Beyoncé says in her visual album Lemonade that “The past, present, and future merge to meet us here”. This flexible notion of time is deeply embedded within Afrofuturist thought and present in the composition of Beyoncé’s song “Formation”. Furthermore, the empowerment of black women through lyrics such as “okay, ladies, now let’s get information, ‘ cause I slay” illuminates on the intersection between feminist thought and Afrofuturism.
The lyrics “My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana/ You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama” show Beyoncé’s willingness to embrace her diasporic family history. Creole historically refers to those who were a mix of European and African ancestry. Her diasporic identity stems from her family’s past, and the intertwining of the two is also shown by Beyoncé’s “ merging [of] ancient, past and contemporary diasporic African hair, body adornment and dress” (Edwards 86). The past shapes the present and future. In “Formation” the cinematography frequently uses intentionally grainy footage with a “Rec” sing on the bottom right, reminiscent of a camcorder. The use of an older technology frames Beyoncé’s song as being heavily connected with the past.
Another Afrofuturist element in “Formation” is celebrating the distinct cultures of the African diaspora. In the song, Beyoncé sings “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros / I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils” which places an emphasis on her preference for celebrating her African heritage. The allusion to the Jackson Five more specifically targets its main star Michael Jackson, who would later go on to infamously have plastic nose surgery, as well as his skin, becoming white due to a skin condition. Hence, Beyoncé is appreciating and encouraging those who do not pursue and strive for whiteness.
Part of feminist Afrofuturism is also imagining and creating new possibilities for establishing a new culture devoid of white influences. As Valorie Thomas says about Lemonade:
Lemonade exemplifies the possibilities of strategic aestheticizations of vertigo in pop culture, incorporating practices through which black diasporic cultures over- come enforced stasis by shattering the scripts, basements, and penning discursive structures of unbeing to reimagine what lies beyond.
Beyoncé’s laying on top of a sinking police car is symbolic of the efforts to overcome societal inertia perpetuated by systemic racism. By placing herself above the police car and what it represents— oppression, police brutality, the failure to act during Hurricane Katrina— Beyoncé attempts to rewrite the historical narrative. This sentiment is echoed In Anna Everett’s essay “Race, Gender, and the Technological Turn: A Roundtable on Digitizing Revolution” she quotes Zandria Robertson from the Rolling Stone discussing Beyoncé’s “Formation” when she says:
[Beyoncé] centers the voices and visuals of black women and queer black people so that they can give and get information and bring the roots of current black justice movements into view.
Beyoncé inspires and imagines new possibilities for herself and black women. By embracing elements of African culture and upheaving traditional white power structures, Beyoncé encourages black women to “slay” and where they too could be “a black Bill Gates in the making”.
- Edwards, Erica B., et al. “Does Beyoncé’s Lemonade Really Teach Us How to Turn Lemons into Lemonade?: Exploring the Limits and Possibilities Through Black Feminism.” Taboo; New York, vol. 16, no. 2, Fall 2017, pp. 85–96.
- Everett, Anna, and Guisela Latorre. “Race, Gender, and the Technological Turn: A Roundtable on Digitizing Revolution.” Frontiers; Lincoln, vol. 39, no. 1, 2018, pp. 149–77.
- Knowles, Beyoncé. Lemonade. Tidal. 23 April 2016.
- Thomas, Valorie D. “Unenslaveable Rapture: Afrofuturism and Diasporic Vertigo in Beyoncé’s Lemonade.” TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 39, 2018, pp. 48–69.