How does BreatheHeavy rank Beyonce's "Formation?"
Now that the madness surrounding Beyonce's Super Bowl performance has simmered, what do we think of her lead single? The BreatheHeavy team jotted down our thoughts.
If 7/11 and No Angel had a baby, then raised it to be the next President, it’s name would be Formation. A logical progression from the minimalist, gif-ready viral imagery and dark trap beats, Beyonce returns with a track that’s as topical as it is pop-star extravagant. This appears to be the contrast the 34-year-old singer is now comfortable with presenting as the most accurate representation of herself. She’s been rich and famous since she was a teenager, Beyonce will never be 100% relatable to someone working for minimum wage in a 9-to-5 job (something she actually addressed in Ghost). At the same time, she is still a person. Her humanity has to be evident somewhere within her art. She is a black woman conquering a racist, white-dominated industry. That in itself ends up being a political statement, whether she’s singing about a guy “checking up on it” or declaring her feminism. There’s no reason for Beyonce to shy away from the position she holds, as unusual and contrasting as it is. Formation addresses numerous injustices faced by black people at the hands of white America – the treatment of stranded survivors after Hurricane Katrina, ongoing police brutality, the commercialisation of Eurocentric beauty standards and those ridiculous Illuminati conspiracies that tend to frame black celebrities as satanic devil worshippers and white celebrities as helpless victims. There’s no removing the politics from this song or video, indeed Beyonce could have called the song “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Social Context”. Performing it at tomorrow’s Superbowl will be a bold, bold move, to say the least. Subject matter aside, the song is about as radio-unfriendly as Beyonce has ever been; she’s intentionally not speaking to at least 50% of her target audience. This is primarily a statement track with just enough of a pulse to get a few 4am club spins. Regardless of what the reaction to this track ends up being, it’s definitely a strong indication of a very interesting sixth album.
“Formation” is a fair representation of Beyoncé’s artistic growth. From the girl-power lite of Destiny’s Child and the gentle R&B/Pop of “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies”, Beyoncé has evolved into a product far greater than the sum of her parts. With her eponymous fifth album, she proved that she had the attitude and charisma to carry off hip-hop and trap beats with ease, and the global phenomenon finally started to let her audience into her life in an organic way. “Formation” feels like the final realisation of all those achievements - personal, on trend and relentlessly urban, it’s the best lead single Beyoncé has released, even if it most likely won’t match the chart success of previous endeavours like “Drunk in Love” or “If I Were a Boy”. “Formation” won’t be for everyone - it’s hardly “Single Ladies 2.0”. “Formation” is, at its roots, an in depth exploration of what it is to be a woman of colour. People will undoubtedly respond that the track and video are “too hood” or “too ghetto” but, realistically, that’s a coded way of saying, “We’re uncomfortable with how black you are.” And Beyoncé just doesn’t care. She unapologetically owns her identity and for the first time in her outrageously successful career, Beyoncé is letting us see her for who she truly is - not Sasha Fierce, not a pop girl or an R&B star, not someone who fits the mold of what it is to be a star in 2016. And that’s infinitely more interesting than “Single Ladies 2.0”.
“Formation” is a statement. Everything about the song and video remains intriguing. It’s outspoken, brash and unapologetic on all fronts — for better or for worse. As she approaches another era in her career, the song also signals what may be an extremely bold era in Beyoncé’s career. Still, there’s something that I cannot connect with when it comes to Bey and her ratchet ass nature, and I’m all for some occasional Mike WiLL Made-It dirty trap. I applaud her for bringing social issues to the forefront via lyrics and visual, but let’s be real, how many times do you realllllly think Beyoncé has paid a visit to Red Lobster after a good throw down?
It's hard to say whether I live for Beyonce's "Formation" because I sorely missed her solo presence in music, or because the song slays, bitch. The Mike WiLL Made-It-produced track was underwhelming upon first listen, but that's the secret ingredient in all great Beyonce songs. With every spin, there are new gems that creep through my earbuds into my dark soul and onto Instagram. - i.e. "I got hot sauce in my bag, swag" and the gay queen declaring his love for "cornbreads and collard greens, bitch. Oh, yes, you best to believe it." I believe. It's carefully constructed so the Beyhive can hit replay for 72 hours straight after its surprise release and not grow tired of the haunting banjo or climbing chorus. And if the political message and viral vitality of the song get lost on you, watch her Super Bowl performance. It's as if Beyonce knows what she's doing or something.