What Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Outfit Does—Or Doesn’t—Say About Blackness in America

“Part of Beyoncé’s gift—and what has been necessary for her total dominance in the mainstream—is her ability to float provocative themes on giant platforms while retaining her megawatt star-power appeal.”

The New Yorker  perfectly assessed Beyonce’s performance with Coldplay and Bruno Mars at yesterday’s Super Bowl halftime show. The day before the event, Beyoncé dropped a video for her new song “Formation”, garnering mass attention and questioning from media and public: was this Beyoncé’s reclamation of black culture in celebration of her heritage?

You’ll see Instagram screenshots, articles, and memes popping up everywhere:

“My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana / You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bamma”. 

Because Beyoncé’s indirect commentary on race in America is, and will continue to form a larger, complex conversation.

As in “Formation”, such is real life:

“You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation.”

And which conversation is that? You may know that Beyoncé has slowly, in the past few years, stopped doing talking to press completely. Vogue, who never features cover stars without an interview, allowed Beyoncé to grace their September issue cover this year, alongside a “thinkpiece” on Beyoncé’s star power written by a Nobel Prize-winning author.

One Yale professor weighed in, saying, “[Beyoncé’s] inaccessibility as a hard-won privilege, a reclamation of privacy not historically accorded to African-American women…she’s been able to reach this level of stardom in which she’s managed—in a way that I really think is unique even among other black women entertainers—hyper-visibility and inaccessibility simultaneously,’

Because if Beyoncé said anything at all, would we listen?

Those who watch the Super Bowl are probably not the same people applauding Beyoncé for her actions as a ‘strong independent black woman’. More likely, American viewers last night may have been “viscerally wowed by the sheer physicality and logistical complexity of Beyoncé’s dance routine, captivated by the song’s hook, or delighted by the cheeky dance-off between Beyoncé and Bruno Mars once the song was finished. (Or floored by the way she recovered from a tiny stumble she took onstage during a particularly challenging dance sequence.) Or they might have just been unaware of the overarching symbolism.”

More from “Formation”: “I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils”.

Speaking of symbolism: accessorized with Louboutins and 31-karat diamond football-shaped Lorraine Schwartz earrings, Beyoncé’s custom-made Dsquared military jacket spoke a tribute to Michael Jackson’s 1993 Super Bowl show costume. Which other Jackson famously performed at the Super Bowl? Janet’s female blackness was displayed as spectacle during the Super Bowl at 2004, then shamed heavily, with all of America as her audience. And last night, during the montage of so many past Superbowl performances, Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson’s performance was completely left out.

And much like the Jackson family, Beyoncé’s empire owes largely to her parents. Her father, Mathew Knowles, quit his corporate job at Xerox when Beyoncé was young in order to become her manager. Tina Knowles was Destiny’s Child’s costume designer. In an interview with Katie Couric from 2003, Mathew denied ever placing unreasonable expectations on the girls he managed, but lawsuits speak otherwise. Old members of the group pressed charges against him for unlawful treatment, and it’s still unclear whether Beyoncé herself ever sued him.

But Michael Jackson and Beyoncé are martyrs for causes they can never directly claim, otherwise they would never succeed. Whatever their intentions, how miserable or happy they really are (or were), what really went down in the elevator—we’ll probably never know.  Yes, okay, get in formation, ladies; the show must go on. 


Janet and MJ

A photo posted by Beyoncé (@beyonce) on

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