So Beyoncé dropped her new single “Formation” and the world stopped. Well, it didn’t stop, but it felt like it did as my newsfeed was flooded with talks of hot sauce, Red Lobster, and baby hair. I decided to see for myself what was up and I watched the video (using the exclusive private-public link). In fact, I watched it three times in a row. She praised her baby’s natural hair and her man’s nose, defending these parts of her blackness in an effortless trap/slay song with banging outfits and crisp choreography. But, Beyoncé also did something else—something she always does—she continued on her road of capitalist feminism.
What is capitalist feminism? It is the upholding of feminine struggle as a means to mask capitalistic and classist ideations—and Beyoncé has perfected it. She is not alone in this (Taylor Swift does it, albeit in a messier and heavy-handed fashion), but I am focusing on Beyoncé because of the relevance she has to my community and the people I care about.
As far as “Formation” goes, I’ll start by saying that it’s great that Beyonce is repping her black femininity in an unapologetic form. But let's take a closer look at how the song was presented and even released. Beyoncé pulled a Beyoncé and dropped “Formation” out of nowhere after her stint on the controversial Coldplay song “Hymn for the Weekend”. Looking at “Formation”, it should be noted that though the video is available on YouTube, it can only be accessed with a private link. This may make the viewer feel as if they part of some exclusive club, something elite, yet the video was still on YouTube and thus was made to be easily accessed by the masses. It was even posted to Rolling Stone. This video was made to be consumed.
Looking at the video itself, we have Beyoncé referencing her Creole and black heritage.
“My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana,
You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas 'bama”
“Creole” to many people is a form of blackness, and it is telling that instead of saying black and Creole ,she says Negro and Creole. This is a throwback to old school connotations that white people, and many Creoles themselves, have used to distance themselves from blackness. Creole people of Louisiana were often light-skinned, middle-class, and very exclusive. Beyoncé even inserts herself into this narrative when she shows herself and Blue Ivy in early 20th-century European-style wear, in a nicely furnished house, among other women of good standing. This is in a small way reenacting some form of Creole society while centering on the female squad aspect. Beyoncé is referencing her standing as being a part of elite high society, separated from the common people. Beyoncé also dropped a lot of merchandise to go with the release of her song, as well as tour dates. Though good from a business standpoint, it furthers how capitalistic she makes a video about struggle and black femininity.
In conclusion, Beyoncé is a complex figure full of contradictions and nuances, but she is also a celebrity. Because of this, she will always be distant from us. She is also a black woman. For this I support her and her stance on blackness, but I will not let myself be blinded by her celebrity. Beyoncé deserves critique because critique is not always meant as hate but also as hope. It is a hope that these complex issues will be examined further not just by Beyoncé but as our society as a whole.
Olivia Campbell PO '18 is a studio art major, aspiring cat lady, lover of K-Pop, and devoted fan of social critiques.