Soon and very soon, we’re going to see The King, in all her Texan Negro-Creole glory. By we, I mean the rest of y’all, seeing as how there’s already an indispensable portion of the world that has always been aware of how Southern Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is. For us, her most recent video, Formation, was just a reminder of what we already knew. Now, I could spend this post talking about how several folks not worth their weight in salt have been quick to jump onto this video without recognizing that it is just as unapologetically Southern as it is unapologetically black, but I feel like we’ve dragged on Northerners enough—at least for this month. So, instead, I think we should take some time to celebrate the first artist since Big K.R.I.T. to put Texas Pete and the region that perfected it back on the map.
Because we’re talking about formation, I think it’s important to start off by looking at who formed this masterpiece—namely, Bey herself, but also Mike WiLL Made-It (production) Swae Lee from Rae Sremmurd (co-writing.) In many ways, this line-up itself is a celebration of the New South’s contributions to 2015 hip-hop culture: you couldn’t go anywhere last summer without hearing SremmLife, a project that is greatly influenced by the brothers’ Tupelo roots and Atlanta upbringings, and Mike Will’s sound has long been recognized as a distinctly ATL creation.
Given all this Georgian influence, people may be a bit confused about why we’re all considering this to be bounce music. I had a friend who tried to classify this as trap, which we will forgive him for—New Yorkers don’t be knowing. While this may be a logical conclusion, it overlooks Formation’s other two contributors: Big Freedia and Messy Mya, Gulf Coast cultural icons who were instrumental in elevating the cultural importance of Formation. Swae and Mike are essentially Latavia and Latoya—the group (or in this case, song) wouldn’t have come off without them, but we all know Kelly and Michelle (i.e. Freedia and Mya) are the ones helping Bey make it do what it do for the 99 and the 2000 (or the 15 and 2016?) What Formation does do is nothing short of magical: by bringing these voices back into the mainstream, Beyoncé pays homage to and raises up the queer black Southern community, for those of y’all who aren’t aware how much our current culture rests on their work.
While we’re on the topic, there’s also the sonic inclusion of drum major riffs, which immediately brought to mind one of the best aspects of collegiate Southern blackness, our HBCU marching bands. Whether your Aggie Pride leads you to believe that A&T has the best band (like me!), or you for some reason side with FAMU like Michaela, it’s undeniable that these musicians—and majorettes! —have been a staple of black Southern culture for decades. Beyoncé was clearly aware of this other “formation” we often reference in the black South, because those bridge notes had homecoming halftime stamped all over them.
Furthermore, I just want to appreciate the depth of Beyoncé’s alignment with her countryness. Finally, someone has showcased the over-coordination we black Southerners seem to particularly love (denim-on-denim, Gucci outfits) outside of Instagram memes. She also makes sure to get the dinnertime references in—someone is literally pulling apart lobsters in this video, and I praise the Good Lord for it. If we’re talking teams, we can’t leave out her inclusion of my favorite swamp town mascots, albino alligators (which are indigenous to the coastal Southeastern U.S., and are focal points in most all of our aquariums.) The succinct recounting of her family history (“My daddy Alabama/mama Louisiana/you mix that Negro with that Creole/make a Texas bama”) is immediately legendary, and gives almost all your coastal cousins a chance to rep their states. It’s also proof of why this woman should be teaching courses (specifically on black Southern genealogy) at Rice along with Bun B.
Y’all know we at 2BG love a GRIT who knows her roots, and thanks to Formation, Beyoncé clearly passes our test. Everyone’s favorite look from this scene comes from her experimentation with Southern Gothic, Antebellum, and voodoo aesthetics, reclaiming them in order to show how the black women deprived of lace and luxury in that time period still ran the show from behind the scenes. Her insistence on anchoring New Orleans scenery and culture in this video (a city-specific focus which, lest y’all forget, she has done for Houston in “No Angel”) adds her to the long list of black artists who continue to make sure we don’t forget the tragedies inflicted upon black people in Katrina. I can only hope this is only the start of her showcasing our not-so-distant past for the whole world to see.
I know there are arguably more important reclamations of Black History Month, and we’ll get to them eventually. But right now, I’m feeling like the black, female, queer South has risen again, and that’s something to be celebrated.
For other great pieces by Southern women on this topic, click one of the links below!