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Time to Get in Formation: A Rhetorical Analysis of Beyoncé's Formation

Updated on December 14, 2018
Hannah S Roberts profile image

Hannah is an music enthusiast, who is also very passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement.

When you hear the name Beyoncé, many things come to mind, from Destiny’s Child to “Single Ladies”. Not only is she a multi-award-winning singer and song writer, she has also been known to work in different medias such as films like, Dream Girls. She is an artist that is loved and adored across all genders, races, and sexual orientations which is why the song, “Formation” in particular was a hard pill for some of her followers to swallow. The song was released on February 6, 2016, the day before her Super Bowl performance. “Formation” is the first song that Beyoncé has put out that is so clearly black, and listeners can see that theme of blackness throughout the song and especially in the video. In “Formation” Beyoncé brings attention to the history of injustices and discriminations against black people as well as the issues black people are still facing today.

The video opens with Beyoncé on top of a submerged New Orleans police car. Right away, Beyoncé is bringing awareness to hurricane Katrina, an incident that many people credit with the rise of the revolution against systematic oppression. It also brings awareness to the recent influx and publicization of police brutality issues in America, specifically against African Americans and other minority groups. This first scene sets the tone for the entire video, viewers can clearly see that Beyoncé is taking shots, at the white agenda, while exuding black excellence in more ways than one. Flashes of different things from African American culture such as religion, social life, and more flooded streets of New Orleans appear on the screen, until viewers finally land on Beyoncé standing in front of a plantation wearing all black with extravagant jewelry. Beyoncé sings, “Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess, paparazzi catch my fly and my cocky fresh.” This line is followed by a flash of paparazzi pointing flashing cameras at the viewer. Beyoncé is bringing attention to the fact that by associating successful artists of color to the Illuminati, people are trying to credit their talents to an all powerful conspiracy, and the fact that even though her an her family can never have privacy the paparazzi really only helps to make her look better. This is just one of many times Beyoncé brings attention to her own blackness and people trying to discredit her success because she is black.

The song later says, “I like my baby heir with baby hairs and afros, I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.” This is a nod to the fact that many people have previously and currently criticize Blue Ivy, Beyoncé’s daughter, for her hair and appearance on several occasions as well as her husband, Jay-Z. The viewers can see Blue Ivy and two other little girls wearing afros and beautiful dresses playing in what appears to be a lavish mansion. Beyoncé is letting viewers know that people can “come for” her child and her husband as often as they like but no matter what anyone looks like or where they come from, all black is beautiful. The song continues, “earned all this money but they never take the country out me, I got hot sauce in my bag.” Here Beyoncé is saying that no matter how much money she makes, and how much fame she acquires, she is still black, and nobody can take her blackness away from her. This is important because Beyoncé, as previously stated, has always been a very neutral artist who is liked by all. The claims in this song are Beyoncé’s way of taking a firm stand for not only the Black Lives Matter movement but also for her own blackness which has been called into question numerous times.

As the video continues, viewers see Beyoncé riding in a truck with her hair braided and a white fur coat on hanging out the window of the car as it drives around in a circle. Messy Mya, a YouTube personality who was murdered in 2010, was known to speak about the government and other controversial topics. Messy Mya talks over the beat as viewers see flashes of houses, girls standing in hair stores, and Beyoncé bobbing her head to the beat in front of a plantation. Beyoncé starts singing again, the words start from the beginning but this time her and her dancers are in an empty pool wearing designer outfits. Everyone but Beyoncé, who has braids, has an afro. Here Beyoncé is trying to show typical African American hair styles in a professional light. Viewers then see Beyoncé and her dancers sitting in an expensively designed room wearing white beautiful southern style dresses, sitting inside fanning themselves. Beyoncé is flipping the script from when African Americans were enslaved and would never have been allowed to wear such lavish clothing or sit and relax in the house. In the same matter, later in the video we see Beyoncé once again standing in front of the plantation, holding up both middle fingers to the camera, this is her way of truly turning the status quo on its head. By standing in front of the biggest sign of black suppression and flipping it off, while wearing clothes that again slaves would never be allowed to wear, Beyoncé is actively promoting and embodying the empowerment of black people.

As the video comes to and end Beyoncé throws in one more politically charged scene. There is a line of white cops wearing riot gear standing in front of a young black boy who is wearing a black hoodie dancing in the street. In the next scene we see the police and the young boy, both standing with their hands raised and the camera flashes to a wall with “stop shooting us” written in graffiti, this is Beyoncé's expressing her support for the Black Lives Matter movement by using a phrase coined by the movement. Beyoncé is saying that there can be peace if we really work for it. There does not have to be all of the violent killings that we have been experiencing lately. This final scene is representative of what Beyoncé is trying to do throughout the whole video. Bring attention to different injustices and discriminations African Americans have faced throughout the years, while also turning the usual narrative on its head, giving the viewers something to think about long after the video is over.

© 2018 Hannah Roberts

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