Beyoncé Is The Standard

This article details how Beyoncé uses music for storytelling.
B with Camera

            Musical superstar Beyoncé shook the world when she released her song Formation on February 6, 2016. The song was also released with a music video that caused a debate within America. The song along with the video was released without any prior announcements similar to the songstresses 2013 self-titled album. Formation is written in F minor in common time with a tempo pf 123 beats per minute (Audio Keychain). The song was written by Khalif Brown, Jordan Frost, Asheton Hogan, Mike Will Made It, and Beyoncé. The song features modern day R&B influences but also marching band influences. The tempo of the song starts off slow but escalates when it reaches the bridge. Beyoncé also made headlines when she performed the song the next day at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. Even though the song is about pro-blackness many people took it as being anti-white which caused a lot of controversy. Beyoncé’s Formation lyrics and video touches on topics such as police brutality, feminism, and black heritage.     
            One of the most noteworthy lyrics from the first verse are “My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana, you mix that Negro with that Creole, make a Texas bama”. Here Beyoncé goes into detail about her family’s roots. Her mother Tina is a decedent of Joseph Broussard a French-Canadian who led an unsuccessful native uprising against the British in the 18th century (Smolenyak). The defeated militia travelled to a new life in Louisiana. In Louisiana and other southern states Creole is a term used to describe people of both Black and French heritage. Louisiana differs from other southern states because of the state’s history as a French colony. These lyrics also foreshadow Beyoncé’s super bowl performance where she and all her dancers dressed like members of the Black Panther party. The lyrics are extremely similar to a line from the book Revolutionary Suicide which was written by co-founder of the Black Panther party Huey P. Newton. In the first chapter of the book, Huey gives a background of his family’s heritage stating that “Both of my parents were born in the deep south, my father in Alabama, my mother in Louisiana” (Newton). The video also draws inspiration from a scene from the 1991 film Daughters of the Dust. The film is essentially about a community of women who live on an island off the coast of South Carolina. Their ancestors were brought to the island after being enslaved but never left after slavery was abolished. This film also serves as inspiration throughout Beyoncé’s Lemonade album. 
            Another topic that the song/video touches on is police brutality and the governments involvement in treating Black Americans as second-class citizens. In the opening line of the song comedian Messy Mya ask, “What happened after New Wil'ins?”. In the video, Beyoncé recreates scenes of the tragic Hurricane Katrina which occurred in New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina occurred, many believed that the government simply did not care about the damage because it was a mostly Black populated area. The government’s failure to protect the people of New Orleans is also seen by many as the catalyst for a new era of activism addressing the systemic inequality and racism that still exists in the United States. This also prompt for Kanye West infamous outburst during a TV fundraiser where he stated that the current president George Bush did not care about Black people. Relating to the current events of police brutality, the video also features a boy dancing in front of a line of police officers. At the end of his dance he puts his arms straight out and the police officers lift their hands up like how one would do when an officer is approaching them. The camera then pans to graffiti on a brick wall which reads “Stop shooting us”.  
            Beyoncé received a lot of negative criticism when she performed this song during the super bowl from Piers Morgan and Tomi Lahren. Tomi Lahren of The Blaze described the performance as “a violent support of the Black Panthers to how unfair it was for little white girls and white football fans who couldn’t relate to the black dancers and imagery” (Ellefson). After Beyoncé dropped her sixth solo album Lemonade, which followed the similar theme of feminism and being pro black, the journalist Piers Morgan made a comment saying that "I have huge personal sympathy for both women and there is no doubt that African-Americans have been treated appallingly by certain rogue elements within the country's police forces. But I felt very uneasy watching these women being used in this way to sell an album. It smacks of shameless exploitation." (Morgan). “These women” referring to the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown. 
            Overall Beyoncé made an impact on society and the music industry when she released the track Formation. Even though there are artist who speak their mind about politics (such as Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, etc) not many of them have expressed their sentiments via mainstream music. With this song and the album also, Beyoncé has proven that you can have a voice thru music.       
Almost five years after the release of Formation, Beyoncé has remained an industry standard. Many artists today have attempted to drop surprise releases in the same jaw dropping manner. Beyoncé has also served a pioneer for artist merging into the film industry. We have seen her vocal talents progress through roles such as The Fighting Temptations, Dreamgirls, and Cadillac Records. Although she is not the first singer turned actress, the Houston native definitely has changed the way music is used for storytelling. In 2019 along with being a voice for The Lion King, Beyoncé also curated The Lion King: The Gift, a soundtrack album composed of tracks that tells the story of the Lion King featuring African artist.  In 2020 Beyoncé released a follow up film/visual to accompany the soundtrack titled Black is King. Black is King tells the story of a young African prince who is exiled from his kingdom. Through guidance from his ancestors and his own subconscious, he is able to reclaim his thrown. The princes journey acts an allegory for the African diasporas journey of discovering and reclaiming their culture and heritage. That is why I believe Beyoncé is the standard in the music industry. I do not believe any artist has been so detailed and purposeful with their storytelling since Michael Jacksons’ Thriller. 

Media Critic & CMU Alumna

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