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Beyoncé's artistry is helping preserve the best aspects of black culture

Trey Alston

 // Jun 5, 2018

Artist // Instagram

A long time from now, in a distant Elysium-like future, six- and seven-year-olds will gather around robots (Westworld comes to mind) in dismayed pubs where these androids serve them drinks. They'll know not of fifteen-millisecond refreshes to Twitter feeds and Instagram timelines . Outside may be the ruins of a country that we've not taken seriously enough between now and then. While these kids sit in silence, sipping cups of Ginger Ale and Mountain Dew (because the Dew will always remain supreme), the bartender will tell them the story of the greatest entertainer to ever live, Beyoncé.

As she stands in our current day and age, she's the picture of perfection. Long, shimmering hair; urbane, silky skin; and an alluring grin that eases the mind's burden. She reads as the protagonist of her own epic; the only thing is, she has no seeable flaw. Controversy comes in fleeting glimpses to her; blessings, however, arrive a plenty. With over 22 awards at the Grammys alone, her extended career--starting as a child singer and having the flawless transition to both group leader and solo superstar--has been a success.

With Black Music Month in full swing, it's only right to look back at her biggest moments in relation to the black community. Technically, everything that she's done counts — she's become a symbol of empowerment for black women, and for the world to perceive black women as a dominating force of preeminence. But for our analysis, we're zooming in between the lines, extrapolating the moments that truly generate conversation about what it means to be black in today's world.


Beyoncé serenades the Obamas on Inauguration Day

Slavery wrecked any semblance of a just nation rising from the ground, with blacks suffering direct and systematic discrimination, racism, and oppression after the horrendous convention was abolished. On January 20, 2009, the United States took a step in a bold new direction, with Barack Obama becoming the first African-American President of the United States. By no means was the fight for equality over — a battle had been won, but the war raged on.

Shortly after being sworn in, at the Neighborhood Ball, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated their first dance and kiss. They slowly swayed on stage in bright, loving grins, in amazement at the progress that they'd achieved as a union. As cameras flashed and phone lights bore holes into their melanated skin, they were oblivious. The only thing that mattered to them was the presidency, the moment, and, of course, the soothing, historical rendition of Etta James' "At Last" being sung by Beyoncé.

Her singing was ingenuous and altruistic; powerful, yet subdued. Her eyes appeared glossy as she realized the significance of the moment. She was at the nexus of the evolution of black excellence in America. As she sang her sweet sermon of coming metamorphosis, she became an important figure in black history. She made the union of the black body and the institution of the presidency official.

The commanding statement of "Formation"

What makes Beyoncé the world-leading, singing commando that she is, is the fact that she envelops the struggles of her race. She's long been a champion for the black body — it just never manifested at the level that would alter her career altogether. Years of police brutality — which always existed, social media just made it much more visible — that conditioned other artists, battered and bruised her demure aesthetic and mental processing capabilities. In response, she crafted a powerful statement about the power of the black woman with "Formation," a Southern-cooked, bass-engorged masterpiece that smothered on surface-level empowerment in the song itself; in the video though, politics, introspection, Afrocentrism, and heavy, pounding blackness, converge for a timely and essential statement.

Beyoncé's daughter, Blue Ivy, strikes a confident pose in the video, her bushy afro in the center of the camera, harkening to the symbol of the black body that is seldom seen outside of 1970s's Blaxploitation epics. A little boy raises his hands up in a peaceful gesture aimed at police ; they return the favor. Graffiti in the formation (no pun intended) of "Stop Shooting Us" encompasses the width of the screen. Beyoncé sinks a police patrol car in flood waters, creating a new future without the constant threat of police brutality in our peripheral vision. These moments are small glimpses of a bigger picture — one that Beyoncé stunningly executed and helped to craft a new, knowledgeable era of political and social awareness.

Walking the 2016 VMA Red Carpet with 'Black Lives Matter' mothers

"Formation" was only the beginning of a concise and powerful statement about the black body that became the focal point of Lemonade, the album that included it. At the VMAs in 2016, she went through the album's personal and political cuts in an iconic performance that will transcend the test of time and go down as one of the greatest of all time. But what happened prior to that is one of the most important things that the Queen of R&B has ever done.

When Beyoncé walked the red carpet, she didn't come alone. With her was Wanda Johnson, Sybrina Fulton, Gwen Carr, and Lezley McSpadden, the mothers of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Micheal Brown, Jr. respectively. These women endured the devastating pain of losing their sons to brutal acts of violence at the hands of police and became paramount forces of activist group Black Lives Matter's argument for equality in the eyes of the law. To show her solidarity, and her empathy for the sorrow these women had to endure, she brought them with her as a resounding statement, and to remind the people in attendance of their place in the accompanying film for Lemonade. An open letter penned in July of 2016, after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philander Castile, called for African Americans to take a stand and "demand that they stop killing us." This gesture was an extension of the resolve evident in her letter — now, she was blasting it in the faces of mainstream America, in the homes of victims and perpetrators alike.

Super Bowl 50

It was a drab, repugnant Super Bowl 50. The tug-of-war football match between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos was moving at a snail's pace. At halftime, the score was 13–7. There was no indicator that things would pick up, but the halftime show featured enough surprises to wake up even the sleepiest of attendants. Although Coldplay was the main act, Beyoncé stole the show with one of the most racially-charged performances in recent history.

Bruno Mars had just wrapped up his brief guest appearance set in Coldplay's performance. As Bruno and Co., clad in all black, put the finishing touches on their even-more charismatic live rendition of "Uptown Funk," fireworks went off at the end zone to their left. The camera zoomed in on a marching band dressed in black as well, reminiscent of Black Panther leather and berets in the 1960s. Beyoncé parted the black sea with the subtle, phenomenal swing in her walk, embarking upon a rousing, twerk-filled rendition of "Formation." At the end of performance, fists were raised in the Black Panther salute, cementing the performance's place in history. She undercut a white band's set with a political statement that was broadcast on the world's stage without any care. That's the work of a queen that's dedicated to getting the message across, no matter what.

Beychella

This year's Coachella was the event of a generation, whether you're a Beyoncé fan or not. It started with a Queen Nefertiti costume by Balmain, an indicator of Egyptian royalty that also indicated how we all are black royalty, pulled from Africa. New Orleans' Rebirth Brass Band serenaded her with the loud "Do Whatcha Wanna" as she walked the length of the catwalk. It was a beautiful sight, one that set the stage for something otherworldly, yet in homage to the culture that was created for us, by us.

For the length of 26 songs, she razzled and dazzled, continuously turning over new leafs into the identify of who Beyoncé is, who she represents, and how she continues to innovate. Where these three avenues collided was in the H.B.C.U. experience that she brought, creating more thinkpieces online than Childish Gambino's "This Is America" has created thus far. Beta Delta Kappa was the name of her fictional sorority that dominated the performance. There were nearly one hundred dancers and band members on stage, arranged in a pyramid, as she danced and sang, fireworks springing off in the background as if the halftime show at a championship football game were in full effect. She changed outfits five times and paid homage to Malcolm X, Black Panther, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, among others.

Her radiant performance was the cherry on top for mainstream America's growing appreciation of black culture. The fact that a predominantly white Coachella audience received the message only made things much sweeter. Her Houston roots, along with her testament to defining the black experience, shined through the performance and has made it one of the most talked about in the festival's history.

As Beyoncé's career continues to grow and evolve, she still innovates as if she's never been here. She's a veteran masquerading as a rookie. This approach allows her to convey the black experience to new audiences with a vigor that escapes other grizzled artists. She's perhaps one of the most important black faces in Black Music Month because her very work helps to preserve the best aspects of our culture. Centuries down the line, it's this narrative that'll be told around bonfires and in virtual textbooks. It's exciting to ponder the possibilities about where she will go next. After Beychella, anything is fair game.


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