The singer dropped her new single over the weekend to a frenzied response
Beyonce had already "Beyonce"'d her previous album Beyonce, so it was always going to be difficult to top that.
However, instead of trying to out-do the "event" that was her previous outing, Beyonce aimed sideways, and released a song without warning, along with the most charged and controversial pop video possibly since Madonna's "Like A Prayer".
Produced by Mike WiLL Made It - the same guy behind Miley's "We Can't Stop" or Rihanna's "Pour It Up" - the glitchy, hip-hop tinged sound feels like a continuation of Beyonce's own sound first cultivated in "***Flawless" or "7/11".
In behind the forward-thinking production, is a song almost overflowing with meaning. Deep down, it feels like a culmination of all her first-singles from their respective albums. "I'm so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces", she warns, calling back to the songs about her love for Jay-Z such as on "Crazy In Love" or "Drunk In Love". "Okay, okay, ladies, now let's get in formation, cause I slay," is basically a blunter call-to-arms for her fellow females, much like she did in "Single Ladies" or "Run The World (Girls)". Even the video looks like a call-back to "Deja Vu".
Directed by Melina Metsoukas - who previously worked with Beyonce on "Diva" and "Pretty Hurts" - the video was filmed in New Orleans in December 2015, and is filled with some startlingly imagery. The graffiti pleading 'Stop Shooting Us', the sinking police car, the former plantation homes, Dr. King on the cover of the newspaper - just about every shot is intended to get a reaction.
Interspersed into the music video are some spoken word segments by YouTube personality Messy Mya, who was murdered in New Orleans in 2010.
The song also features bounce-artist Big Freedia, who told Fuse.TV the following about the collaboration:
"It was a total shocker when I got a call from Beyonce’s publicist and she said Beyoncé wanted me to get on this track. When I heard the track and the concept behind it, which was Beyoncé paying homage to her roots (New Iberia, La.), I was even more excited! It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I was beyond honored to work with the original Queen B. I think it turned out amazing too!"
Not longer after the video went live, filmmakers Abteen Bagheri and Chris Black, tweeted that “Formation” used footage without permission from That B.E.A.T., their 2013 documentary about the New Orelans bounce scene. Both Black and Bagheri sent a series of tweets informing their followers that they gave permission to neither Beyoncé nor Matsoukas to use the footage. However, some of those tweets have since been deleted, and when asked about the topic by Entertainment Weekly, Beyonce's representatives stated that "The documentary footage was used with permission and licensed from the owner of the footage. They were given proper compensation. The footage was provided to us by the filmmaker’s production company. The filmmaker is listed in the credits for additional photography direction.”
Unwilling to allow the video do all the work, Beyonce injects the lyrics of the song with a whole host of topics, ranging from the controversy about her daughter ("I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros", while Blue Ivy mean-mugs like a true Knowles) to the topic that Beyonce is sometimes accused of being 'too white' ("I like my Negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.").
Even the chorus line - "Okay ladies, now let's get in formation" - can be read as the perfect rallying call for females in preparation for a night out, or for taking ownership for what is there's, or even a little bit of wordplay ("Now let's get information", maybe?), as she flips the script on what she can do for the right man in her life.
Normally we'd get to hear from the female artists about how they want their man to have money and buy them everything they want, but all Beyonce wants is a man who can satisfy her in the bedroom, and if they can, then he will be gifted with trips to Red Lobster, flights on her helicopter, trips to the mall, and teases of getting their song played on the radio. Basically, everything we're used to hearing male rappers give to willing females, Beyonce is returning that favour.
"You might just be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay. I might just be a black Bill Gates in the making, cause I slay." Notice that the lyric is black Bill Gates, not female Bill Gates, pushing forward even more the racial component, the gender issue not even mentioned.
Every aspect of every lyric and every image was generated with subtext in mind, and all the while, we've still been given a video with the dancing choreographed to within an inch of it's life, and a bass-rumbling track that perfectly suits the dancefloor. "Formation" is Beyonce's ultimate song, and she came her to slay with it.