Written by Jess Cuadro
Why do people come to the Super Bowl? Is it to see the Panthers play against the Broncos? Sure. Is it to feed on nachos and certain cold beverages? Maybe. Is it to partake in a national tradition that has become one of the most watched events in America? Of course. But this year, what really made the headlines and nearly broke the Internet wasn’t the Broncos’ 24-10 victory, but Beyoncé’s halftime performance of her song “Formation.” Beneath her flawless vocals and amazingly choreographed number was a strong political message that the white-male dominated audience did not expect.
The music video to “Formation,” released one day before the Super Bowl, opens with Beyoncé sitting atop a New Orleans police car slowly drowning, a chilling reminder of how the black residents of New Orleans were left on top of cars during Hurricane Katrina. “Formation” also contains multiple images of black American cultural staples, including soul food and weaves, and a nod to Beyoncé’s Louisiana roots with the Second Line parade and Mardi Gras Indians.
“Formation” has garnered very strong responses since its release. Some were outraged by her performance, going so far as to plan a protest outside the NFL’s New York headquarters—to which only three people actually showed up. The protesters believed that “Formation” was a deliberate race-baiting attack on the nation’s police, and that Beyoncé’s method of protest was mainly for her own commercial gain.
NBC’s Saturday Night Live was quick to parody the reaction to “Formation” in the sketch “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black,” which features white Americans in an apocalyptic panic after realizing Beyoncé’s ethnicity and has been met with both commendation and criticism.
After the initial reaction from watching Beyoncé’s performance comes the question: what’s all the fuss about? Here we have one of this generation’s most iconic performers taking on a more political perspective in her music, during a time and in a place where this particular perspective on racial equality begs to be addressed. The timing of the release of the video itself seems to allude to multiple events that have shaped black contemporary culture. 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party, one of the most powerful black movement organizations in America. It also marks what would have been the 21st birthday of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American who was fatally shot by a neighborhood volunteer watch in 2012 and is one of the pillars of the Black Lives Matter movement. “Formation” puts the treatment of black Americans under the public eye, questions the morality of our cultural values, and condemns the formation, so to speak, of discriminatory social mindsets.