Recently, Beyoncé slyly paid tribute to the Black Panthers through her dancer’s costumes during her 2016 Super Bowl Halftime performance. This performance gained a tremendous amount of media attention amidst the anticipation of the release of her new album. Rather than the artistic creativity and Beyoncé’s singing taking the spotlight, it was the costuming and clear reference to the Black Panther’s that gained the most attention.
In the lyrics and music video for her song “Formation”, Beyoncé depicts the lack of support that survivors of Hurricane Katrina, shines the light on police brutality toward the black community, and reflects on the influence of African American women in society. The day after the release of her music video, Beyoncé performed her single for the Super Bowl Halftime show. A common critique echoed in mainstream news media and social media platforms was that she unnecessarily paid tribute to violence that portrayed police as a common enemy and distracting from the “wholesome” game of football. However, there was no trace of such displays during her performance, rather I believe it is the purposeful costuming and a political stance she used with her nationwide platform that “offended” people.
Usually when it comes to musical artists and their performances, there is more of a focus on the singing, costuming, dancing, and other distracting factors that do not include drawing attention to “real life” issues and their opinions. I have noticed that with musical artists, success comes more easily with the help of sexual exploitation. Artists tend to play on the notion that “sex sells” i.e., focusing solely on sexualized lyrics, revealing costumes, and provocative dance moves to increase sales. To me, Beyoncé’s most recent performances and music have become less consumed with these types of gimmicks and have begun to touch on bigger issues, such as feminism and now recognizing the treatment and mistreatment of black lives. No matter how subtle or obvious Beyoncé’s stance is on such matters, it has become obvious that the more power and voice that she has, the more she is perceived as threatening.
In the book, “Racism, Sexism, and the Media”, there is material relative to the current media conversation around Beyoncé: “…the media often disregards women as leaders and are more likely to portray them as individuals rather than groups, victims instead of heroines, and sexual figures as opposed to thinkers” (Wilson II, Gutierrez, Chao p. 145). As much as I would like to think there has been a lessening of sexism, racism, and inequality in the United States, it is instances such as the critiques on Beyoncé’s performance that reveal that progress does not mean such problems no longer exist.
Although there has been debate, negative comments, and misconstruing of Beyoncé’s musical performance, I think it is respectable that a popular artist, such as she, uses her nationwide popularity in a way to shed light onto important issues and openly expresses her beliefs. I hope that in time the media changes the way they portray and acknowledge people, but I know it takes various efforts and understanding for advancement can occur.
Racism, Sexism, and the Media: Multicultural issues into the new communications age (4th ed., p. 145). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.