“I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things”~ Tom Waits
Art’s power rests in its ability to portray an often ignored truth. It provokes conversation and stirs emotions. The way art is expressed depends completely on the artists. While the chosen outlet may vary, each artist runs the risk of either misinterpretation, unfair scrutiny, or heavy backlash. Yet, I would speculate that before an artistic expression is released to the world the artist in question has an understanding of this possibility, which is why artists are not only talented, but equally brave. For this bravery and using her massive platform to generate more conversation around the Black Lives Matter Movement, SoulTrain.com highlights none other than Beyoncé.
Her new song, “Formation,” is candid, layered and rich with cultural references, and the video directly highlights the impact of Hurricane Katrina and police abuse. One of the more visually captivating images consists of a young black child innocently dancing alone wearing a hoodie, while several officers dressed in full riot gear appear to watch him in a manner typically reserved for an offender. The words “don’t shoot” are visible in the frame. In the wake of the Tamir Rice killing, this scene can be interpreted as an illustration of (some) police officers’ inability to see young black children as in fact children, a message that resonated with many in the black community. At the core of the Black Lives Matter movement is often the discussion of how young innocence isn’t a luxury granted to children of color.
The video’s imagery is both well-received and heavily criticized, with some praising Beyoncé for using her art and platform to declare such bold statements and others questioning the authenticity of the message in her song and video given how vastly it differs from her traditional body of work. The backlash has continued with reports of police unions calling for a boycott of Beyoncé’s world tour, citing the song sends an “anti-police message.” (Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, recently offered the Fruit of Islam to protect Beyoncé if the police refused.)
The song, video and later, the Super Bowl performance garnered national attention, scrutiny, and opinions. It made some people uncomfortable and angry, while others felt it conveyed an honest declaration. It is challenging, raw and appealing. It is art, art that used melodies and beautiful visuals to highlight some terrible things. It is art that was expressed on a massive platform that furthered the discussion around a sometimes ignored truth.
“Formation” is a powerful example of music being used to bring attention to a movement.
Shanita Hubbard is a mom, writer, and social justice advocate. Follow her on Twitter.