Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday Squee: Beyoncé's Videos

The Sunday Squee is about things that make me happy and excited. From books to movies to television shows to podcasts, I'll highlight less commonly known things as a way to share what I love. If you want to join in the Sunday Squee, please link back to me, magnifying both of our joy.

The end of 2013, Beyoncé released her self-titled album and, along with it, a visual album of not only videos but her talking about her perspective. She did this without announcements, without fanfare, without anything beyond simply dropping these images and that music onto the world and seeing what happened.

"Pretty Hurts
You shine the light on whatever's worst
Perfection is a disease of a nation

Pretty Hurts
You shine the light on whatever's worst
Try to fix something but you can't fix what you cant see
It's the soul that needs the surgery"

I liked a few of Beyoncé's songs beforehand but I wasn't a fan. I'm not sure I'd call myself a fan now - so much of what she creates intrigues me and draws me in, but it's not the excitement and self-recognition I see in members of the Beyhive. I love hearing about her process, though. I love listening to her talk about art and her art in particular - the combination of music and images is familiar to me even though I'm no musician - I experience my emotions in images, though, and I find her images compelling and haunting. Which songs draw me in changes each time, but I return to them regularly - every few weeks Pretty Hurts, or Grown Woman will flash in my head and I'll lose several hours watching the visual album again and dwelling in that echoey, wordless space beyond simplicity. 

I brought this background, this interest, to her newest release Formation. Formation isn't in search - you can only find it if you're linked to it - and despite that it has racked up an incredible number of views. It also, in an astonishingly short amount of time, has wracked up an impressive slew of think-pieces about it. Like with most critical response to a public figure, the most thoughtful and comprehensive responses come from within the fans of that public figure. For a simple explanation of unfamiliar terms, Genius is a good place to start - understand that's an overview not a deep dive, and there's also the amazing Beyonce Gets Political, and I Get Snatched Bald: An Overview of Themes and Motifs in the Formation Music Video which balances the explanation with images from the video. Explanations of the language is also covered in Beyonce’s “Formation” and AAE in the Celebration of Blackness by Nicole Holliday at the Online Journal of African American English.  Some of the footage comes from the video That B.E.A.T. directed by Abteen Bagheri on Bounce Music in New Orleans, the opening lines are from Messy Mya and the riff in the middle is from Big Freedia.

The New York Times released a think-piece that day (Beyoncé in ‘Formation’: Entertainer, Activist, Both?) but was blown out of the water by Red Clay Scholar's piece Getting in Line: Working Through Beyoncé's "Formation" which itself references two other amazing articles. The first is Black Secret Technology: Beyoncé's Formation by Nettrice, which delves into the mythic aspects of the video and puts it into context of reactions to racism (some additional background on the Mardi Gras Indians). The second is We Slay, Part I by Zandria Robinson, which focuses on movements and formations and how they are critical for both activism and intersectionality.

The article Beyoncé's Formation reclaims black America's narrative from the margins by Syreeta McFadden focuses more on the role of black bodies - women's bodies - in the narrative of the video. Michelle Hunter discussions the inclusion of Messy Mya and Big Freeda as queer voices in her article Messy Mya, Big Freedia in Beyoncé's New Orleans-inspired video. Naila Keleta-Mae's article Get What's Mine: "Formation" Changes the Way We Listen to Beyonce Forever puts this song in the context both of expressions of black womanhood and in the context of Beyoncé's last visual album - shown above.

On the more critical side, Yaba Blay expanded on issues of complexion and value in On 'Jackson Five Nostrils,' Creole vs. 'Negro' and Beefing Over Beyoncé's 'Formation'. brings up the issue of Beyoncé using the trauma of New Orleans as a backdrop in her article “Formation” Exploits New Orleans’ Trauma. Radical Faggot brings up a number of important critiques in his My (Apparently) Obligatory Response to ‘Formation’: In List Form. Among the important notes brought up - Beyoncé engaged in appropriation of Desi culture quite recently, this is arguably appropriation of queer and trans culture especially given how both Big Freebia and Messy Mya weren't shown and centered, and it's important to not mistake entertainment for activism.

The sheer amount and quality of discussion is jaw dropping, and we're barely a week after this all dropped onto the internet. One effect of the Superbowl was a bunch of white racists got into the commentary game, but don't let them sell you their spin. Focus instead on the intense, incredible drive of spirit and association which will hopefully bolster the BlackLivesMatter movement, among other movements for justice and equality. Focus on what you and I can do as individuals to lift up those around us and bring forth true justice and equality.

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