The iconic Beyoncé performed her new song “Formation” at Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7. Both her performance at the halftime show and the music video—which was released a day before Beyoncé took the stage—have received mixed reviews. While some praise Beyoncé for showing visible support for the Black Lives Matter movement, others have gone so far as to protest Beyoncé. Indisputably, Beyoncé was making a political statement. At the halftime show, the backup dancers wore Black Panther berets, formed a letter X for Malcolm X and held up a homemade sign demanding “Justice for Mario Woods.” In the complex music video, Beyoncé references Black Lives Matter with graffiti slogans such as “Stop Shooting Us” and a sinking police car.
Regardless of what Beyoncé chooses to reference from the Black Lives Matter movement, she is creating a conversation that needs to be started. People’s reactions to her activism, however, have been unnerving. Demonstrations such as an anti-Beyoncé protest rally in front of the National Football League headquarters was staged on Tuesday Feb. 16; this on top of a “Boycott Beyoncé” sign-up page and “#boycottBeyoncé.”
Beyoncé rightfully took the opportunity to raise questions of civil rights to an audience of 111.9 million viewers when she took the stage at the Super Bowl. The anti-police motif in both her music video and halftime performance is nothing a person couldn’t see turning on their computer—or even their television.
“I always thought the purpose of the show at halftime was for entertainment and not for political agendas,” President of the Detectives’ Endowment Association Michael Palladino said. “[Beyoncé] incorporated the Black Panther stuff in it and Black Lives Matter. Yeah, I was surprised by the halftime show.”
Palladino inadvertently raised up a separate issue in her performance, the issue as to why people have responded in outrage over Beyoncé’s performance: people see what they want to see. A myriad of people only want to be entertained—they do not want to be politically engaged and they do not want to be involved in what doesn’t pertain to them. Ignorance is bliss.
So, when a public figure like Beyoncé is in the spotlight for generating important conversations, you have those who react negatively. “Saturday Night Live” put it best on their Saturday Feb. 13 episode where they mocked the outrage toward “Formation” with their sketch “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black.”
“It was the day it shook the whole white world,” “What about ‘Single Ladies?’” and “I don’t understand how they can be black—they’re women” are just a few of the skit’s lines that satirize the whole “crisis.”
Beyoncé is extremely sexualized for the public’s viewing pleasure—people forget that she has important things to say. It isn’t as if this is the first time Beyoncé has taken a political stand. Her and Kelly Rowland started a charity to help Hurricane Katrina survivors and she and her husband Jay-Z donate munificently to civil rights charities. The only difference is that decriers weren’t paying attention then because it wasn’t for their entertainment. Now, Beyoncé is making them pay attention.
It is as Eavan Boland states in Object Lessons: a female artist can only take the feminist approach or romantic approach when it comes to being successful. For Beyoncé, that means she can only write songs like “***Flawless”—with lyrics such as, “Why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?” and “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”—or she can write songs like “Blue,” which romanticizes child-rearing.
This very notion that Boland refers to dictates what female artists can and can’t say. It is the very thing that shows why Beyoncé commenting on civil rights generated backlash. This idea, however, shouldn’t keep her—or any other female artist—from commenting on civil rights or any other issue of societal importance.