Full disclosure: I am the first to admit that I am not so good with abstract things. But this time I got it.
Unsurprisingly, people have taken to social media and their blogs to either praise or slam Beyoncé for her video “Formation.” Although most of what I have read has been positive, I have also read criticisms from people claiming everything from “that’s not a shout out to the Black Panther Party” and “I am just not a fan of Beyoncé’s, so why bother?” to continued criticism over the fact that Beyoncé and husband Jay Z don't relax their daughter Blue Ivy's hair and “Beyoncé’s "Formation" is visually powerful, but the lyrics don't match it.”
All I can say is that folks are so busy focusing on the one thing that is their truth and attempt to try and apply it to her truth, that they’re failing to see the point and significance of the song and the video.
For the record, up until yesterday, I could only name maybe five songs of Beyoncé’s, and two of them are from her days with Destiny’s Child and one is from the Dreamgirls soundtrack called “Listen.”
Initially I saw the song “Listen” as being part of the movie. And why not? Given where it was placed in the film, it made perfect sense Deena Jones (Beyoncé) would have to explain to her husband, Curtis Taylor, Jr. (played by Jamie Foxx) that she is “… done believing you. You don't know what I'm feeling. I'm more than what you made of me. I followed the voice you gave to me. But now I gotta find my own…”
Any woman who’s been in a relationship with a controlling man could relate to those lyrics.
But it wasn’t until “Formation” was released that I saw “Listen” as a precurser to and wholly related to “Formation,” and that it’s not a love interest she’s talking to, but rather something bigger and far more controlling.
But more on that in a minute.
It’s not that I don’t like her music. Actually, when one of her songs is pointed out to me, I generally do like it. It’s that I am personally stuck on the music of the 1960s and 70s to the point that almost anything that was released after that has to be brought to my attention before I realize it’s there.
Indeed it took Kate Forristall, a White woman, to break some of it down in her blog post “Formation Doesn't Include Me—and That's Just Fine” for those who are thinking way too hard about this and failing to see the forest for the trees.
For all of Forristall’s good intentions, however, even she missed some of it, but I have to say she came closer to hitting the bullseye than those who are defensive, calling Beyoncé everything from outrageous to a racist, who want to focus on the minutia because it fits their truth or who make it their business to criticize everything and every body.
So what’s the point of Formation?
In 1990 George Michael released a solo album called Listen Without Prejudice. If you were a Wham fan or loved it when he told you, “I want your sex,” you probably saw this record as an unwelcome departure. It was Listen Without Prejudice that got me to truly admire George Michael for the first time and convince me he was far more than “pretty hair” and a piece of wiggling ass.
It was his lyrics that made me realize what an enormously talented songwriter and musician he is.
“I won't let you down;
I will not give you up.
Gotta have some faith in the sound;
It's the one good thing that I've got.
I won't let you down,
So please don't give me up,
Because I would really, really, love to stick around.”
Further into the song he talks about how he has to change up his look to appease the execs at MTV, which pretty much sums up his transformation—both visually and artistically.
Beyoncé was 14 years old when her father, Matthew Knowles, quit his job to manage the band Destiny’s Child, which featured Beyoncé and three other girls. Under his guidance, Beyoncé, Kelly Rowland, LaToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson signed with Elektra Records.
Beyoncé was 17 years old when their self-titled album was released and the song “No, No, No!” won a ton of awards, climbed both the R&B and pop charts and made Destiny’s Child a household name.
To suggest Beyoncé was both living the dream and that she was raised by the recording industry are understatements.
That we don’t regularly read about Beyoncé and for that matter Beyoncé and her husband Jay Z in the tabloids unless they’re doing something positive, in my opinion is an indication she is pretty well adjusted and they have a functional marriage.
But, what do people see when they look at Beyoncé? She’s beautiful, for sure. She has an incredible body, she has a killer voice and she is an entertainer.
One thing I noticed about Beyoncé is that over the years she has tried to let who she is come out, but in reality what most people want to see are her tits and ass, her hair, and hear her voice.
Like all of us, underneath the façade is a woman who at 35 has long since come into her own. It’s just that folks don’t really want to notice.
People criticized her for marrying Jay Z. People continue to criticize her for not relaxing their daughter’s hair. And now when she sings a song that is a huge departure from her previous hits, those who just want her to go back and wiggle her ass are out to criticize.
What do the lyrics have to do with the powerful images seen in the video? What I get out of it is that she’s saying, “Fuck you!” to those who want to criticize her choices because they don’t know her personally to criticize her. She’s also saying, “Yes, I know I am very light-complected, but I am every bit as Black as you.”
“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…”
And Black comes in all shades, from various parts of the country, and all of these are our roots—even those of us who identify as Black Biracial.
Oh, so the relevance to Katrina, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, slavery, police brutality in the Black community and Black Lives Matter?
They influence who she is and who all Black and Black Biracial people are. The past and the present influence us—how we see life, how we see ourselves, our achievements, our failures, the pressure, the double standards, the racism, the feeling dismissed or the feeling we’re paid too much attention to and the scrutiny—both by those who aren’t Black and those who are.
This is her Freedom 90, and while it may be too abstract for many, it’s the one time I get it.
Happy 50th anniversary to the Black Panther Party!
Image credits: Formation videoSongwriters
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.