So… okay. Real talk for a moment. You guys ever heard of Beyoncé? That’s a trick question. I’m pretty sure none of you are living under a rock on Mars.
Way back in the mists of time, around 2010, I was young(er) and foolish, and I wrote a blog post about the idea of Beyoncé’s music having deeper meaning, and whether that meaning was being read into the lyrics by a critic’s over-active imagination as opposed to being put there by the artist. Now I read that post and CRINGE, you guys. I cringe to the deepest part of my soul. I sound so godawfully pretentious.
See, between then and now, some serious shit has gone down, not the least of which was me moving to the other side of the world. I’ve had some tough times, and I’ve felt real despair. And when I was down at my worst, Single Ladies saved me. There’s something so light, and bouncy, and happy about it, that I couldn’t listen to it without feeling a little better.
There was a while there when I had most of her dance tracks playing on repeat while I worked. Looking back, I credit the Freemasons Club remix of Ring the Alarm with really getting me into electronica.
I can’t believe Beyoncé’s music irritated me at one point. Single Ladies is literally one of my favorite songs now. I’ve completely fallen in love with much of her work, and there is no doubt in my mind that whatever meaning there is to be found in it – and there is a lot – was put there intentionally by her. I listen to plenty of music by black female artists now but she’s always the first among them, the one I revere most. (Yes, I am a card-carrying member of the Bey Hive and I will fight anyone who says shit about the Queen. You have been warned.)
This leads me to last Saturday, when Beyoncé surprised us all with a new track and music video called Formation (Dirty).
I have so many feelings about this. SO many feelings. I love it and I’ve watched it a few times, and I’m still trying to parse all those feelings. Much as I’d like to dissect it, or analyze it, or… whatever, critique it, I can’t. This piece of art wasn’t made for me.
The think-pieces abound already, and none are more assholish than Vogue’s five-second take that describes Beyoncé’s hair and ‘athleticism’ as being the primary aspects of it. I’ve read so many comments that bash it severely, calling her racist, anti-police, a sell-out, and all manner of things in between. It’s been called boring, too political, uninteresting. Did I see the same video as these people? The level of hatred just floors me.
I want to grab them around the throat, and shake them gently while shouting “IT’S NOT FOR YOU!”
Not one frame, not one beat of the song, is for anyone but black people, and (it seems to me) specifically for black women. It’s all for them, their power, their culture, their lives; a celebration and a call to action all in one. And that looks terrifying, or at least baffling, if the only media you’ve ever consumed assumes whiteness as the default.
Like, that shot that pans across the graffiti that says ‘Stop Shooting Us’? White Americans look at it and think that Beyoncé is being ‘anti-police’. But she’s still not making this for them, and their perspectives are skewed. To me, it looks like a call-out to the Black Lives Matter movement, and solidarity with the black person who felt strongly enough to spray-paint that on a wall.
See what I mean? I can’t help feeling that a lot, a LOT of white people are getting their jimmies rustled over Formation because it so completely rejects their viewpoint. I keep getting this odd sense like, why should we care about your take on this? Your feelings are secondary, at best. It’s like (cisgender) men getting their collective underwear in a bunch because they don’t like a music video all about periods. It’s nice that you have an opinion, okay, but it’s just not relevant because y’all don’t ever get periods.
Now consider how much more rustled a person’s jimmies can get, if they’re used to their opinion ALWAYS being relevant.
I am just self-aware enough to know that this is an incredibly significant piece of art, and there are layers of meaning and inference that are completely closed to me because I’m a white Irishwoman. That’s okay! I’m totally okay with my every opinion of it being considered total nonsense. But I am not about to bash it for lack of context, nor dismiss it because it implicitly rejects my attention; it doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of it, or my admiration of Beyoncé. I’ll enjoy it, and let it cement my opinion that Queen Bey is perhaps the most influential music performer in the world today. This is one place where my usual instinct to analyze a piece of media just doesn’t apply.