Windell: Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ falls short of her true ability to empower and inspire change

Bridgette Windell

If it weren’t for the creative ads and the halftime show, I wouldn’t have tuned in to watch the “Super Bowl.”

However, this year, both Bruno Mars and Beyoncé accompanied Coldplay. Although I wouldn’t have chosen Coldplay as the main headliner, the performance featuring Bruno and Queen Bey was good television. Between the theatrics, costumes, drums and dancing, I couldn’t look away. I was so entranced with all the production that I didn’t pay attention to the political references and subliminal meanings underneath all the glitz and glamour.

Ad

The next day, there was discussion among media and the public that Beyoncé had made references to Black Power and Malcolm X from the formation of the backup dancers to the caps they were wearing. I was so distracted by the production that I didn’t even see the references made.

It’s clear that Beyoncé was using her new song as a platform for equal rights and as a move for #BlackLivesMatter, to which she and her husband Jay-Z have donated generously.

Before looking up the lyrics to her new single “Formation,” I wouldn’t have been able to tell it had a deeper meaning. While there were references to Black culture and Beyoncé clearly owned her heritage, I think the lyrics could have contained a more symbolic and meaningful vocabulary.

Without the references in her halftime performance or the visual storytelling of her music video for “Formation,” the song would do little to communicate Black unity.

Some highlights from the stand-alone lyrics include: “Red Lobster, hot sauce” and “baby hair and afros.” While these terms create a distinct and an “unapologetically Black” culture to the song, I think more could have been said versus just the physical aspects of culture. If Beyonce is looking to inspire and be a powerful representative for African-Americans, “Formation” should have included a deeper sense of the desire for unity within the lyrics themselves versus more surface-level sentiments that had to rely on the visual aspect to tell the complete story. 

For example, in the music video, there are multiple scenes portraying hardships in the African-American community such as the Hurricane Katrina aftermath or issues of police brutality. The music video clearly communicated her efforts to stand up for the African-American community and demand equality while also being proud of her heritage. Yet nowhere in the actual lyrics are there direct references to this. The music video and halftime performance were empowering, but it’s a let-down that the lyrics don’t justify the visuals and have a weaker impact when standing on their own.

Beyoncé is a prominent figure of black heritage, but the lyrics of “Formation” do not match the visual empowerment that accompanies it. 

Queen Bey has a strong influence on culture — believe it or not — and she should use her voice and influence for all they’re worth, both visually and lyrically.

Because celebrities such as Beyoncé are popular public figures, her actions and views attract more attention and have more influence. As a celebrity, Beyoncé’s voice has the ability to reach millions of people, and if she aims to be a role model with an impact, shouldn’t her voice mirror that? 

In America, too many people like to think that racism and inequality ended with the Civil Rights Movement, but if 2015 taught us anything, it’s that race is a very much current and ongoing issue. Lyrics are a powerful and widely-appreciated vessel of important social commentary and calls to action, but only when fully utilized. 

Ad

It seems clear with the production of “Formation” accompanied by the music video and other visuals were intended to unite the African-American community and promote as sense of pride in heritage. However, the true meaning of the song suffers a disconnect when visuals are not present. If “Formation” is only heard and not seen, it lacks the deeper, more important connection to cultural hardships — therefore, the meaning is easily watered-down or completely lost. 

Collegian Columnist Bridgette Windell can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @Bridgette_Rae.