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Friday, February 12, 2016

Beyonce's "Formation" - A Masterpiece of Marketing

   In the past week there has been a lot of buzz about Beyoncé's new "Formation" single.  She surprise-debuted the video the day before the Super Bowl, and featured it in her performance at halftime of that event.  There have been reams of gushing reviews by people of all colors, analyzing almost every frame of the piece and extolling the deep social and political  messages it contains.  It's been called an anthem for black pride and black women  in particular.  It's a pulsating rap tune, with a hypnotic rhythm and weird techno instrumentation.  There's a lot of rapid fire imagery, some flitting by so fast you want to slow it down to decipher what you're seeing.  It's too much to grasp in one viewing alone.  I've watched it several times and have to admit it invites a lot of speculation about what it all means.
     Beyoncé is a master of marketing herself by creating controversy.  She's taken images representing just about every hot button issue to the black community and rolled them into an almost five minute long montage.  It starts out with scenes of post Katrina flooding, with Beyoncé herself sitting atop a mostly submerged police car.  The very next image is of flashing police lights and an anonymous person running in the street.  We see an old run down neighborhood, presumably post Katrina.  Then we are taken into the drawing room of a southern plantation, and the black women are clearly in charge here as they sit in their white antebellum style dresses, cooly fanning themselves.  After that there's lots of dancing and booty shaking, with Beyoncé in one of her trademark skin tight bodysuits.  There aren't many men in the video, and the few that we do see seem to be there only to point out stereotypical roles of males in black society - the preacher, the basketball player, the entertainer represented by mardi gras drum majors, and finally the black suited body guards who surround Beyoncé as she stands in front of her plantation.  At one point a boy in a Trayvon Martin-style hoodie dances before a line of white police officers.  We see "stop shooting us" scrawled in graffiti on a wall. 
     But the focal point of almost every scene are the women and girls.  Beyoncé's own daughter Blue Ivy frolics in the halls of the mansion with her friends while the white dressed ladies hold court in the drawing room.  And then there's the "formation" - Beyoncé's line of black chorus girls who do their updated version of  a Rockettes performance in a parking lot.  Instead of high kicks they grind hips, but there's a threat even to the chorus girls: "prove to me you got some coordination...or you get eliminated."  Beyoncé herself promises lots of rewards to her man in return for sexual prowess.  There's no doubt who has the power here.   It's the women who rule over the men, but Beyoncé rules over them all.
    You can't blame her - she's got lots to crow about.  Nobody knows the exact figure, and reports vary, but her net worth is well over $100 million, some say $250 million or maybe as high as $450 million along with her rapper husband Jay Z.   She also has great timing.  The commercial that immediately followed her Super Bowl performance was an ad for her new tour that launches in April and for which tickets are now on sale, with extra dates being added due to demand.  As long as she can continue to stir up controversy and grab the attention of blacks and whites alike, her net worth will continue to grow.  In all fairness, she has pledged to use revenue from her new tour to raise money for citizens of Flint, Michigan who were victimized by the leaded water travesty there.   Beyoncé is a social commentator, an artist, a performer, a diva, a philanthropist, but above all she is a very smart business woman.