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Okay, I’ll slay: Beyoncé and the lessons learned from Formation

08 Feb 2016

On Saturday night Queen B made an epic return and released her new single and video for ‘Formation’ and jaws across the globe collectively dropped. We just weren’t ready.

It’s grey outside, it’s 8am and I’m drinking my coffee in bed and doing my routine newsfeed scroll. I see a comment about Beyoncé’s surprise new song so like any normal human being I investigate further and find the link for the video. Within four seconds I’m having to pause it, put my drink down, sit up straight and start it from the beginning.

The video begins with Beyoncé crouching on a sinking police car (which alone is drawing up imagery of the condemnation of police brutality). She is surrounded by eerily derelict flooded houses, immediately resonating tragic scenes from hurricane Katrina and the colossal damage caused and black lives lost in Louisiana. Straight away I’m noticing, there’s something different about this video compared to her others, something we haven’t wholly seen from Beyoncé before. Her music’s message is unapologetically and loudly pro-black.


With the recent debate over Beyoncé and cultural appropriation in Coldplay’s ‘Hymn For The Weekend’, we were all left scratching our heads wondering if this was reeeeaally what we had all been waiting for. The Coldplay debacle had left me uninspired to say the least. But then ‘Formation’ dropped and we all took a large sigh of relief. Beyoncé has finally delivered what we have all been waiting years to see.

Although Beyoncé has been praised for openly stating she’s a feminist and most notably quoting part of a famous speech by Chimamanda Ngozi, she hasn’t previously spoken up about black social issues within her music. But now any belief that she was out of touch and just part of the ‘black-bourgeois’ with no time for Black Lives Matter was debunked in less than five minutes.

She is a global superstar known for her crazy dance skills, pitch perfect vocals and catchy tunes, but not usually for her politics on racial identity within her music.

‘Formation’ proved that Queen B is no longer just here to entertain. She’s here to be unapologetically black, a feminist, promote that black lives matter and optimize and encourage black excellence – and it’s about time the rest of us “get in formation” and do the same too.   

A day after the release of the music video Beyoncé took on the Super Bowl half-time, performing ‘Formation’ alongside her troupe of all-black, female backing dancers. They rocked afros and black berets – not only paying homage to the Black Panther’s Party on their 50th anniversary but also to the Black Lives Matter movement.

So let’s break some of these lyrics down:

“Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess”

It’s almost become a part of urban folklore and an ongoing joke that Jay-Z and Beyoncé are part of the illuminati because… triangles. But lo and behold a black woman can achieve global success, wealth and recognition through hard work and talent and not the illuminati, (which seems to only account for the success of people of colour). So her haters are just going to have to step back and come up with some better excuses.

“I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros. I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.”

Unbelievably, Beyoncé has come under fire for having her daughter Blue Ivy’s hair out in a natural afro (the way it grows out of her head), but now Beyoncé just wants you all to know that she couldn’t care less if she tried. She proudly confesses her love for pro-black aesthetics, especially that of her daughter’s hair and her husband’s nose. In a world obsessed with Eurocentric beauty standards that attempts to shame a baby girl for having an afro, it’s refreshing to hear praise and adoration for our black features.

“We slay, okay”

Everything about the video and lyrics screams black excellence, from B’s long box braids, to her débutante attire and let’s not forget her all-black female dancers of varied complexions all sporting big afros. She is a proud black Texan woman and wants y’all to hear it. As much as she evidently slays all by herself, we all slay too. With her inclusive pronouns, B’s not just here bigging herself up, rather uplifting all black women and ultimately displaying that it’s okay to be confident, proud, and carry hot sauce in your bag.  

So, while it’s still a catchy tune that will be repeatedly blasted through speakers across the world, let’s not forget the message embedded in the song and sprayed on the wall, ‘Stop shooting us’. Towards the end of her video we watch a little black boy in a hood dance in front of a line of white police officers in SWAT gear who eventually throw their hands up into the air, in surrender. And, just as the song begun, it ends with the cop car sinking into the water.