Home / Featured / Opinion: Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ is Visually Powerful…But the Lyrics Don’t Match It

Opinion: Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ is Visually Powerful…But the Lyrics Don’t Match It

I know a few anti-BeyHivers who will cackle with delight at this editorial. But here it is all the same, a piece originally published on kelandmelreviews.com.

I wanted you to watch the video first before I said my peace.

There really isn’t a lot to say about the visuals themselves.  Katrina, Black Lives Matter, “stop shooting us”, the police with their hands up after witnessing a dance by a young black man, Beyoncé drowning on a police car in New Orleans; all of it is an homage to culture that is stigmatized when the heirs of it display it but monetized when appropriated and watered down. Add to that the fact that Beyoncé apparently directed this and you have the feeling that she might have missed a calling that could have brought her both critical and mass acclaim.

The problem comes when you separate the track from the video.  I have a little exercise for you; read the lyrics all the way through once.

*

What happened after New Orleans?

Bitch, I’m back by popular demand

*

Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess

Paparazzi, catch my fly, and my cocky fresh

I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin’)

I’m so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces

My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana

You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma

I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros

I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils

Earned all his money but they never take the country out me

I got hot sauce in my bag, swag

*

Oh yeah baby, oh yeah I, ohhhhh, oh yes

I like that I did not come to play with you hoes

I came to slay, bitch

I like cornbreads and collard greens, bitch

Oh yes, you best to believe it

*

Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess

Paparazzi, catch my fly, and my cocky fresh

I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin’)

I’m so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces

My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana

You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma

I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros

I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils

Earned all his money but they never take the country out me

I got hot sauce in my bag, swag

*

I see it, I want it I stunt, yeah, little hornet

I dream it, I work hard I grind ‘til I own it

I twirl all my haters Albino alligators

El Camino with the ceiling low

Sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser

Sometimes I go off, I go off I go hard, I go hard

Get what’s mine, take what’s mine

I’m a star, I’m a star

Cause I slay, slay I slay, hey, I slay, okay

I slay, okay, all day, okay I slay, okay, I slay okay

We gon’ slay, slay

Gon’ slay, okay

We slay, okay I slay, okay

I slay, okay

Okay, okay, I slay, okay

Okay, okay, okay, okay

Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay

Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay

Prove to me you got some coordination

Slay trick, or you get eliminated

*

When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, cause I slay

When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, cause I slay

If he hit it right, I might take him on a flight on my chopper, cause I slay

Drop him off at the mall, let him buy some J’s, let him shop up, cause I slay

I might get your song played on the radio station, cause I slay

I might get your song played on the radio station, cause I slay

You might just be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay

I might just be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay

*

I see it, I want it I stunt, yeah, little hornet

I dream it, I work hard I grind ‘til I own it

I twirl all my haters Albino alligators

El Camino with the ceiling low

Sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser

Sometimes I go off, I go off I go hard, I go hard

Get what’s mine, take what’s mine

I’m a star, I’m a star

Cause I slay, slay I slay, hey, I slay, okay

I slay, okay, all day, okay I slay, okay, I slay okay

We gon’ slay, slay

Gon’ slay, okay

We slay, okay I slay, okay

I slay, okay

Okay, okay, I slay, okay

Okay, okay, okay, okay

Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay

Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, cause I slay

Prove to me you got some coordination

Slay trick, or you get eliminated

*

Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, I slay

Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation

You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation

Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper

*

Girl I hear something, thunder

Golly this is that water boy, oh Lord

*

Now read them again, omitting the bold lines.  Do you begin to see the problem that I see?  No?  Let me explain.

One or two lines of track about awareness and black pride do not make a theme. Just like Flawless – which was initially heralded a feminist anthem – most of the song is a brag and/or defense track about the singer herself.  The underlined snippets are the parts of the song that are most unabashedly about black pride and black empowerment.  Notice how few of them there are? The italicized lines fall into a grey area where they can be seen as being a part of black pride them but also can be seen as a defense/regaling of Beyoncé.  Even if you add the sum of both together; you still have more than 3/4 of the song which are about her having sex with Jay Z, looking great in her expensive clothes, (not really) ignoring her haters, and how much life she gives her fans.

One of the things that we believe here is that lyrics have to be taken as a whole and what the majority of the song points to is what the song is actually about. A lot of singers make songs for the Twitter age; tracks that really don’t mean anything but have lines that can be quoted in 144 characters, so that those who are on the fence or haven’t heard it will think there is a deeper meaning behind it.  Beyoncé, with many of her singles, has become a queen of this kind of marketing (oh yes, that is exactly what it is).  Most of her songs aren’t as lazily written as most (7/11 excluded), but she does know what drives a large part of her fanbase; her fabulousness, her fierceness; and a desire to see her as wholly representative of black culture in a desire to see themselves in her.

It cannot be said enough; Beyoncé having pride in herself is not the same as having pride in the culture as a whole. I have no doubt that she is proud of who she is and gets sick of rumors about her and the fact that so many people like to take unfounded shots at her at times, but shutting down you antis is not the same as standing up for black culture. Beyoncé rocking braids is not necessarily a tribute to her African roots. Her pride in her southern style that is not unique to black people is not a wider commentary on the legitimacy of that culture. The two are not mutually inclusive. That would be like saying Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off is homage to American exceptionalism, just because she dresses like a cheerleader, talks about things that everyday people do and has a multiracial cast of dancers.

And, the sad thing is, if the song and the video had been two separate entities, this commentary wouldn’t exists. If the visuals had been teamed up with a Black Butterfly-type song where the lyrics reflect the mood it sets, I would have loved it. If she had also released a fun track about how awesome it is to be Beyoncé and how she doesn’t care about what we think about her with visuals to match it, I also wouldn’t have a problem. But going less than halfway on the song just allows those who don’t want to acknowledge the powerful message of the video to simply listening to it on the radio or in their playlist and ignore what could have been a large theme. It feels like a cop-out; a way to still be commercially viable to a large audience while satiating the base. And that feeling of calculation is the worst part of it.


About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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20 comments

  1. Coming from you, NO FURTHER COMMENT on this one.

  2. LMAO! This person get time o. They should leave Queen Bey alone, haba. She’s a businesswoman who happens to know the fine art of combining her Sasha fierceness with her activistism. So what if she’s celebrating her stardom in the same track that is championing the black culture. Ehen? And so?

  3. I’m not a huge fan of Beyoncé and I’ll admit, her recent songs don’t really make much sense to me. Do sent mean they are not great, it’s just that I don’t lap up every song she puts out there and proclaim them the best things to happen in the music industry. I’ve not seen the video yet, I’ll wait to watch it on TV instead of burning data meant for movie trailers. I’ll say this though, the writer is right about flawless, the only feminist theme there was read by our own Mrs. Adiche. Ndi beyhive, call a spade a spade and in the process, help your idol go back to releasing great music.

  4. I was coming on here to spit fire and brimstone, but then the writer made sense so I’ll chile. And she’s right. But aren’t we over-thinking this thing? What’s so terrible about taking the video for what it is and all it’s connotations and strong imagery: the fetishism associated with black death, femininity and birth, reclamation! And that’s to name a few.
    I mean, I can bulldoze a lot of the writer’s assertions just by saying the song is a powerful assertion by Beyoncé of her blackness, her southerness, her femininity and her fabulousness AS A BLACK WOMAN, and that by Formation she is underlying the power of the Black Female as a political force that can do anything with coordinated effort, with FORMATION. You can’t always be hit over the head with a theme, and thematic appreciation is fluid, varies with perspective,
    See? Overthinking this stuff, no?
    The video is bold and fab and sends a strong message to many, because, bitch, it’s Beyoncé the Slayoncé, and she didn’t come to play with y’all. End of story.
    That said, Bey should hire me.

  5. Anyibaba, what do you mean by “go back to making great music?”
    Look, everything Bey does is gold. She’s at that place, and she shares that privilege with no one. She needn’t be in any lane, making what y’all consider great music, when she can carve her own four-lane expressway and teach the lot of you how to slay, bishes! Lol.
    Didn’t you hear? She sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker! Yoncé all on your mouth like liquor!
    Peace from the Hive y’all.

    • shakespeareanwalter

      Hahahahahaha!!! Dozie, I LOVE you for this! Abeg educate them! Namsense!

    • I’m not saying she has not reached up there, I’m not saying she is not at the top of her game but all these songs of haters this and flawless that, it’s becoming the central theme of most of her songs. It’s stale, it’s boring, it’s predictable.

  6. You people can worry sha. She’s up there enjoying her success, and influencing lives, you are here writing encyclopaedia on her matter.

    Odiegwu oh

  7. Thanks to whoever wrote this.

    And I agree that the songs Beyonce made earlier in her career are better. Doesn’t make her less influential. That’s just me. Shrug

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