Who won the Superbowl? Beyonce did. When Beyonce’ stepped out on to that SuperBowl stage on Sunday she knew what she was doing. And damn did she do it well. The performance she gave was culturally significant, and perhaps was the most important political statement a pop icon has given in recent years. She has broken the expectation placed upon entertainers and pop stars that because they have been thrusted into the limelight for their work they should just silently stick to just that and under no circumstance use their privileged position to highlight and campaign for social issues which are in dire need of having their story told to the masses. Beyonce’ did just that on Sunday. She stopped the world – and it seems it has since been unable to carry on as normal.
Clad in Michael Jackson-esque attire, and a line of African American women behind her all wearing black berets reminiscent of the radical Black Panthers group, Beyonce unapologetically launched into her aptly titled new song “Formation”. The song itself is a celebration of black American women, of men and of black culture. The lyrics include the hitting lines, “I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros/ I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” as well as the assertive lyric, “I might just be a black Bill Gates in the making.” This unabashed proclamation of blackness by figure in pop is filling a void that has been left empty for years. While black people have had for a long while a significant presence in the entertainment industry, actual awareness of black issues and attention to it hasn’t. It was the expectation that black people in the industry would ignore the fact that they were black. They wouldn’t ever talk about their heritage nor would they ever dare raise racial injustices in public. Many black celebrities have even been accused of bleaching themselves – including Beyonce herself, while everyone is familiar with Michael Jackson’s physical transformation. Now that well-rehearsed rite of passage appears thankfully to be in reverse. Sunday’s performance was just a start. The insertion of politics into pop culture is a trend that must definitely continue because it is through this that people get talking about issues that are so important and stories that need to be told get a reception that would never have otherwise heard about it.
People have reacted en masse. Most of the feedback has been positive, but a lot of keyboard warriors have taken to the interweb to voice their venom. There’s been astonishment and upset at the use of black power symbolism and references to Malcolm X and also many have tried to tarnish her powerful affirmation of her African roots, amusingly accusing Beyonce’ of racism. A look at the Daily Mail website comment section unsurprisingly is a sight full of comments attacking her for simply owning her own culture; with people having seemingly forgotten that the struggle for black rights is still ongoing. Rudy Giliani, the former New York City mayor attacked her outright, declaring that her performance was “anti-police” and that she should instead be using her celebrity to encourage young black people to “respect the police”. The politician should be reminded that it was his own city’s police force that essentially murdered via strangulation last year, an innocent and unarmed grandfather and brother called Eric Garner shockingly despite his incessant protests that he couldn’t breathe.
The disgraceful reaction on certain corners of the web from a certain kind of people just goes to confirm that Beyonce’s politicising of the event was so needed. It is so needed because black people in America are more than twice as likely as whites to be unarmed when killed by the police. It is so needed because black people are still excluded from political and public life. It is so needed because if you are black in America you are more likely to be paid less than your white counterpart and if you are a man, you have a one in three chance of being in jail because of the hugely biased incarceration system existing in the States. People have even tried to organise a protest against Beyonce’s performance outside the NFL headquarters. Beautifully countering the protest, a Facebook page was set up called an “anti-anti protest rally” who said on the page: “don’t let anyone make her powerful statement about the value of Black life be overshadowed by those who don’t believe that our lives matter”.