Editor’s Note: About a week ago, I published an editorial critiquing Beyonce’s new song “Formation”. The article generated a lot of debate, so I asked my friend Nia Wesley — an unapologetic member of the Beyhive — if she could write something explaining why my piece frustrated her so much. I’m happy to say that she graciously accepted.
(Full disclosure: Wesley is president of the UT-Austin chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, of which I am a member.)
When I read The Higher Learning’s piece about Beyonce’s latest hit Formation, the stan in me was definitely shaken up. As someone who grew up adoring her every move all the way back to Destiny’s Child, fathoming any Beyonce criticism is never easy.
The idea that the Queen is hopping on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon for profitability is, in my opinion, bogus. Beyonce could have chosen to avoid the political route altogether, to continue making more money than she ever has before by releasing catch radio singles. Instead, she chose to take a risk.
Think about the audience she’s catering to with this bold message. African Americans make up only 13 percent of the country — she’s taking a stand for her people. And those wanting to criticize her timing should understand that any iconic artist that wants to stand the test of time, as she has and will continue to do, has to take into account the world around them and apply it to their artistry.
Yes, black people have been dealing with police brutality and countless other forms of injustice for decades, but Beyonce was not always at the place of stability and power that she is right now in her career. To go political as a mainstream musician is a sacrifice. You risk alienating an entire chunk of fans that may not agree with you. You risk losing endorsements from companies that don’t want politics tied to their brand. And as we now see, you even risk police not wanting to protect and serve at your concerts.
There in no doubt that Beyonce is a business model, but you have to give her credit for being on the front lines of every decision regarding her career. She is not one of those puppet artists that shows up after all the real work is done, the type of artists that have no say in their packaging.
She recently replaced a big chunk of her management team, including her manager for the past five years Lee Anne Callahan-Longo. At a time when her inner-circle is totally vulnerable, do you think she would do something this controversial unless she really felt strongly about it?
Now she’s facing national criticism from idiots that think her song insults the police, and police departments across the country are vowing not to work her concerts when she comes to their state. It would have been safer for her to release another hot hit, feature Nicki Minaj, give us life and sell out a tour, like she always has. But no, she chose to take a route that puts issues facing our community on a platform, forcing everyone to take a cold hard look at what more than a few bad apples in law enforcement are doing to black bodies while celebrating our complex cultural unity at the same time.
Another point that threw me out of my chair was the idea that the images of Hurricane Katrina used in the video were appropriating a tragedy and dismissive of a catastrophe. What’s dismissive of a tragedy is the actions — or, to be more accurate, the inaction — of the United States government in the days, weeks and months after thousands were killed by a storm that displaced more than half of the population of New Orleans.
The treatment of Katrina refugees was deplorable. Between the way they were reported on in the media and how they were shortchanged by a system that was supposed to help them, the storm was able to give the country a front row view of what happens when natural disasters strike poor black neighborhoods. Beyonce is using this scene to slap some people in the face, and that doesn’t include the victims. Isn’t she allotted any artistic license?? This scene is a powerful image that acknowledges a horror in American history. I think it all comes down to your interpretation of the scene and its effectiveness.
The critique about the blatant materialism portrayed in the song is understandable to a certain extent. It begs the question, how is she supposed to be uplifting a community in which the majority can’t afford any of what she’s bragging about?
Of course, we also have to ask ourselves if black male artists held to the same standard. In Hip-Hop, the flashy element is deemed as something that comes with the gig. In that arena, if you aren’t flashing your new Givenchy, you’re doing something wrong. Why does Beyonce have to be a classless monk to get a point across without having all sorts of shade thrown at her? The imagery of a powerful black woman being able to buy and own assets the white man never envisioned her having is a rebellious and empowering notion within itself.
In his conclusion, Ghogomu writes, “What I’m not okay with is her throwing a few token crumbs of black culture into a song about how rich and powerful she is and calling it black empowerment. I’m sorry Beyoncé, but we deserve better.”
His overall stance is clear, but it seems he’s expecting something from the wrong place. You’re not going to get a Nina Simone from today’s Tina Turner. Beyonce is giving it to us the best way she knows how, and twerking while doing so.