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


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.

Categories: Commentary, VideoTags: , , , ,

202 comments

  1. I whole heartily agree with the legitimacy of the article. And I agree Beyoncé is exhibiting some self-praise in this song and making money off it. Although the lyrics of her song and the video presents some contradictions, I believe the main point is being missed by many. I believe Beyoncé is slowly unveiling and is establishing herself as a Entertainment Activist for the Black Community. At least to me, this is what she appears to be doing, but I could be wrong.

    But here’s more of my unwarranted opinion. I believe Beyoncé is taking a calculated progressive approach to embody and represent “Black Pride” and the “Black Lives Matter” Movement through her platform, Music. I believe Beyoncé knows that in order to do so she has to effectively use her platform.

    What I mean by this is, I believe Beyonce is using marketing, relatability and support of a large fan base, and her knowledge of the entertainment industry, as leverage to support and bring awareness to our issues as Black people. I believe she is tactfully and strategically accomplishing this in a way to not YET cause a major stir in the Entertainment Industry that could potentially end her career (since the industry is still majority ran by White executives regardless of how invincible people may believe her to be), but to put things in place to eventually gain the “power” in the Entertainment Industry to advocate for change for the Black community as a whole, specifically focusing on how we are treated and represented in this country. I believe she is well on her way.

    We know that the Entertainment Industry heavily influences African-Americans, especially our youth, and is probably second to the Sports Industry. My assumption is Beyoncé knows this and understands today’s music trends and how it significantly influences our people. Particularly the younger generation, which is largely targeted and highest in the numbers of reported killings by police. I believe she is approaching these issues in a way that brings awareness of these issues to a larger audience as a means to gain support and help change things.

    I believe “Formation” has instilled a sense of “Black Pride” in a large portion of our people, young and old, to enable them to contribute in whatever way possible to help create change. This might be the portion of our people that finds the traditional way of learning about our History, and the injustices and inequality we as Black people face, lacking urgency, motivation, and inspiration. I believe Beyoncé has found another way of capturing their attention to these major issues through her music which often times parade a cockiness (slayage) and sometimes ratchetness that is perceived by many as “not good music.”

    I believe she is slowly emerging and is ready to bring her activism to the light, after remaining behind the scenes for some time now. With all her fame and notoriety, I think she is beginning to use her platform to finally step into an Activist Role for the Black Community, as Michael Jackson has done with his music career, in the Entertainment Industry. Although her methods might be different than how we would execute a plan, it is still effective. She is motivating a large portion of blacks to stand in unity with “Black Pride” and the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which is doing more than many other Black big names and highly paid entertainers.

    Again, I know that I cannot ignore the fact that Beyonce is an Entertainer and she is making money off the “Formation” song/video, however she is contributing back to our community and inspiring others to do the same. Everyone gotta start somewhere. Let’s concentrate more on the positive impact of what “Formation” has done, which has inspired many Black people into activism, and not on the inconsistency between her song lyrics and the video.

    We need to look more at the positives that results from a person’s work, then nitpicking apart something that is an accomplishment and bringing solidarity among many Black people and others, to stand in solidarity with “Black Pride,” and feel connected to the “Black Lives Matter” Movement. We all can positively contribute to help change the issues we as Black people face, and we can do it in our own unique way.

    • I truly enjoyed your take. Ok, acknowledge the duplicity of the message while celebrating Beyonce entranced into activism. I liken it to comedians dealing us provocative subject matter while making us laugh.

      • I am with you joyful. lol You are right on. There is a lot of “I believe or would like to believe” in the above explanation. Indications of trying to find something that you know may not be there. I would hope for the best to be true also… however, looking at the whole big picture and not just what I want to see… I do NOT believe the hype. I believe in what the evidence as a whole presents and your article coincides with that. Thank you for spelling it out more plainly for those that are confused.

    • Wow very well said like you should publish an article on this like it was so intriguing and informative and I believe your totally right.

    • I find the constant projection of personal perspectives onto ‘entertainers’ as the motivation for the work they produce nauseating.

      I’m not a hater, just someone who isn’t fooled by the illusion of fame and money. I don’t know why I feel so frustrated by this. We lead ourselves the entertainers jump on the bandwagon and suddenly the energy is focused on them. They don’t do that stuff for free you know. It’s about them first and whatever gets more fans. I struggle to find Bey authentic as a person, I don’t even know her, heck I don’t actually want to. Stick to entertainment Bey, we’re solving our problems ourselves.

      • Yasssss!!!!! I agree with you 200%. Although I’m not a fan of hers, I would have believed her “pro-blackness” a little more had she not announced a tour the next day AND post those outrageous ticket prices. How can she be for the people charging $3600 per ticket to see her? I wish people would wake up and see they’re being played. I listened to an interview that father gave and he said every single solitary thing destinys child did was calculated down to how long the group would even last. I refuse to believe the hype.

        • I disagree. Every single line of that song designates with the majority of black female culture. “Baby hair, Afros, hot sauce, being bama, slaying, grinding, working hard, Red Lobster, corn bread and collards, etc.” All of these terms have meaning to black females, that non-black females may not understand. I understood every line and I and my 12 year old daughter feel proud and empowered by the song.

      • Clearly, everyone is entitle to their own opinions about how they view the world and everything in it. So why not Bey and Jay? Before you label me an apologist for Bey-Jay, understand, I’ve never bought a single piece of any of their music. But I’l admit, I like this young power couple. I too, wish their lyrics had deeper social significance and less self-aggrandizement. But not everyone is going to be like Macklemore, Mos Def or Common. And the idea that they at least acknowledge the social issues facing us all, puts them light-years ahead of acts like Flo-Rida, Drake or God-forbid, 2 Live Crew.

        My daughter (33 years old), says I shouldn’t give Jay and Bey a pass on this one, but at my age I can’t help but take the long view. I can clearly recall several acts from the seventies and eighties (2Live Crew) that didn’t so much as give lip service to social consciousness. This couple is talented, entertaining, investing their monies into black films, and other creative projects and also using their funds to support the campaign efforts and initiatives of the first Black president, Barack Obama. While it’s possible to do more, when their efforts are weighed against all other factors, can’t I cut them just a little bit of slack?

    • Eddie B.,
      I couldn’t have said it better.

    • I AGREE WITH UR POINT OF VIEW.

    • I was getting ready to write a comment, but the individual immediately before my words said EVERYTHING PERFECTLY!!!!
      Of course you would pick the song apart & pick out things that rather than bring us together. Every lyric in her song doesn’t have to be about the injustices African Americans are facing to be an eye opener!! People obviously got the point, because they’re extremely bothered by it. So much has been said about her & her family, but you never hear about her dragging people’s name through the mud or responding unprofessionally; as to get in a little back & forth argument like kids do, instead she uses her music as a form of expression. The Expression is not only about what she thinks about what people say about her, or how she feels about the injustices of African Americans & the police; but rather a plethora of expressed emotions. Who says that her song has to be about 1thing only. She’s not saying she’s entitled to anything in her lyrics either, she says she sees where she wants to be in life, & she works hard until she achieves it. It’s called GOALS people. Bey’s MARKETING TEAM IS RIDICULOUSLY BRILLIANT!!!!!! Everything she does is Strategic & Fire & that’s why she stays on top!!! Yaaaasss she SLAYS!!!

      • Seems like you actually agree with some of my points, you just take them as a positive while I see them as being a little too cute by half.

      • Bey’s marketing team is ridiculously brilliant to those people who cannot think for themselves. For those who are critical thinkers would beg to differ, and know that her marketing team is just that – for the purposes of marketing. Marketing Beyoncé being all about herself. I doubt this woman cares about all the stuff blacks are dealing with on the ground level. The “Afro” wearing of braids, saying she’s still a “country bama” are smoke screen words that trigger those who believe every word out of her mouth. I doubt Beyoncé will be wearing an Afro while she’s on tour. And if I were a betting person, I would put some serious wager on it. She comes out on the football field during the Superbowl wearing a long blonde weave. Wow! Her not dragging people’s names through the mud still does not erase that fact that she’s copied other people’s art without their permission, done other group members dirty and that she’s about as bright as a blown-out light bulb. Beyoncé may not “say” much, but her actions towards others is abysmal.

    • She’s bullshit… funny she’s playing homage to New Orleans right before Mardi Gras… how ironic… its all marketing. Hurricane Katrina happened over 10 years ago and she’s just not publicly speaking out? Now you want to “act” Pro-Black all of a sudden? We’re out here in these streets enlightening and empowering our people for real. GTFOH

    • This is absolutely amazing. You touched on all of my sentiments. Thank you for sharing this so eloquently.

    • Thanks Eddie B. I think you got this just right.

    • Perfect response to this article.

    • I whole heartedly agree with This response to the original article opinion. And to expand on it I will point out that when I hear “ok ladies lets get it formation” it interprets as “let’s take our rightful positions” when I hear “prove to me you have some coordination” it interprets “prove to them you can work together”. When I hear “slay bitch! You slay” it interprets
      “You BAD, YOU All That and they know it” when I hear “sometimes I go off I go off I go hard” it interprets” we get mad, we get aggressive at times and get shit done!” When I hear her saying things that “seem” like she is boosting herself, it actually translates to me as what she is telling me I should be saying about myself. I need to handle my business, be the best me I can be cause I’m a strong black woman of power and grace who can let my hard work (slay) and paper give me a voice and activate my power to come together with other strong black slaying women and work together to make change with our baby hair and Afros wearing big nosed selves, cause we BAD!
      GET IN FORMATION AND SLAY BITCH!
      anyone who doesn’t get that message not only doesn’t have depth but is a hater.

    • Powerful reply. Thank you.

    • It’s not about what it’s not ( many things ) but about what it is . It is a song of empowerment period . Could have been better written sure , it still does a hell of a fine job .
      Some people are asking her to fix the American education and economy ?? And what until then shut up ???
      What I keep from this , is the action in front of all America , the underlying or apparent message , the result.

    • If there was a LIKE button, I would click it!

      I agree with what you wrote, your analysis of Beyoncés “work” both being entertainer as well as empowering.

      The naysayers are those who are the problem in this country. They are the bigots, looking to keep down a people who dare to rise up.

    • I feel like the power behind making a song about self-praise and self-love was completely missed with this critique. Even without the underlined and italics parts, this song is still powerful. Yes, Beyonce is bragging heavily on herself. That is the point. She’s not just bragging about her wealth, but she’s also bragging about her hard work and her accomplishments (her family and general power she has in the music industry and beyond). She is also bragging about her country heritage, the hot sauce in her bag, and being a “bamma.” These last things are all things popularly used to degrade southern Blacks (bamma was a derogatory term until it was reclaimed). The total effect of the song is that when someone sings along with it, they’re actually expressing positive emotions about themselves and, if they are from the south, their heritage. There’s a reason why so much rap and hip hop is filled with self-praise. We are a culture that has spoken our success into existence even while facing prejudice and doubt, and that is exactly what Beyonce is doing with this song.

  2. Did this match as the typical Protest song, Lyrically? http://nypost.com/2014/04/01/pharrells-happy-becomes-unlikely-protest-anthem/ As PolicyMic, a site which specializes in serious viral news, reported, the song has been used in recent months in countries facing political conflict, with those in resistance giving the happy-go-lucky track a whole new meaning.

    Videos have popped up from strife-ridden places including Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, where the Arab Spring began; Moscow, where anti-Putin protests have popped up; and the Philippines, still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan.

    Perhaps the most stirring example is a video that juxtaposes “Happy” with protesters’ encampments in Kiev’s Maidan — or Independence — Square, showing activists dancing to the song and proclaiming that freedom is what would make them “happy.”

    “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”
    ― Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

    “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”
    ― Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

  3. Stop scrutinizing her for her efforts to speak out against the current events. She’s an artist not a newsreporter. She took a huge risk on her career to put those words you want us to omit from her lyrics when she didn’t have to. Like many celebs she could have chosen to be silent. You owe Beyonce an apology period.

    • With all due respect, I do not. I like the imagery of the video and I stand beside her when it comes to the flack she is getting from cops. I just disagree (respectfully I might add) about that same power being in the lyrical content. But I will not stay silent because what I have to say may ruffle feathers…’cuz I slay.

      • YESSSSSSSS, kelmelreviews! I LOVE this comment. You should not stay silent because there are many of us (myself included) who agree with you wholeheartedly!!!!

      • You don’t owe Beyoncé an apology. You have the right to voice your viewpoint about anything you want. What annoys me are these brain-dead, bandwagon fans of hers, whom she could care less about by the way – defending her as if their lives depended on it. Yes, we would rather Beyoncé remain silent, because she knows ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about Black Panthers, Black Lives Matter or anything dealing with black issues for that matter. She wouldn’t know a Black Panther if he came up and slapped her on the behind. This chick may put on a show as if she’s making a statement, but I have YET to see her sit down on a panel and discuss feminism, black issues or issues dealing with poverty. It’s all a show, a smoke screen.

  4. So she should be singing about being poor and black, because thats the more widely know experience when it comes to us. #STFU

    • Thats the widely accepted experience when it comes to uneducated and simple minded black people who have no knowledge of self. U correlate poor and black because u dont know who u are. Its a different story if she actually said something to uplift and unite black people. But people acting like this a pro black song, NO its a marketing scheme by an entertainer. She never speaks out. She threw a few lines in a song but lets see the action she puts behind it. Ill wait…Not knocking her, but with that platform if she cared about “pro black” she would educate TRUE black history and not no damn hot sauce corn bread and African noses. We deeper than that

  5. It is impossible to say anything constructive about Beyoncé because her fandom is cult like. The video imagery and the lyrics truthfully have nothing to do with one another and it’s juvenile to even attempt to call this a Black Empowerment song. Nina Simone and Marvin Gaye made empowerment songs that stand the test of time. This song will be easily forgettable with the exception of a few lines.

  6. Great article. I tend to have so much skepticism on the Carter-Knowles artistic system and approach…Or as you said “the marketing.” I’m learning that in a Beyonce crazed world, the best thing to do is to stay on neutral ground and support self-expression and self-discovery so that I can simply (and sincerely)–send my kudos and well wishes and be on my way.

    Then in cases like “Formation” there is def a need to address a few things, and go deep, b/c as someone said on this article’s comment trail:

    “Maybe hurricane Katrina and the black lives movement was that deep to some people and they want for the message to be told the right way whenever the discussion is brought up.”

    Can we just at least remember that marketing is real. It is an entire department of 100s of people at corporations around the world. Marketing is the messaging strategy, positioning a product in a way to garner attention with the ultimate attention of making money. Sometimes we go deep because in the absence of an engaged/involved caregiver, media and music is raising our children, it’s forming the mind, shaping generations, claiming a prized seat in the collective soul consciousness. The seat that propels us towards or holds us back from the change that we look for.

    The way I like to think about all this is that Beyonce’s music is at a very exciting stage. I like to call them the “teenage years.” You know when you come to this understanding of yourself: you make some key moves to set yourself apart and to set yourself up to express greater and greater autonomy and independence as to how you think and how you express yourself. And it’s exhilarating. Especially when your crew’s got your back, you have your core team surrounding you, you have that safety to scream loud “I’m a grown woman, I can do what I want.” And then you get confident enough to see how you can extend this new found sense of self into political/community issues. And that’s exhilarating too. You realize, I can change the world too!? I think her artistry is in that phase…but we ascribe so much depth to her artistic references as social commentary of the times…and I’m not certain that depth is there…or if it is there…i’m not sure how some of us are so confident that it’s there. Remember marketing is part of a profit-seeking strategy. and where there is profit-motive there is profit motive…only the artist knows for sure where their heart is in the matter. We are only speculating that the artist is making an intentional/engaged revolutionary activist-move. I’m speculating that it’s not and you’re speculating that it is. But all the certainty that it is…is just weird-twighlight-zone-ish in absence of lyrics that would support that certainly.

    Side note: “You can be the black bill gates in the making” so the black ceiling is a the black version of something that’s already been done?

    In the teenage years, you start to develop a sense of your power and ability to influence, but you will find when you look back that there was still this sense..that it was about you. Teenagery lends itself to a lot of narcissism. Nothing bad/good. I mean narcissism and self-absorption is also a big part of the toddler years. At critical formative stages of our lives (teenage, being formative years of adulthood) we do focus on self a lot. Beyonce’s music is self-expression during the formative years of her artistry…the video shows that as an artist she is not living under a rock and is influenced by movement and culture, but the song also lets us know it’s more-so about her and her reflection of it all and her thoughts on other personal topics:

    “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.” (kelmelreviews.com)

    It’s just self expression. Nothing wrong with that. So why not just place the period here. Where am I missing the fact that Formation (and/or the video) is this deep commentary into society’s ills. I would say it’s just a song…it’s pop culture. It’s not rare for pop culture to be influenced by social movements. But it is still just pop culture. I remember listening to the Lauryn Hill’s Unplugged album and her explain (I paraphrase) how looking back at her career and she felt that she was getting caught up in the “branding” of self-awareness and conscious music…and that the mainstream reaction/adoration to her music was threatening her ability/desire to operate/maintain a more authentic space…where her music could truly breathe in the substance and not form of self-awareness and consciousness. My guess would be that the Unplugged album was a reflection of that. Essentially that’s what I’m saying. Beyonce’s music is going through some awesome teenage years…and we may also be going through our teenage years of self-discovery and expression..whether it’s discovery and expression of sexuality (which I understand her last album did that for a lot of women)…or discovery/expression in how you can influence the world and reflect the times…and it’s great to have a soundtrack to these awesome teenage years..and I believe her music does that for a lot of people…

    But i just get a sense that we confuse the confidence and power surge that comes with teenage years, with the rooted-ness, grounded-ness, empowering wisdom that follows.

    …So to you New York Times asking “Beyonce in Formation: Entertainer, Activist, Both”…why do we need to turn activist, an artist who is simply reflecting her times in a creative avenue. I trust that all artists, especially those that make a pit-stop in the waves of mainstream, waves that can be hard to get away from in light of fame/notoriety/and that good ole benjamin cheese… reach “the wisdom that follows”…that substance which is heart-transforming, mind-renewing, action-inspiring and the essence of authentic movements and revolutions. Let’s not give too much credence and weight to the teenage years of self-exploration/discovery, but simply allow them be a good start to the wisdom that follows.

  7. I totally understand your opinion, but I respectfully disagree. I think through the song Beyonce adequately portrays that she loves her blackness and the black culture, while also revealing that she loves being a black woman – a successful and powerful black woman at that. She says that she is Creole, she likes her cornbread and collard greens and she carries hot sauce, all of which are prevalent in black southern culture. She tackles feminism not only by claiming to be the black female Bill Gates, but by switching the stereotypical gender roles. Usually in hip hop today you always hear about the man taking the woman out to eat and buying the woman things, but Beyonce talks about taking her man out to the mall or on her chopper and buying him things. It shows that she is a boss and can handle her own. She doesn’t need to depend on a man. You could say that this is self-centered, but the mere insinuation is inspirational. Despite all of the haters and oppressors in society, Beyonce slays; she and her other women get in formation and slay. She is bringing us black women together (and black people in general) to slay like she has, meaning to take pride in ourselves and to tackle the oppression, work hard and excel despite the people or the systems in place that can hold us back. We have to get in coordination, meaning to get our stuff together and work together to slay or else, in her words, we will get eliminated. Although I definitely do agree that the message is stronger and more empowering through the video, in my opinion she has a solid message portrayed in the song alone. With many songs, especially in hip hop, you have to read between the lines.

    • Thank you for making so much sense. The fact that we are having a conversation about it means something. She is an entertainer, and she is doing her job and slowly bringing a bit more of her being into the generic formulae. The more she does that the more we should encourage it knowing its paving the way for the upcoming Beyoncés to not start with the formulae. I’m almost 40 and her lyrics give me life. She is speaking the truth about her realities and you can do with it what you want, she doesn’t care because she will keep on working and slaying and be the next Bill Gates whilst you are still there analyzing the percentage of the political content of her lyrics in comparison to her video. Yawn! Just be entertained by the booty shaking embrace yourself and work harder.

  8. I believe there’s actually a deeper meaning behind the bragging this time around. First I’ll say I believe she’s talking about the self hate from our own race on top of other races. It was mainly black people talking about blue ivys hair right? “I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros” ….”I like my Jackson 5 nostrils” etc. There’s a movement with the trend of natural hair and finally saying “yes I love my hair and I’m embracing it now even though we’ve been taught it was a negative thing for so long! ”

    Second I believe the bragging in the song kinda speaks to all the negative remarks Cam Newton was receiving for being successful and celebrating it….or anytime a black person is successful someone always has to bring you down with their correction of how you should act, talk, celebrate etc. It makes sense being that she was performing at the super bowl.
    Why can’t people let US live? Why can’t we be proud? Why do people analyze our every move then call us cocky or uppity? If we’re successful and confident we need to be humbled or knocked down a peg but for our white co workers/ friends its normal for them to be confident?

    I guess they got confused….let me clear it up… as black people we never asked for anyone’s approval nor do we need it. For once it’s nice to hear…. We are who we are period and we’re proud of it period. Nope…no need to apologize. We slay and the truth is you’re jealous and mad because you’re taught that we’re less than.

    As far as Red Lobster goes I just can’t imagine them going to red lobster…I don’t even go lol the food is pretty cheap. Once you’ve tasted GOOD lobster you just can’t go back to red lobster lol. However lm wondering if there’s a better meaning behind that. I do remember someone on Fox news calling women on welfare or housewives “beyonce girls” So maybe she’s reminding everyone shes been working for years with and without a husband. She can take him out.
    It all sums up to black/womens empowerment. We’re proud of our accomplishments, who we are and where we come from.

    • “Baby hair” and Jackson noses are such loaded turns of phrase concerning blackness.

      Growing up, if you didn’t have baby hair edges but instead had a “kitchen”… Oh boy. That brings back some bad memories.
      And the Jackson family with the exception of Tito (God bless Tito) hasn’t had the most enlightened relationships with their noses.

      But this all goes to prove the point that this is so subliminal on a micro level, as well as the macro of how the lyrics and the visuals just don’t jibe.

      • She is talking about Blue Ivy’s hair when she says Baby Hair. That is a reference to her daughter because people have been complaining about Blue Ivy’s Afro and saying it is unruly. She was referring to the Jackson 5 before surgery. They didn’t perform surgeries on themselves until they were no longer in the group. When they were the Jackson 5 they had regular black noses.

        • You completely missed my point in your quest to be right on the Internet.

          Beyoncè could mean a lot of things. I like to play with words that can be understood on various levels myself. It’s fun to watch people extract all kinds of things from what you didn’t say. I do it with that intent.

          I’m pretty sure whomever wrote these lyrics, because I highly doubt it was Beyoncè herself, was doing the same thing.

          Which brings it back to the subliminal nature of the whole video… the topic at hand.

    • I’m not sure where you’re from or what class you’re in, but if you can afford Red Lobster in Louisiana, you’re doing really well. Red Lobster is the middle class’s up-class restaurant. It’s for very special occasions only because it’s expensive for us.

    • I’m not sure where you’re from or what class you’re in, but in Louisiana, if you can afford Red Lobster, you’re doing really well. It’s like the middle class’s up-class restaurant. My family only went there on special occasions. Also, we’re from a smaller town of 30,000 people and to go to a Red Lobster, you have to go into the bigger city of 100,000 people. So…it’s kinda like country come to town, feeling like we’re rich for a moment while we’re eating at Red Lobster.

      • Red Lobster is cheap, and ghetto! I NEVER eat there. Taking a dude to Red Lobster reflects the type of morals she has — cheap as hell.

  9. So, let me get this straight; in order to better understand her song we have to dissect it and remove content? Ha! Talk about revisionism and reductivism. Miss me entirley with the BS–all the way to the left, please. This is the worst commentary I have seen on the matter, from folks on any side of the divide. Think on it– in order for you to justify your position, you turn yourself into a revisionist. In order to have a position at all, you have to say–look how much she is yapping about stuff that is not *that* pro black. That ineffective tinkering is baseless on many counts. This is strawman argument making at its worst. (Second commandment of logic: Thou shall not misrepresent or exaggerate a person’s position in order to make them easier to attack. (Straw man fallacy)). Not to mention that lopsided attempt to think for one second that Taylor Swift is not walking, living and breathing White American Exceptionalism in every video she makes.

    And this is what we do to black women isn’t it? Especially this black woman. Apparently we are allowed to say what a proper and thorough black culture statement is for *everyone* in the diaspora? We stay trying to black check how folks express blackness. For some reason,

    We don’t like them talking about f**king their men, looking beautiful (you petty for dissing her clothes, lol), and just running anything with excellence. Forget the fact that she big-upped herself and did it in a way that so many people identify with! How selfish of her for (finally) being an undeniable black woman! Clutch the damb pearls!

    Anyway, she did make a fun song. And one that folks are extremely proud of as well. And one that is pro black! A pro black woman trap song where she is talking about sexing her husband! I nearly shouted in my house, because won’t he do it!! #blackgirlmagic #carefreeblackgirl

    It is whatever we want it to be, so I get that this is what you want it to be for you. But your argument has no logical progression and is full of holes. You fell off at trying to make me read lyrics three times as well. Just bye to all of this.

    • Funny you say I make a straw man argument. I didn’t diss her clothes, or make any personal attack on her. And this couldn’t possibly be the worst thing you’ve seen unless you’ve been avoiding sites that are calling her a whore and a traitor.

      I simply said that I wanted a video that is so visually powerful to be backed up by a song that gives it to me in the same way. I knew she catch hell for that imagery (and she is), so I wanted her to do something with a little more jab and really make it count. It was going to be a hit no matter what she did. After all, she is Beyoncé.

      • ^^^I think this particular entry is the worst I have read because it tries to mimic a logical argument, and folks actually think it is logical when it is far from making sense. Just my opinion tho. And that other stuff folks are spewing about her is racist anti-woman filth. You specifically called this a “commentary”. And maybe your line about looking nice in her expensive clothes (not really) was not a full diss, but it was hella petty, and definitely personal. Are you also a fashion consultant? Sigh. And, to reiterate, if you have to remove parts of the song to help you make sense of it, you are not even doing what you allege to do, and that is take the song as a whole. Just revise, reduce, and serve I guess. And this definitely amounts to a pretty hefty strawman in my book. But hey, do you, boo boo, do you.

        • First, the (not really) goes with ignoring her haters. There’s a comma there.

          Second, you missed the point. I’m not removing the italicized and underlined lines permanently. I want the reader to temporarily see what I see when I look at the lyrics; a song that is almost completely devoid of a broader black pride motif. It’s a variation of an technique used to help students understand context in thier own writing.

  10. Beyonce is doing the doggy paddle with a life-vest in conciousness, when she dives deep, I think she will become a better writer and producer.

  11. Astute!!! Totally agree!!!

  12. While I appreciate your point of view this is exactly the kind of thing that stops black artists from speaking out on black issues. Other black people bash them for not doing enough or saying enough or being enough. I think when she brags about herself it’s great, because she’s a black woman and we don’t have a lot of examples in media about black women being praised, and there’s a lot of black woman out there who aren’t appreciated. So the message I hear is be your own biggest fan. Beyoncé is her biggest fan.

    In regards to the lyrics not having as much to deliver as the video -I think that’s purposely done. It gives the song duality. There’s a reason she debuted the song through a music video. She’s become such a visual artist, it makes you dig deeper into the song. Look at how she came out on the Super Bowl field with her dancers in an X formation, assumeably for Malcolm, not to mention the wardrobe paying homage to the black panthers.

    She doesn’t have to stand there and song about Malcolm X. She can stand there in X formation and sing “We gon Slay” on national television and I can absorb her message as this being a time for black people to rise up and fight injustices. We gon slay. I think she’s had international fame and this is now the beginning of a more socially aware and reflective Beyoncé.

  13. One great aspect of music, is the listener repeat. Songs are not just listened to, people sing along, rock out in cars, phrases get stuck in your head. As in your mention of Flawless, “most of the song is a brag and/or defense track about the singer herself,” I actually can see these lyrics as empowerment as they’re aborbed and repeated by the listeners themselves. Yes, it could just be Beyonce talking about herself, but in repeat by the audience, they are taking absorbing this message into themselves, adding an additional level of empowerment to the listener: “I see it, I want it I stunt, yeah, little hornet/I dream it, I work hard I grind ‘til I own it” or “Bow down Bitches” and “We flawless, ladies tell ’em.” When we repeat and sing aloud (or even silently in our heads), just as Beyonce states this for herself, we are also stating to society at large that we have empowerment.

  14. OMG! Thank you so much. I wholeheartedly agree.

  15. This is me doing a full-blown Pentecostal YAAAAAAAAASSSSSS praise dance, with a tambourine in one hand and an MLK fan in the other. Watching black people do Dominique Dawes-type backbends to find nonexistent messages and meanings from such brilliant lyrics as “I slay (hey) I slay (okay) I slay…” has been a source of rich comic stupidity for days. The Empress has no clothes, folks. Deep down, we all know it. But it’s Beyonce, so…

    I encourage everyone salivating over this to apply the Lil Mama Test to this song/video: If Lil Mama did this exact same video and song, would black folks be going crazy over it? (Exhibit A: the awesomeness that was “Sausage”.) No, of course not. The video is fine. The song is…whatever. But the combination is pure, money-grubbing trash meant to separate easily influenced Negroes from their tax refunds. This isn’t a black pride anthem in the slightest, and juxtaposing images of Beyonce using post-Hurricane Katrina as her personal photo op doesn’t make it any blacker. Neither does marching around the Super Bowl with your Afro-clad dancers while your blonde weave blows in the breeze.

    “But-but-but it encourages black women to be empowered and celebrates our beauty and swag!” Oh, bullshit. Nobody has more swag and snatches more wigs than black women. We *stay* scalping chicks bald. Miss me with this excuse (which was also the defense to Rihanna’s BBHMM). Like the author said, just make a video about how great it is to be Bey…oh, wait. She’s done that a million times and people started getting tired of it. Hell, Beyonce even made a vid with Nicki Minaj, and it still didn’t make a dent anywhere outside of black Twitter. This time, Bey made the exact same song and threw in a little black boy with a hoodie dancing in front of some cops. (I wonder if they went to Red Lobster later?)

    Speaking of which, it can’t be understated that the song makes no sense even independent of the video. “Jackson 5 nostrils?” The only one without a nose job was Tito. “Negro mixed with Creole?” So you mixed black with…mo’ black? “Red Lobster?” No self-respecting Creole would be caught dead there, especially in Louisiana! That’s like going to Italy and asking where the nearest Olive Garden is. And then she ends it all with “always stay gracious.” Lord, how I cackled.

    I will say this, though: I can’t believe the backlash that’s coming to Beyonce over this. Criticize her for the right reasons: the song is trash and the video is blatant pandering. I can’t see Beyonce taking the kind of career hit that Janet did…but none of us saw Janet taking the kind of hit that she did, either. As far as I’m concerned, there is no controversy. This is the exact same situation that Janet suffered: racist whites have found something to latch onto and seized it with both hands in order to drag her down. It wasn’t right then, and it’s not right now.

    In Beyonce’s case, I think white people are enraged to find out that the black woman they’ve loved for so long is…you know, black. They’re feeling the kind of betrayal that hasn’t been seen since OJ Simpson. Personally, I hope Beyonce walks through this completely unscathed and lives to torture us all without another song about how her haters can go to hell because she’s a bad bitch and blah blah blah because these white tears have made my Afro shiiiiine. What’s more offensive to white America: black woman confidence or black woman titties? We’re going to find out, I tell you that.

    • I agree with everything you just said!!! Though she wants black folks to be respected for our greatness, she also wants black folks to help her become the Black Bill Gates by buying those concert tickets. I respect her hustle, but I know a marketing ploy when I see one…

    • This is just everything!

    • Best response… the song and lyrics was trash as well as the video… the ONLY reason folks are falling over themselves with praise is because she’s Beyonce…

      • I agree, Ms T. tired of these flea-hive people who can’t think for themselves. That song was garbage, t say the least. I’m like: “Is anyone else hearing this bs besides me, who thinks this song has no real depth?” She slapped all the words together and said: “Let’s call it Formation”. Either no real thought was put into this so -called song, or someone stupid wrote it. It may even be both.

    • Oh my goodness. This is single handedly one of the best pieces of writing and critique I’ve ever come across on the internet. So effective…and funny! Kudos to you for wielding such perspective and writing skills. Wish I cold find a place with more of your work.

  16. I think she was saying get “informed”…know what they trying to do to us as a race and saying about us….then with a play on words….using what’s been said about her and her family…….what they say or think about us is not who we are….. so, we as a people need to stop feeding into what they say and stop hating on one another and come together in “formation” as one. She says…They say I’m illuminati….but I got my own, wanted it worked for it….she speaks about the negros nose…JZ. She states I like my baby’s hair…Black folks are the ones talking about her….and yes she’s like whatever…I got this and that cause I’m about my business….however I’m no different than you. I’m black, country and proud….I eat greens and like red lobster, and if you “fu_k” with me….if we stick together we can bring each other up….Black bill gates…cause I’m a black bill gates….” police hands-up”…instead of working so hard at bringing each other down….”police car sinking”

    • This was a self-praised piece on the part of Beyoncé. What information did she impart to the black race that they’re not already aware of? Are we not already aware of what society has done to us? Having black features like a Negro nose and Afros is not ground-breaking information. Those physical features have been around for centuries upon centuries. I want someone to explain to me what enlightening information did Beyoncé share about how we as blacks can grow and rise above what we’re going through? I’m befuddled by the way people are praising her for this song, although I’ve heard many more masterpieces by Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott that have much more depth and meaning that this bullshit song.

  17. This song/video/Half Time performance was so highly managed & marketed it feels like the result of a whole lot of focus groups. It’s downright Machiavellian.

    The lyrics coupled with the visuals is absolutely subliminal. You see all this positivity, but you’re encouraged to buy your man J’s and take him to Red Lobster if he screws you good. (???)

    I could go on about all the materialism and status seeking brands sprinkled in and how they are the antithesis of black consciousness (and suspiciously so), but I’ll leave that to Kelmelreviews. You already saved me from typing more about this on Facebook with my thumb. My hand hurts!

  18. Well I mean this is just a disposable fun song meant to keep an aging R&B singer relevant. I don’t think it deserves this much in depth discussion, for what?

    • Given the reaction on the Interwebs you’d think Bey and her Hive are the New Black Panther Movement. And this is said with zero exaggeration. There’s going to be an 8 hour protest against Beyoncè in NYC. 8 hours.
      And every time we march for a life cut short by police brutality… “Don’t they have jobs?!?”

  19. I so enjoyed this article that I was inspired to write one about the very same thing on my blog at laillabella.wordpress.com. Love it if you’d check it out and share if you like:)

  20. damn really yall have fake outrage over everything! Why can’t we just appreciate the art and enlightenment of the music? We say rich blacks don’t speak up about social issues, well here it is and the super bowl halftime show!

    • is this song really art? I mean, come on. Puh-leeze!!! This sounds more like a self-praised piece she put out to draw attention to herself. She has no real material with any real meaning or depth. She’s not speaking out against social issues. She’s talking about her own roots. That’s it. And I thought Creole was Negro, therefore, what are we mixing here? It’s not like it’s Chinese and White having a kid — now that would be 2 different races mixing. This girl is about as brilliant as a blown-out fuse. And if we’re actually looking to Beyoncé to pen some black anthem for us, it’s a sad day in the black community. Real Talk.

  21. I was very intrigued by all the publicity this performance got Beyonce, and from of the many articles I’ve read on the subject, she has not confirmed or denied that black power was her agenda with this performance. Honestly, every Beyonce performance has her and her dancers wearing leotards, and most of the time the leotards are black! So I think we could easily argue that this was not an intentional agenda for Beyonce. However, to play devil’s advocate and say that is what she was trying to bring notice to the “Black lives matter” movement, why would we be upset over that? I understand the Super Bowl is supposed to be a common ground with no politics brought into it and I can respect that, but we have to look at it this way, Beyonce is an artist who wants to spread her message the best way she knows how, and that is through music and public performance. And what better way than to do that with millions of people of all races and cultures watching her? I am reading a facinating book called Ethics in Human Communication and in that book there are 5 ethical guidelines with which to communicate a message inter-culturally. And since it appears that is what Beyonce was doing, lets see how many of these Beyonce followed:
    1) Promote Voluntary Participation in the interaction
    2)Seek individual focus prior to cultural focus in order to avoid stereotyping
    3)Maintain the right to freedom from harm–physical, social, or psychological
    4) Maintain the rights to of others to privacy of thought and action.
    5)Avoid imposing personal biases and especially using those biases to mislead or deceive. (Johannesen, 2008)

    There was definitely voluntary participation in her performance! She used her reputation as an individual to gain some sway with her audience, however I am afraid there is still some stereotyping going on. I don’t think anyone was harmed in her performance, and she definately did not trespass on anyone’s privacy. However, her biases did perhaps come in to play in her performance.

    Anna
    Drury University

    Citation
    Johannesen, R. (2008). Ethics in Human Communication. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

  22. I loved the track and the video. The reference to herself with the lyrics are perfect. When myself as a fan sings those lyrics I then think of how they related to myself.

    “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”
    Yes Mrs. Carter is singing my thoughts. And she’s a proud black woman as am I she may not be politically correct with these lyrics but they are right on point. No matter the amount of money she makes she still knows how to speak to all communities on their level…love her!!!

  23. Some of these lyrics are incorrect, which is only one problem I have with this article. I loved the message in this song! So what if some of it was self-praise?! Shouldn’t we show pride in ourselves and our culture?! Instead of critiquing when an artist takes a stand on social justice, can we become supportive? At least appear to be an united front! Geesh! Good for Bey, with the song & lyrics! Keep it up! We are proud of you.
    Oh yeah, fix these lyrics please and thank you.

  24. I appreciate your different perspective and thought in this article. Please it’s important to not assume the knowledge or intentions of others. You seem to suggest that Beyonce diabolically “calculated” the video for ONLY selfish gain. It’s easy to reach that conclusion but you do not know that it is true.

    Next, while taking pride in yourself is not exactly the same as taking pride in your culture it is important to note that Beyonce is modeling how one black woman is taking pride in herself as a black female American. Perhaps other black women, men and people in general can learn how to/be inspired to take pride in themselves and their culture in their own way after seeing how she did in her own way.

    She is just one person, telling a story from her personal understanding and experience as an American black female. Can we please allow people to express themselves. We are all unique and limited and that’s ok

  25. So I spent my Sunday afternoon reading about Formation. I knew the name Beyoncé but I never listened to her before. I’m not really into any of that hip hop culture. You say Kanye West and I here Jon Anderson (could we get much higher?) I’m not a racist. I know it’s black history month. I say to myself “I should read a book about black history”. But I don’t do it. I’m a not racist but I’m a lazy ass white man.

    The week before it was the Super Bowl so I listened to Beyoncé. And then I read a lot about Formation. Some say it’s inappropriate. Some say it promotes violence. Some say it’s just another egoistic self-promotion gig.

    First the obvious: the video is amazing, beautiful. There’s the references to Katrina, the southern black bourgeoisie, black lives matter movement, police brutality, the black panthers. It is very dense with powerful imagery and references.

    But then some black critics say the lyrics don’t match the power of the video. If you remove the few lines about her heritage, they say, it’s just another hymn to herself and her sexual power.

    She sure talks about her own power. The way a white man talks about his power. A libertarian way. I worked hard. My wealth, my power. She says I have power too. « I might get your song played on the radio station ». Wow! That is serious power. She claims to be an equivalent of Bill Gates. No shit! She won’t access power as a house N. If you pleasure her she might allow you a taste of her privileges. She’s the opposite of a trophy wife. You be the trophy. She’s the Power.

    So is it really just about her? The white man is part of a privilege system of power. A system not acknowledge but very real. Even if you’re a lazy ass white man, you are part of that system. You might not be on top but you have some level of recognition, privileges. In that system if you don’t have power you are invisible. The black woman is invisible. Beyoncé says « if you think a powerful black woman is not possible, just look at me bitch! » But one powerful black woman is not enough. She wants a system of black women power. That system won’t come easy. That system requires a group awareness and coordination. A Formation. This song is about her might and how she wants to use it to bend reality, to force acknowledgement for those who are invisible. This is true leadership.

    She is not calling for vengeance even if she shows her anger. She’s not even asking for anything. She has it all already. She calls her own people to unite under her leadership and become a force to reckon with. This is not a Kumbaya, every soul is the same colour, peace on earth song. This is not « I don’t see colour, I only see people » shit. It is not offensive but it hurts. It hurts where it should. It hurts because it should.

    So this is black history month and my lazy white ass has witnessed history. I have seen the Formation on Super Bowl night. I invite you to do the same and watch again this beautiful and powerful black woman. Watch the video, read the lyrics and feel the power.

    • Patdam. I agree with what you’re saying. However, what seems to ALWAYS stick out about Beyoncé is the me-ism she projects. She’s not trying to uplift other black women either – if she were, then she wouldn’t have pulled dirty tactics against other black women such as Ledisi, Jennifer Hudson, and other members of Destiny’s Child whom she sabotaged. Beyoncé is about Beyoncé Power, and that’s it. Get in formation means to BE LIKE HER, not find your own strength of talent or skill. She believes she’s some kind of goddess that others need to worship. This entire songs screams ME!

  26. this white girl wholeheartedly agrees with your commentary here.

  27. you’re totally right. i cant agree more

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