Last Sunday’s Super Bowl had the nation talking. Sure, Peyton Manning’s possible retirement was a hot topic, and certainly there were a few commercials that went viral. But the hottest topic of all seemed to be Beyonce’s political statement made to an audience of millions at halftime.
“Queen Bey” proved her command of stage and fan alike when she practically stole the spotlight from Coldplay’s lead singer, Chris Martin. This hit a sore spot with me because I am a devoted fan of Coldplay, but I must admit: Beyonce knows how to perform. She exudes a certain aura of regal yet powerful confidence that throws open the door to opportunities. She takes center stage regardless of where she is, and the world is captivated.
She is also fully aware of this spotlight. And Sunday, she chose to train her spotlight on the current events that seem to be closest to her heart. Dressed in a leotard reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s own 1993 Super Bowl costume, Beyonce performed the song she had just released the day before. This song, “Formation,” is bold, explicit, and completely unapologetic – much like Queen Bey herself. The lyrics only serve half the message. To get the full impact of the song’s intent, you need to watch the video.
The singer may just have exposed the giant pink elephant in the room. She swears, flips her middle fingers, and poses a child as Trevon Martin before a squad of police. She returns to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and she proudly proclaims her heritage as a strong and successful African-American woman. From the beginning, her video is crystal clear. She knows what she is doing, she realizes the uproar she will stir among the public, and she is more than ready for it.
Beyonce took a stand for her personal beliefs regarding the state of the black community in today’s America. Judging by her video’s unedited content, she refuses to waste time tiptoeing around feelings. I can respect that choice. In her own fashion, Beyonce is an artist. She is using her passion and talent to demonstrate her views on a subject that is highly relevant to our world. In my mind, that merits respect.
But should she have thrusted this view on the world at large when she performed the song for an audience of families and football fans? No, she did not include the explicit content (although there was a lot of booty shaking). She did not flip off her fans or roll out the dirty language. But she did raise her fist in solidarity with the Black Panthers, a group first formed in the 60s in response to the rising racial tension of the time. Her backup dancers wore black berets, and they literally stood in an X “Formation,” possibly to pay homage to Malcolm X.
I must be completely honest; when I saw the performance Sunday, I had no clue what kind of statement Beyonce had just made. I was hurting for Coldplay, watching them steadily lose the throne to a character as strong as this pop icon. I was angry with Beyonce only because she had stolen the cameras from the featured band. And for days later, I figured people were reliving her performance according to Hollywood who’s who protocol. Thank goodness for National Public Radio.
It is for this exact reason that I do not agree with the enraged backlash surrounding Beyonce’s performance. The message here was clear, but only to those who knew enough about the Black Panthers to catch the signs. Furthermore, many (hopefully most) of those viewers who know that much already should also keep in mind the original intention of the Black Panthers to support equal and peaceful communities. Cofounder Bobby Seale explained, “We don’t hate anyone because of their color. We hate oppression.” The Black Panthers began programs in 19 cities to feed 20,000 schoolchildren. They began health clinics in 13 cities. They exercised their right to the Second Amendment, an amendment which many of us Southerners hold close to our own hearts.
The true crisis demonstrated here is not that a pop singer used a flashing stage to declare her political views to the world. It is that we are not informed enough to understand what we are seeing. Yes, there are multiple levels to Beyonce’s message. The grand finale of “Formation” features the singer rubbing her fingers together and telling us “best revenge is your paper.” In other words, your revenge against oppression is in your capital. You are only as powerful as your money. Is this the truth? Perhaps, or perhaps not. The point is that this artist put all her cards on the table. She challenged the audience and took a stage known primarily for wardrobe malfunctions and bigwig performers and turned it into a platform for discussion.
Are we too protective of our censored television? We hate to be confronted with real-life issues when we are deeply immersed in our fanfare and junk food feasting. But these issues don’t disappear just because we choose to look away. I think it’s time we were shocked awake. If a pop singer can make time to find the heart of the issues in her world, shouldn’t we do the same?