By Emily Holland and Hadas Aron
We spent Friday surrounded by giant flames, confetti falling from the sky, fireworks, water, flashing lights, and so much more. Yes, we went to the Beyoncé concert and yes, it was epic. Being the dedicated political scientists we are, even while watching the spectacle in awe, the political implications of the event did not escape us. Let us share with you the Political Scientist’s Guide to Beyoncé’s “Formation” Tour.
1. Okay Ladies Now Lets Get in Formation: Much has been written about Beyoncé’s new-found feminism (though we do argue that Beyoncé has always been a feminist, but in less obvious ways). Her “Formation” Tour is visceral feminist experience. The opening act, DJ Khaled, brought on stage many leading rappers from the last two decades including TI, Ja Rule, DMX, Jadakiss and others. The crowd was enthusiastic, but it was clear that while the men were on stage, everyone was waiting for the main act: Beyoncé. Traditionally, rap is hyper-masculine, so it was interesting that the powerhouse of the evening was so unapologetically and powerfully female. Just as the rappers wrapped-up their performance, an orchid repeatedly opened and closed on giant screens. This was a blatant message, and we all got it loud and clear. The entire show was a feminist experience. Beyoncé performs with an entirely female, mostly black, group of dancers, backup singers and band. This is unheard of in the world of popular music, especially for a female pop artist. Men did make an appearance (both Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar literally rose from the stage in Beyoncé’s silver throne) but they were there under the sponsorship of Beyoncé. In particular, Jay-Z, on stage for no more than two minutes, was introduced by Beyoncé only as “my man”. Echoing her visual album Lemonade, feminist images repeatedly appeared on screen including flowers coming out of her mouth, a triangle between Beyoncé’s legs, and words like “diva” “boss” and “feminist”. Beyond the visual images, the entire message of the show was one of female empowerment. Beyoncé encouraged the crowd to take what is theirs without shame or inhibition.
2. I Might Just Be a Black Bill Gates in the Making: You may have noticed that this is a particularly divisive period in American politics. We can’t even agree on Tic Tacs and Skittles. All we have left is Beyoncé, and a quick informal survey of her crowd showed that she crosses class, race and regional divisions (we did not say gender here, although there were a few men in the crowd). Beyoncé’s Lemonade had a powerful black empowerment message, which resonated in the black community and did not alienate fans of other races. This is a unique quality of Beyoncé. There are certainly artists (including Beyoncé’s sister Solange) that are more openly activist in Black Lives Matter and other causes. But what is unique about Beyoncé is her ability to send a powerful message from the very center of the mainstream. She remains Queen Bey to white suburban fans even as she preaches black empowerment. That is a brave and admirable statement, particularly on the mainstream stages on which she performs like the Super Bowl Halftime Show.
3. I Dream It, I Work Hard, I Grind ‘Til I Own It: Industry and hard work have always been themes in Beyoncé’s music, and throughout the Lemonade experience she references the American dream, of which she is a shining example. In these troubled times which have seen real incomes stagnate and poverty become entrenched along racial lines, Beyoncé’s message, while inspiring, is at odds with the prevailing sense of economic pessimism, particularly amongst her Gen X and Y fans. Beyoncé has a personal fortune of around $450 million and continues to sing about how “hustling” and “grinding” means that she can now buy her own diamonds and buy her own rings. While we appreciate the feminist implications of her message, the fact is that social mobility in America is pretty much stuck and no matter how hard one works, it is hard to escape deeply entrenched institutional and social constraints. That said, the American dream has always been aspirational, and Beyoncé is an example of how hard work (and talent and luck) can pay off in exceptional circumstances.
4. Stacking Money Money Everywhere She Goes: Beyoncé is awfully rich. At the concert we thought about how Blue Ivy has a billion dollars and decided that is too much money for one baby. The show is obviously a huge moneymaker for Beyoncé, and if that’s not enough, before the show began, the screens blasted commercials for her new clothing line, Ivy Park. As impartial political scientists, we should note that Beyoncé’s commercial interests obviously align with her message, which indicates that this a moment in time where both feminism and black power sell to the masses. We don’t think this is a bad thing, but one that should be acknowledged in any case.
5. And She Worth Every Dollar, She Worth Every Dollar: Obviously the concert was amazing and worth the $235 per ticket we paid even though we are poor graduate students.