I am just as excited as every other woke person of color that has seen Beyoncé’s new music video, “Formation.” I have had the song on repeat since she released it the day before the Super Bowl. The historic imagery, the unapologetic blackness, the clear political statements—all of it, all of it made my heart melt with joy. I have always loved Beyoncé; I grew up on her music and my first memory of a song in English is of her singing “Irreplaceable.” I think she is enshrined in not only American popular culture, but in this country’s and this world’s history. I am literally honored to be able to bear witness to the trajectory to her career. To be able to say that I existed at the same time as Beyoncé, whether or not I ever see her in real life, whether or not I ever go to one of her shows, just knowing that I am alive at the same time she is means so much to me. You could say that I am a fan.
But in truth, I think that what I am saying is a mere acknowledge of the reality: Beyoncé is to what our time what people like Ella Fitzgerald are to the 20th century. One day I will meet teenagers who listen to Beyoncé’s music with a nostalgic longing the way some of my generation do when listening to stuff from the 50’s and 60’s; it’ll be the cool, “hipster” thing to and I feel so honored to be able to say I saw it all as it was actually happening, and not through the lens of a history that was presented to me.
But I am also critical. I, just as much as others have already, have to question the extent to which someone who has accumulated such a tremendous amount of wealth can truly speak for or represent the black masses. I have to question the reality of the release of this song: Beyoncé will put out a song and a music video, for which she will receive an enormous amount of profit. She can perform at the Super Bowl utilizing a wide array of symbols that point to radical black activism, but at the end of the day, she will still return to her obscenely privileged life. So I do wonder: how effective can a music video or a song be?
I have had this conversation with several friends—whether or not the release of a video such as this one is truly effective. Why doesn’t someone as powerful as Beyoncé take to the streets along with the rest of the Black Lives Matter activists? Why isn’t she protesting in the traditional form? Of course, a music video that reaches millions is invariably important, but so would an image of one of the most iconic black musicians of our time standing by her people, in the streets of say, New York, as they fight for equity and an end to the institutional dehumanization of the black body.
At the end of the day, I personally appreciate Beyonce’s “Formation.” I love the imagery. I love her cold, ruthless stare. I love the way she holds her head up high. I love that she is making music for her own people, without worrying about anything or anyone else. I love that she is acknowledging her roots in such a poignant matter. I love that she hasn’t forgotten who she is. I love that, and I think we should ultimately commend her greatly for her current work as a musician who is clearly entering into a new realm of activism.
by FATEMA ELBAKOURY