Beyonce’s show draws mixed reaction – Singer takes US by storm with new activist role

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A woman looks at the art piece called ‘Suspended Together’ by Saudi Arabia’s artist Manal Aldowayan during the Arab modern art exhibition ‘Looking at the World Around You: Contemporary Works from Qatar Museums’, in Madrid on Feb 8. (AP)
A woman looks at the art piece called ‘Suspended Together’ by Saudi Arabia’s artist Manal Aldowayan during the Arab modern art exhibition ‘Looking at the World Around You: Contemporary Works from Qatar Museums’, in Madrid on Feb 8. (AP)
day after the Super Bowl, people are still parsing over each frame from Beyonce’s halftime performance, trying to glean the messages, both subtle and overt, that made for a stunning display of unapologetic blackness and political activism during one of the most-watched events of the year.

The halftime show — seen by an estimated 112 million people — is drawing praise from her fans and consternation from critics.

While Beyonce hasn’t commented on the specifics of the show, and her rep declined comment, the imagery speaks for itself. Beyonce’s dancers donned berets, sported Afros and wore all black, similar to the style of the Black Panther party, founded 50 years ago by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in the Bay area — the location of this year’s Super Bowl. At one point during their routine, the dancers formed an “X’’ on the field, which some people are taking as a tribute to slain black activist Malcolm X.

In addition, Beyoncé and her dancers raised a fist to the sky, reminiscent of the black power salutes of the 1960-70s, made popular internationally by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their fists to the sky after winning gold and bronze at the 1968 Summer Olympics.

Several people applauded her embracing the history of black activism and of her own identity. Her new song “Formation,” which she sang during her performance, includes the lyrics “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and Afros. I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.”

“I think that you’re hard-pressed to find that demonstrative an example of performative blackness on stage, on such a high profile stage,” said Damon Young, editor in chief of the website www.verysmartbrothas.com , on Monday. “Between the dancers coming out dressed as Black Panthers to the lyrics to the song, again … I can’t recall another time you saw that unambiguousness with a performance on a large scale.”

Advance

Melina Abdullah, a Black Lives Matter activist and leader in California, said it’s wonderful that artists like Beyonce “are willing to raise social consciousness and use their artistry to advance social justice.”

But not everyone appreciated Beyoncé’s performance. Republican Congressman Peter King of New York immediately condemned Beyoncé for her performance, saying on Facebook “her pro-Black Panther and anti-cop video ‘Formation’ and her Super Bowl appearance is just one more example of how acceptable it has become to be anti-police.”

(While there were no direct references to police on the Super Bowl field, the video, released Saturday, features a young black child in a hoodie dancing in front of a line of police officers, and graffiti that reads “Stop Shooting Us.”)

And all of this comes during heightened racial tensions across the country, particularly in regards to allegations of police brutality. Hollywood is grappling with issues of race as well, with Spike Lee, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith planning to skip the Academy Awards after no actors of color received Oscar nominations for a second year in a row.

Lakeyta Bonnette, a Georgia State University political science professor, said more and more celebrities like Beyonce are moving toward public activism. In 2014, basketball superstar LeBron James and other NBA players wore “I can’t breathe” T-shirts to their basketball games: “I can’t breathe” were the last words of Eric Garner, a black man who died after a physical altercation with police in New York City.

But some people have complained that Beyonce injected politics into a sports event. On Monday’s Fox & Friends, former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani slammed her tributes to black activism during the halftime show when performers are “talking to Middle America.”

“I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive,” said Giuliani, who said he would have preferred “decent wholesome entertainment.”

To be fair, it wasn’t just Beyoncé that the 71-year old Giuliani didn’t like. He called the whole halftime show “ridiculous.”

“I don’t know what the heck it was. A bunch of people bouncing around and all strange things. It was terrible,” he said. “Actually don’t even know why we have this. I mean, this is football.”

With slogans against police brutality and celebrations of African beauty in her new song, Beyonce has suddenly transformed from crowd-pleasing entertainer to outspoken spokeswoman for the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement.

The 34-year-old superstar, who had been relatively quiet in 2015, returned in spectacular fashion Saturday with a surprise new song, “Formation,” marked by a video rich in political imagery and a raw bounce beat in the style of Southern hip-hop.

One day later, Beyonce took the message to the largest possible audience as she performed the song during the halftime show of the Super Bowl, the most watched US television broadcast of the year which drew more than 111 million viewers.

Trading her soaring vocal range for a rap delivery, Beyonce — who is estimated with her husband, rap mogul Jay Z, to be worth a combined $1 billion — takes on much of the attitude of hip-hop and boasts of her success.

Heritage

But in Beyonce’s version, the bragging also turns political as she insists that she remains true to her African American heritage.

She describes herself as a “black Bill Gates in the making” — referring to the Microsoft billionaire turned philanthropist.

“Earned all this money but they never take the country out of me / I got hot sauce in my bag, swag,” sings Beyonce, who was born in Houston to parents from Louisiana and Alabama.

The video brings together fleeting but poignant scenes of African American struggles, especially the string of killings of black men by police in the past two years that have triggered the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

In the most striking image, a boy in a hoodie dances before a phalanx of police in riot gear. Later, the police raise their hands up like people under arrest as graffiti on the wall reads, “Stop shooting us.”

Setting the video in New Orleans, Beyonce sings from the roof of a police car that is sinking in water — an implicit reference to criticism that authorities botched relief efforts when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005 and killed nearly 2,000 people, disproportionately African American. (Agencies)

In a more subtle touch in the video, which was directed by Melina Matsoukas, a newspaper appears that features the picture of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

“More than a dreamer,” reads the newspaper’s headline, a message that King was about more than his classic “I Have a Dream” speech during the 1963 March on Washington.

Members of the National Sheriffs’ Association, who were attending a convention at a Washington hotel, lowered the volume on the television and turned their backs to Beyonce, the group said on Facebook.

Beyonce’s performance, however, heartened many Internet users.

Opal Tometi, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, voiced appreciation for Beyonce on Twitter and noted that the Super Bowl fell on the birthday of Sandra Bland, an African American woman who was found hanging in a Texas jail in disputed circumstances after she was pulled over for a traffic violation.

The political leanings of Beyonce and Jay Z are no secret. They have supported President Barack Obama, throwing a fund-raiser for his 2012 re-election campaign.

Beyonce’s new video “Formation” is “pro-Black Panther” and “anti-cop,” says a Republican congressman, who argued Monday that it perpetuates a lie about the August 2014 shooting in the state of Missouri of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.

“Beyonce may be a gifted entertainer but no one should really care what she thinks about any serious issue confronting our nation,” New York Rep Pete King said in a statement he posted on his Facebook page.

King condemned the video, released by the Grammy-winning singer ahead of her world tour and her performance during halftime of professional football championship known as the Super Bowl. He also complained about the mainstream media’s acceptance of the video and her Super Bowl appearance. (Agencies)

By Jesse J. Holland

This news has been read 6813 times!

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