To utilize a near-cliché phrase here, Beyoncé just broke the Internet. And in the process, she might have achieved the dual purpose of providing a blueprint on how musical artists set to perform at the Super Bowl can maximize their presence and emphasizing unapologetic blackness at one of the world’s biggest events. Now, I’m not part of the Beyhive. But after hearing her latest single, “Formation,” as well as seeing the new video accompanying it, you can’t deny that all eyes will now be on Ms. Knowles-Carter tomorrow evening.
From the beginning, “Formation” plucks with a Southern twang that bridges the past and future. Beyoncé is full-blown embracing her roots, right down to the line, “I got hot sauce in my bag swag.” It’s a trap music anthem of Black Southern Girl Pride. The video throws down the gauntlet even more to listeners — I will bet you any amount of money that the opening visual of Beyonce atop a New Orleans Police cruiser as the voiceover declares, “What happened after New Orleans?!” will be up for discussion for years to come. And the first mention will more than likely be on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on MSNBC. Combining that with gripping shots depicting protesters marching on police in an homage to the Black Lives Matter movement and other shots that display nods to 19th century New Orleans society and Moorish influences? Dropping lines about taking her man to Red Lobster if he handles his business? All complete with the usual precise choreography that has helped make her a superstar? The surprise single and video release is another major power move from someone who’s made that a part of their repertoire for the past few years.
It’s all the more important because there are reports that Beyoncé was hard at work rehearsing this single to perform during her Super Bowl halftime appearance. Consider this: the 50th edition of the National Football League’s final game has already been laden with conversations dealing with racial matters in this country both covert and overt, mainly because of Cam Newton, quarterback for the Carolina Panthers. Newton has led his team to the final game and has done it joyously, making “dabbing” the new pop culture craze. And on the way, he has drawn a ton of coded criticism over his end-zone dabs and other dances. He’s unapologetically black, and although he hasn’t spoken too much about it outside of a comment here or there to the press, it’s kind of obvious that many are rooting for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to win because they just don’t like his kind of blackness in their eyes. Another point to consider is that the site of this Super Bowl is in the Bay Area. There have been protests this past week that have highlighted the murder of Mario Woods, a young black man who was gunned down by police officers this past December after they responded to a call of a suspicious person. The shooting was caught on video and is part of a tragic and senseless string of black lives lost at the hands of law enforcement. San Francisco has been reeling from this incident, which comes on the heels of officers in that city being exposed for sending vile and racist text messages amongst each other and charges of increased gentrification, not to mention the murder of Oscar Grant on a BART platform on New Year’s Eve in 2009. The Super Bowl is being seen as a financial windfall for the city, when the truth is that past studies have shown that not to be the case. With each year, the Super Bowl becomes more of a reminder of a growing economic divide in this nation — the ticket prices alone reportedly begin at $8,000.
The situation makes the release of “Formation” all the more strategic. The single and video were released for free download to subscribers to TIDAL, the streaming multimedia empire owned by Beyoncé, her husband, Jay-Z, and a handful of other artists. This also comes on the heels of a $1.5 million donation to Black Lives Matter from the proceeds of a recent charity concert. Bey isn’t messing around. This isn’t her first time as a performer at the Super Bowl, and she understands very well that her presence is power. The nation and the world damn near lost their minds when Janet Jackson’s nipple was revealed to the world in 2004. Imagine how they’ll feel seeing the bold and black essence of “Formation” on their TV screens as they go to double-dip in the queso platter? No matter what your opinion on Beyoncé, you have to admit that she’s aiming to make this a memorable and message-filled Super Bowl halftime show.
Christopher A. Smith is a New York City native who has been freelance writing since 2006 for various websites and magazines. In addition to being an avid technology fan and culture geek, he’s also published three books of poetry. Catch up with him at @infinitewords14 on Twitter.