Beyoncé, singer extraordinaire, shocked Americans by performing her new song “Formation” during the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show. Many viewers cheered her on. Yet others were dismayed and angered by her performance. Instances of pop culture are awkward places to embed political agendas, especially those performed during nationally broadcasted events. What political agenda was the song engaged in, you may ask? The answer is: a radicalized version of Black Lives Matter.
According to a Fox News article, this song has been interpreted as one that supports the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary black nationalist and socialist organization active in the United States from the ’60s to the ’80s. Beyoncé’s performance included the showcasing of controversial, racially-charged symbols.
According to Fox News, Beyoncé and her backup dancers gave a salute, shortly followed by an “X,” representative of Malcolm X. In addition, her dancers were told to style their hair in an afro and to don a beret, which was observed as a reference to the Black Panther Party.
Coldplay opened up the show and performed a few of their songs before Bruno Mars appeared on stage with his accompanying band, the Hooligans, performing “Uptown Funk.” Half way through Mars’ song, Beyoncé appeared with a large army of dancers and sang her song, “Formation.” After her performance, she and her dancers joined Mars on stage to finish “Uptown Funk” in an apparent dance-off. The show ended when Coldplay returned to sing with Beyoncé and Mars.
Just one day prior to the Super Bowl, Beyoncé released her music video for “Formation.” The video begins with Beyoncé sitting on top of a police car that is sinking in a river. Immediately, viewers can assume she is stating that African-Americans should fight against police brutality because their race is more likely to face it. Later on, a young African-American boy is shown dancing. Soon, it is revealed that he is dancing in front of a line up of Caucasian police officers. The boy then is shown holding his arm at wide, like a wingspan; the police then immediately drop their weapons and hold their arms up in a sense of surrender. The music video ends with the police car sinking, as if African-Americans had defeated Caucasian police brutality.
The song suggests that racism against African-Americans had heightened after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana. Beyoncé sings, “I twirl on ‘em haters, albino gators.” Because albino means of white color, I believe she is referencing that Caucasian people are, generally speaking, “haters” of African Americans, and that she wants to “defeat” them—and what that word denotes, listeners are left to guess. She repeatedly states that she will “slay,” which, in my opinion, means that she will conquer the racism she feels African-Americans face from Caucasians.
The video is aimed squarely at police officers, but more importantly, the video antagonizes Caucasian police officers. Several stories this past decade have highlighted Caucasian police officers shooting African-American civilians. But a few isolated incidences do not necessarily define a national (or systematic) trend.
According to statistics The Washington Post reported, more Caucasian suspects were involved in cop versus suspect shootings than any other race. The statistics state that 171 men and nine women were Caucasian, 100 men and five women were African American, 54 men and three women were Hispanic, six men were Asian, three men were listed as Other, and 31 men and three women were listed as Unknown. In the face of these statistics, it is difficult to argue that African Americans are disproportionately likely to be shot by cops.
In comparing two of the three performers for the Halftime Show, Beyoncé’s performance gave the image of division, whereas Coldplay’s performance gave the image of inclusion. Beyoncé’s song and performance is about dividing races and showing that African-Americans need to overpower Caucasians; in other words, to fight back against police brutality experienced by African-Americans.
While Beyoncé’s dancers dressed with racially charged symbols, Coldplay were dressed in a variety of colors. At the end of their performance, a rainbow image appeared in the crowd showing the phrase “Believe in Love”. This is an inclusive message, stating that all people should believe love exists, no matter their sexuality. In my mind, this is a far more constructive message for a national audience, and far more appropriate for the Super Bowl.