The single, the first the star has unveiled since her wildly successful self-titled video album back in 2013, was released exclusively on Jay Z’s streaming music service Tidal, which is also offering a free download of the video and track (it did the same for Rihanna’s recent album, Anti). Last week, Beyoncé made another video appearance in Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend, but Formation has elicited an entirely different response.
A New York Times headline asks if Beyoncé as an “entertainer, activist, [or] both,” whereas the Daily Beast heralds the video as a “fiery black power anthem and call to arms.” Indeed, the political commentary featured in the video is nothing if not straightforward — there’s no hidden meaning or tip-toeing around the subject this time around.
The video itself begins with Beyoncé atop a halfway submerged New Orleans police car, and things just escalate in the best way from there. Scenes of police brutality, Hurricane Katrina, and black empowerment abound, and Beyoncé embraces her heritage while flaunting her success in a manner that is as unapologetic as it is important. In one of the verses with the most staying power, she sings, “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.” There is a sense of self-awareness and self-love that is more important today than ever for the black and brown communities of the world.
The end of the video is perhaps the most poignant — riot-gear wearing policemen submit, with their hands raised in a gesture emblematic of the “Don’t Shoot” and Black Lives Matter movement, to a black child dancing about in a hoodie. The camera then makes its way over to graffiti that reads, “Stop Shooting Us.” Beyoncé can’t rewrite our past, but she’s beginning to write our future. As Jon Caramanica, New York Times music critic writes, “This is high-level, visually striking, Black Lives Matter-era allegory. The halftime show is usually a locus of entertainment, but Beyoncé has just rewritten it — overridden it, to be honest — as a moment of political ascent.”
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