurting those citizens you want to represent with that symbol. There's a price to that use that's not acknowledged in the song or the video.
"But, Beyoncé, I wish that there was a correlation between the visuals you depict in “Formation” and the lyrics of the song. I wish that in resurrecting these images of Black pain that you had said something about them. It is not enough to put flooded houses on screen nor to drown yourself in the water. It is not enough to show a young boy in a hoodie able to make stoic police officers put their hands up in surrender by the force of his dancing and unadulterated existence as a child. As powerful and pro-Black as this song and accompanying video are, no matter how much catchy Carefree Black Girl Magic is flowing from it, “Formation” is not the protest song or BLM movement anthem some people want to claim it is. No one would identify the song as such just by listening to it."
Truth. The song is one, lesser, thing. And the video is another, greater, thing.
Because, regardless of having backup dancers dressed as Black Panthers - a party dedicated to dismantling the system of capitalism - Beyonce is out to get paid. Her video might have revolutionary imagery in it, but is she herself an agent of any kind of revolution?
"... 'Formation' and its viral Super Bowl Sunday performance is inherently a black narrative, yet its mode of presentation is rooted in the same corrupt system that has lead us to this historical moment we stand in now. Activism and consumerism are one and the same. Its impact is temporary and perhaps “ineffective” in the long run due to being crafted by a capitalist we so lovingly call Bey."
So, there's some food for thought, fellow obsessives. Read, think, enjoy the complexity of "all that conversation."