Formation is the lead single of Lemonade, American singer Beyoncé’s sixth studio album and second visual album, released as a surprise on April 23, 2016. Lemonade was praised by critics, and the track Formation was nominated for 3 grammy awards, winning the category Best Music Video. Formation is the last track of the album and in many ways it is the culmination that all other songs lead up to.
Instrumentally, the song is different from the others on the album—which is very musically diverse. Formation is a trap, with a beat driven by sub bass and drums, with some eerie synths in the background. Beyoncé’s voice is the main focus of the song, and it’s backed up by minimal instrumentation. Formation is not an airy and bright song such as Hold Up or All Night; it is hard and unapologetic, both musically and lyrically.
It has been hailed as an empowering anthem for the rights of female African Americans.
Beyoncé sings of her roots to the Black South: ”My daddy Alabama / Momma Louisiana”. Her heritage is a big part of her identity, and in Formation, Beyoncé truly takes pride in where she comes from, with lines such as, ”I got hot sauce in my bag, swag”.
The song is an embracing of her legacy and an elation of blackness. Beyoncé upholds her family’s traditional African American descent: ”I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros / I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils”.
Formation is a homage to the Black South. It is especially evident in the music video, where the intro features the voice of YouTube personality Messy Mya, who was murdered in New Orleans in 2010, while showing pictures from New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina. The actual song starts with Beyoncé lying on top of a police car in a flooded street. These images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a way of criticizing the government for delaying to respond to the flooding of New Orleans. It is a protest of how black culture has been victimized.
The music video is purposefully set exclusively in New Orleans, and it explores Black South culture. There are references to Louisiana Creole culture, to New Orleans bounce music and queer culture. There are Mardi Gras Indians, Black Cowboys, Pentecostals, and black women dressed in Antebellum dresses. Near the end of the song, a man can be seen holding a newspaper with Martin Luther King Jr.’s face on it with the title “The Truth”. In Formation, Beyoncé demands that the historically marginalized black people of the south should become centralized in culture and society.
The word “slay”, which is repeated in the song, originates from black queer community, indicating how Formation is not only an anthem for black cis-women, but that it includes all of African Americans and LGBTQ people.
There are layers of meaning in the lyrics and images of Formation, but ultimately it is a proclamation of being a proud, powerful black woman. Formation calls for a a reformational revolution. It is a timely rallying cry for African American women to unite in formation. It is black feminism.
Beyoncé is one of few pop stars bold enough to make a statement. Her statement is not only expressed through her art but in all of her identity, as she recognizes how art and identity are intertwined and inseparable. If artist’s have a responsibility to make meaningful art, Beyoncé does not fail. In Formation, she speaks a powerful and important message.