I pride myself on being able to detach myself from my own biases and see situations and people for what they are. And while I haven’t been Beyonce’s biggest fan since I was old enough to think critically, there are certain facts that can’t be denied no matter where you stand on “Beyoncé” as a brand, idea or woman. She is talented. There are better singers than her, better dancers than her, and most definitely better actresses than her, but there are few performers in modern history that rival her mastery of her art. Despite the bedazzled ear infection that was LEMONADE, from her shows to her music videos she puts an unmatched amount of thought and attention to detail in her productions. Her wild success has been no coincidence or stroke of luck; it’s been a concentrated, careful effort since her childhood. She’s not just a “singer.” She’s not just an “artist.” She’s first and foremost a businesswoman, and many of her choices reflect that. Her increasingly politicized material is no exception.
I’m not the first person to say this, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. But masses within the black community have been praising Beyoncé as a regular Angela Davis, and I believe they’re being played for fools.
Beyoncé was lauded for “Formation” a song with lyrics that were praised for their “unapologetic celebration of blackness” for the radical mention of negro noses and hot sauce. The video was reminiscent of New Orleans and depicted adages of the southern black experience from a hair shop to church to old creole imagery, as well as the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, a drowning cop car, a young black boy dancing in front of a SWAT team who put their hands up in uniform surrender, followed swiftly by a fence spray painted with the words “stop shooting us.”
As a video alone, it was aesthetically pleasing and visually exciting. It was artistic, and well executed as many of Beyoncé’s projects are in at least some capacity. And while it showcased distinctively and stereotypically black imagery, there was nothing revolutionary about exceptional about it. Beyoncé has been black for over three decades, and has been performing just as long. She has been an accomplished, prominent celebrity since she was a teenager, and while I understand that certain sacrifices must be made and certain risks must be calculated for long term success in any industry but especially hers, her timing is no coincidence.
The black community’s issues didn’t begin in February 2016. But the onset of 2016 was a point in time where politicized “blackness” was no longer brave. It was no longer a statement. It was a trend, and it was pop culture. Yes, she received backlash; especially following her Super Bowl performance, but her performance was much less controversial than it would have been years ago. And while I’m well aware that an artist doesn’t have to sing about an issue to care about it- or more accurately, vaguely allude to an issue in a series of self indulgent music videos- waiting to do so until its profitable doesn’t lead me to believe that Beyoncé’s motives are noble. While I can only speculate, my guess is that Beyoncé isn’t putting her backup dancers in Afro wigs and adding anti-cop subtleties to her art for the hell of it, or because she just learned of the plights facing the black community, but because it recently became lucrative.
I’m not saying that Beyoncé didn’t care about Trayvon Martin or Mike Brown or Freddie Gray or Sandra Bland- she actually attended Martin’s vigil and reportedly bailed out Black Lives Matter protesters that had been arrested. I’m saying that her actions and choices over the last decade indicate a careful strategy that exposed her priorities for what they were. At the end of the day, Beyoncé is a businesswoman, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I love capitalism. But there’s a lot wrong with pseudo-activism for self promotion and personal gain. Beyoncé isn’t the first person guilty of it and she won’t be the last, but I’m ready for the world to stop pretending that flashing a Popeyes and a destroyed police vehicle in a music video to a song as deep as a McDonald’s commercial is political dissent.