Beyonce and Black Feminism

On the 13th December 2013, Beyoncé dropped 14 unique music videos unannounced, with no prior warning, the world went Bey crazy. Fast forward two years and two months later, she did it again. But this time she didn’t need 14 music videos to cause a political storm: only one.

On Saturday 6th February, Beyoncé gifted the world with ‘Formation’: a song and music video oozing with references to Black American culture. From the historical backdrop of Southern segregation, to the more recent issues of the sheer neglect of those affected in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (the majority being African-Americans in New Orleans), to the utter cruelty of modern police brutality against black citizens, which promoted the widespread Black Lives Matter campaign, Beyoncé challenges white supremacy and assures the world that she has not forgotten her roots.

This release preceded her performance at the Super Bowl the next day, where she performed ‘Formation’ alongside an army of black female dancers, draped in uniform mirroring the Black Panthers, a 70s African-American political movement promoting radical change to the treatment of Blacks in American society, especially with regard to police brutality. She stole the show and in the process brought the issue of racism back into the mainstream for all to see. Yet, in risking associating herself with a group once considered dangerous in American society, there is no going back for Beyoncé. With the X formation of the dance routine, paying homage to political activist Malcom ‘X’, Beyoncé’s performance confirms the importance of black rights and honours her black southern heritage.

So where did this Bey politics come from?

Before 2013, Beyoncé has generally been associated with not commenting on contemporary issues in public. She gives few interviews and makes fewer tweets (8 to be exact). Yet, the release of the self-titled album ‘Beyoncé’ put an end to that. Encouraging women to embrace their sexuality, no wonder some consider it a feminist album. This is no doubt due to the inclusion of the speech by the Nigerian feminist speaker, Chimamanda Adichie, in the song ‘**Flawless’. By associating herself with feminism, Beyoncé has generated further discussion about herself, bringing feminism into the picture, whilst maintaining her prominence in the music industry.

Now, she is bringing racism into the spotlight.

Well it’s about time you say…

With the issue of police brutality taking centre stage in the discrimination against modern African-Americans, many black female artists have expressed their views on the issue. With prominent names such as Nicki Minaj, Azealia Banks and Angel Haze showing support for the Black Lives Matter campaign as well as expressing their views on the issues of cultural appropriation of black culture, was Queen Bey pressured to clasp onto the issue too?

Debates about cultural appropriation in the music world have reached significant prominence online, with people arguing that white artists such as Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry have profited from exploiting Black culture in their performances. Who can forget Miley Cyrus twerking?

‘Formation’ clearly is the strongest statement from Beyoncé yet. The constant reference to Black American culture; the images of gospel churches, hair salons, her hair in cornrows, chopper rides, allusions to Martin Luther King, the list is endless. Beyoncé is claiming her culture’s importance, stating to those who want to make profit from it, that she is stepping in. She is Queen.

Interestingly, the same time the video was dropped, so was the link to buy merchandise from her website, with ‘Hot Sauce’ and ‘Smack it’ branded all over tote bags, t-shirts and baseball caps. She has also announced a new global tour. After all, she is a popstar and her aim is to sell her music and cause a stir. And she has certainly succeeded in that. Bow down bitches.

Jess Salter

Image: Bigotes de Gato via Flickr

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Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham's IMPACT Magazine.

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