Beyonce Gets Political, and I Get Snatched Bald: An Overview of Themes and Motifs in the Formation Music Video
It is important that you know, I am not even a Beyonce stan like that. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the post I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced of Jacob Marley’s death before the play began, then there would be nothing remarkable about him showing up at his “business” partner’s house to bitch him out in the middle of the night.
It’s also important to note that Beyonce usually doesn’t go in for this sort of thing. She’s not really the Artist/Activist type. This video is the most political she has ever gotten, and I swear it took the convergence of Black Lives Matter, Black History Month, Mardis Gras, a Nat Turner Rebellion movie, the blatant disrespect of casting a white man to play Michael Jackson, and all the planets to bring us this blessing. Many have said Formation is the phrase, “I love my blackness, and yours.” given physical form. It is all that and more.
This opening line prepares us for the realness to come
Let’s start with the fact that Formation features a voice over by Big Freedia the Queen Diva of NOLA Bounce. If you don’t know Bounce music, or you don’t know Big Freedia–and if you don’t know Bounce, you won’t know Big Freedia–let me direct you to Youtube so you can educate yourself. I recommend you start with Excuse, and Y’all Get Back Now. Big Freedia also has a very nice feature in Ru Paul’s Peanut Butter.
All throughout this video we are treated to imagery from Black queer culture, from Big Freedia’s voice-over, to dancers, to queens just slaying in the beauty shop. Again, if you are unfamiliar with the richness of Black queer culture, I direct you to the internet, because there’s just too much to explain. Start with Paris Is Burning on Netflix and go from there I guess? Like, literal books have been written and it is too big an undertaking for me alone. But Formation is an anthem for Black Femmes as much as it is for Blackness in general.
Beyonce heard all y’all talking that shit about “Why is her hair always done, but she can’t make sure her baby’s hair is done?” Uh, because Blue is a child, and that is her NATURAL HAIR, and she clearly is ROCKING IT.
In fact, this video features A WEALTH of natural hair, textured hair, weaves, perms, braids, Black hair in general.
Note: Baby hairs are small, fine, wispy hairs on your hairline that your mother would brush or gel in a specific way. If you don’t know what a baby hair is, ask a Black person, or someone with “ethnic” hair (gag).
In fact, every single person in this video is Black except for the cops.
And let’s talk about that scene
A little black boy dancing his heart out in front of a line of cops in riot gear,
and the cops put their hands up. YES YES YES YES YESYEYSYESYES!!!!!
Please note the multiple nods to Majorette culture (okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, prove to me you got some coordination, slay trick or you get eliminated) which is very southern.
Formation is very southern
From Southern Gothic imagery
to people dressed for Mardis Gras
To the scenes with people dressed in 19th century Creole garb, in their parlors, with fans.
Now let’s examine some of the lyrics:
My Daddy Alabama, Mama Louisiana
This is more than a statement about Beyonce’s roots. The vast majority of Black Americans can trace their ancestry to the South, after many of us moved to northern cities in the Great Migration. To this day, the majority of Black people in the US live in the South. I’m a New Yorker for generations back on either side, but guess what? The family reunion each year is held in Virginia, because that’s where my people come from.
I like my negro nose and Jackson Five nostrils
There has literally never been a more full-throated, stalwart, stark as hell positive affirmation of Blackness in mainstream, popular media since the original Black Is Beautiful movement in the 60′s. Maybe not since the Harlem Renaissance? I predict In a few years, people will be inverting their contours and getting plastic surgery to achieve the coveted Jackson Five nostril. Only by then they’ll rename it something more palatable to the mainstream (Read: white people).
I got hot sauce in my bag
Let me tell you something about my septuagenarian Grandparents: they literally always have a bottle of hot sauce in their car. Like many retirees, they like to travel, take cruises, do old people stuff. Never have they ever gone anywhere without a bottle of hot sauce. Never has my grandfather been in a restaurant and not requested hot sauce–even though he always has his own.
As I type this, I have a bottle of hot sauce on my night stand, next to my bed. Why? Because I put that shit on everything, and it’s just more convenient to keep it handy. I put hot sauce on pepperoni pizzas. Sometimes I sip out of the hot sauce bottle like it’s a fine wine.
I make all this money, but they’ll never take the country out me
A reminder to never forget your roots, a statement about preserving your identity under the pressures of assimilation, or commentary on respectability politics–no matter how much money you make, how famous you become, you’ll always be Black to the powers that be? Trick question. It’s all three
BLACK AS HELL
Note: Red Lobster is known to be the de-facto Black date night restaurant. I have no idea why.
All of this culminates in Beyonce, sprawled atop a NOLA police car, sinking into the flood waters of Katrina. She metaphorically drowns the police in a flood caused by the colossal abdication of responsibility by those in power at the expense of the disenfranchised. She is prostrated on the symbolic corpse of the oppressor as it is subsumed by water.
I Literally Can Not.
Other images that made me want to praise dance:
Black man riding a horse down the street. Little known fact, Black people were some of the first cowboys in the American west. For the most famous example, see the actual man The Lone Ranger is based off of.
The newspaper with the picture of Martin Luther King and front page headline that read, “More Than A Dreamer.” A reference to the #ReclaimMLK movement, which is about countering the sanitized, white-washed, commodified version of his message with the reality of his radicalism.
The fact that the portraits on the walls of the mansion are of Black women
I had the great pleasure to work on the very challenging cover for yesterday’s New York Times Book Review. At this 10th year mark of Hurricane Katrina, the review dedicates itself to books and shorts about the lives in New Orleans after the disaster.
At first, I wanted to depict the social and racial inequalities that has been exposed by the water line which is still haunting the recovery. But in the end we decided to show more defiance/perseverance/celebration after the waters receded.
After I came up with new sketch V.2, I realized I really miss the mix-match perspectives in my original V.1 sketch, hence the V.3 which was picked for the final.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as the flood waters receded from New Orleans, they took with them any sense of normalcy the city had before the storm. The monster 2005 hurricane wrecked levee systems, flooded entire neighborhoods, damaged homes and businesses and hit residents like a wrecking ball — but the story was just beginning.
“Hey kiddo!” Calum said as he wrapped his arms around Makaio.
You couldn’t help but smile when you seen the smile plastered on your sons face.
“We’ll see you later mom!” Makaio said happily as he hugged you.
“Okay baby boy, have fun and be good. Call me if you need me!” You said hugging him back.
“You sure you don’t wanna come with us? We are going to that cute little ice cream parlor that you love.” Calum said smiling as he put Halie in her carseat.
You smiled. “Nah I’m fine, you guys have fun.”
“Okay. You’re gonna miss out on all the fun.” Calum said shrugging.
“I’ll be fine.” You said smiling.
Calum grabbed Halie’s carseat and started to head toward the door.
“Ready bud?” He asked Makaio who was putting on his shoes.
“Ready!” Makaio said excitedly.
You leaned down and gave Halie a kiss.
“Be careful please.” You said worriedly to Calum.
“We will babe, I promise.” He said smiling and winked at you.
You nodded and Makaio wrapped his arms around you.
“Later mom, love you!” He said happily.
“Bye baby, I love you!” You said waving as they closed the door.
You walked over to the couch and sat down.
You fiddled your thumbs and flipped on the tv.
The hotel was always so quiet when the kids left with Calum. It was peaceful yet eerie.
You flipped the tv off and sat in the silence for a moment.
You didn’t realize that you had fallen asleep until your phone started to ring.
“Hey y/n, can I ask you something?” Calum said.
“Yeah what’s up? Is everything okay?” You asked getting concerned.
“Yeah we’re all fine. I just wanted to ask if maybe I could keep the kids overnight tonight. Just for tonight. Makaio really wants to stay and I’ve got the night off and tomorrow too and I miss them. Please.” He said sounding desperate.
“Can I talk to Makaio?” You asked.
“Yeah. Makaio it’s your mom bud.” He said.
“Momma! Please please momma can I stay with daddy pleaseeee.” He begged.
You smiled. “Put your daddy back on please. I love you.”
“Dad-mom wants to talk!” You heard him shout.
“Soooooooo can I have them tonight, please?” He asked.
“I guess so. But please have them back tomorrow morning.” You said reluctantly.
“Yes! She said yes bud!” He said happily to Makaio.
“Thanks y/n, love yo-see ya tomorrow!” He said.
“See ya.” You said and hung up the phone.
“Well, hell. What am I going to do now?” You said outloud to yourself.
You decided to text Katrina and you decided to meet up later that night at your favorite steakhouse.
You got a shower and got dressed and waited until 5:00.
You found your car and hopped inside taking off to the steakhouse.
“Kat!” You screamed when you spotted her outside of the restaurant.
“Y/n!” She yelled and ran to give you a hug.
“Damn girl you are looking fine as fuck!” You said giggling to her.