This music video gives tangible substance and meaning to a track which could potentially be described as "standard".
It has become increasingly normalised for celebrities to have a prominent social voice and presence, with some abusing this platform more so than others. The commonality of these public figures displaying their private issues can often overshadow the talents which had initially brought them to such a position. What can be admired about an artist such as Beyoncé and her team, having one of the largest worldwide followings, is that they have always been very conscious and particular about what her “image” represents. Whether this is visually with her music videos and interviews or lyrically with the content of her music, her control of how she is presented – alongside her talent – has been central to her commercial success.
With this said, after 10 weeks of media silence, February 6th 2016 bore witness to the release of Beyoncé’s comeback single ‘Formation’ with an accompanying video treatment. Striking visuals are not something foreign to her, with the entirety of her last album BEYONCÉ creating a cinematic experience for her fans. But what this music video achieves is something in a different realm of artistic purpose. The first frame of the video sets the track’s overarching tone, with Beyoncé perched on top of a police car submerged in water, as a sound bite from late comedian/rapper Messy Mya asks “What happened at the [New Orleans]?” – a direct reference to the police’s response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Beyoncé unapologetically pays homage to her race, culture and history throughout this video, including shots of black beauty and hair stores; vibrant church services and an array of stately black women dressed in classic French couture surrounded by a beautiful manor – the latter of these images more often associated with white American history when observing films and dramas set in a similar period. For a woman who has been publically persecuted for allowing her daughters afro-hair to grow the way it naturally comes out of her head, this was a clear visual testament to the self-pride and appreciation Beyoncé wants her fans to possess.
Yet the element of this video which has caused the most discussion and controversy is Beyoncé’s overt reference to police brutality. It would be wrong to label the frames showing a young hooded black boy dancing in front of white male police officers, with the words “Stop Shooting Us” painted across a wall, as insignificant. Visuals can be both emotionally and politically stirring and at a time in American history where police brutality has become too frequent to be dismissed, tensions could not be higher. Many have criticised Beyoncé, labelling this as a deliberate attack against the American police force, whilst others have viewed this as purely a celebration of being black and country – a part of Beyoncé which some people may not like to admit to themselves given her commercialism of her music and image.
The question posed from this however is whether artists like Beyoncé should take on the responsibility to speak up about these kinds of social issues. We have had musicians in the past such as Bono and even Michael Jackson use their craft as mouthpieces for change, yet with Beyoncé it is taken as an attack – as if celebrating and uplifting black lives in this video somehow discredits the lives of other races. What can be said is the video, having more of an impact than the song itself, is that is has facilitated a much needed discussion of issues surrounding asymmetric racial treatment more so within America but also on a global scale – reiterating the amount of social influence Beyoncé’s music has.
‘Formation’ is available to stream and download exclusively via Tidal, with the video available to watch below.