Beyoncé is one of a kind — the kind of star who can drop a surprise music video and see much of the Internet and social media instantly explode.
“Formation,” released Saturday, has already racked up more than 7 million views on YouTube. It’s full of implicit and explicit commentary on subjects like being black in America, Hurricane Katrina and Black Lives Matter.
And the Internet responded swiftly.
The video is a “powerful proclamation of being a proud, powerful black woman,” writes Margaret E. Jacobsen on Romper. Jacobsen connects the imagery of the video to #BlackGirlMagic, a hashtag used to celebrate African-American women on Twitter.
The song is “an anthem for black women,” writes Jacobsen. “And the response has been amazing. Following the video’s release, we’re talking about the blood that runs through our veins and the hoods we grew up in. We’re holding all of those in our black communities who came before us up high. We’re wearing every little thing that’s contributed to our blackness proudly. We’re letting our black girl magic shine.”
At The Root, Danielle C. Belton says the video is “black” — “cornbread and collard greens black. ‘Hot sauce in my bag’ black. Southern black. Dirty South black. Your grandma telling you to go cut down a switch black,” she writes. “Did you know Beyoncé was black?”
The video focuses on New Orleans, in particular, opening and closing with Beyoncé atop a New Orleans police car, with a background reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina.
The reference to the hurricane of a decade ago still resonates, says Regina N. Bradley on Red Clay Scholar.
“Katrina is not just a historical event,” she writes. “It is a springboard for re-rendering southern trauma and its association with blackness. Trauma is the spring board of southern blackness. But its foundation is resilience and creativity.”
The video also mixes in footage of New Orleans taken from the 2013 documentary That B.E.A.T. (which filmmakers initially said was used without permission).
“She wants us to know — more than ever — that she’s still grounded, she’s paying attention and still a little hood,” writes Jenna Wortham in The New York Times.
“I think she wants us to know that even though she’s headlining a mainstream event like the Super Bowl, she has opinions and isn’t afraid to share them, nor is she afraid to do it on a national and global scale.”
The video is political. A boy dances in front of a line of police officers in riot gear. He raises his hands — but so does the line of cops. Graffiti on the wall reads “Stop shooting us,” echoing the principal demand from Black Lives Matter activists for reform in policing and criminal justice.
As The Daily Beast noted, Beyoncé and husband Jay-Z have paid to bail out protesters in Baltimore and Ferguson. And Tidal, a music service that Jay-Z started and Beyoncé partly owns, announced a $1.5 million donation to the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice groups.
Beyoncé was always political, because she had to be, says The Root’s Belton.
“What if I told you that to be black in a public space, with all eyes on you and choosing carefully how to handle that spotlight is a form of politics, a negotiation between the self and the world that all black people must make?”
The video ends with the police car sinking into the water, Beyoncé lying on top.
That ending is a “celebration of the margins,” writes Zandria F. Robinson on New South Negress. “Black bodies in motion, women’s voices centered, black queer voices centered — is what ultimately vanquishes the state, represented by a NOPD car. Beyoncé as the conjured every-southern-black-woman, slays atop the car and uses the weight of her body to finish it off, sacrificing herself in the process.”
The timing of the song’s release, just before her performance at the Super Bowl, is also “not insignificant,” writes The New York Times’ Wortham.
“She’s electing to parade her substantial wealth and ability to outearn most men in the music industry (including her husband, Jay Z) during the Super Bowl — the flagship event of male virility and violence in this country.”
Beyoncé is scheduled to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show with Coldplay and Bruno Mars on Sunday night.