Police killings of black people are so rampant, singers stance should come as no surprise many artists have be known to shape art around politics of the time
On Thursday night, following the killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, Beyonc took the stage in Glasgow as part of her Formation world tour and asked for a moment of silence while the names of dozens and dozens of African Americans killed by the police, along with the words And Countless Others, showed on the screen behind her.
Then, as her dancers stood, unmoving, by her side, she broke into a shortened, a capella version of her song Freedom, which has come even more than Formation off the same album to be seen as her most explicitly political song to date. That is, at least in part, because she prefaced a performance of it with Kendrick Lamar with a recording of part of Martin Luther King Jrs I Have A Dream speech at the recent BET awards and because, on the visual album Lemonade, she also performed the first part of it a capella, dressed in white, with the female relatives of African American men killed by police sitting directly in front of her.
But Beyoncs more explicit forays into political issues, particularly as she has built up some distance between herself and the studios, dont really add up to a revolution: in fact, it has been an evolution.
A lot of people have the sentiment that Beyonc is only pro-black now, said the writer Michael Arceneaux. But it depends on how you define pro-black.
Arceneaux noted that the singer had always made it a point to work with both women and other African American artists, from the women in her band to the inclusion of queer black people in her art, and that she never shied away from portraying her black southern roots in her songs or the accompanying videos. Shes always wanted to celebrate her blackness, and thats a kind of revolutionary in and of itself, he said.
Crunk Feminist Collective cofounder and Rutgers University assistant professor Britney Cooper agreed. About six years ago, she started to grapple with her commitment to feminism, she said, noting that whereas Beyonc had initially expressed some discomfort embracing the term, she included a sample of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichies TEDx talk on feminism on her track Flawless in 2013 and then performed the track in front of the word FEMINIST at the MTV Video Music awards in 2014.
Part of that process has always been a connection to what is now going on with Black Lives Matter, Cooper added, noting that Beyoncs support for Black Lives Matter has led to criticism from some fans and even supposed threats from law enforcement that they would not help police her shows but none of that has changed the stars mind.
James Braxton Peterson, the director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University, said: We often complain about pop stars, athletes, movie stars being disconnected from their fans, and apathetic about social justice issues.
Beyoncs statements on civil rights were fairly measured, he said,. I think theyve been thoughtful; I think theyve been politically important.
He added, referring to Lemonade: When you start to see her putting [the message] in her music videos and in her music, thats what will have staying power.
Peterson noted that, while Bob Marley and Bob Dylan had seen their images sanitized, their revolutionary music still stood as a testament to the times and conditions in which they have lived.
Cooper said artists such as the OJays, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson were by and large seen as apolitical today, but you do have this particular trajectory of [black] men putting messages into their music.
Its been harder for women to come to voice, she added.
Jason Nichols, a professor of African American studies at the University of Maryland, said: There is a historical continuum of black artists being inspired by political movements … and shaping their art around political movements, citing Sam Cookes role in the civil rights movement, James Browns involvement with the black power movement and the influence of the message of Public Enemy.
All music is political, he added, especially hip hop. Its just, what politics are you espousing?
In this day and age, if you are an artist and you have zero to say about politics … You have to be making an effort to be quiet, to be blind, to be dumb, he said, noting that even Kim Kardashian is tweeting about this.
Beyonc is older than she was when her career began with Destinys Child, and has a daughter now, Nichols noted.
But the news of African American deaths at the hands of the police is so in your face now, he said, youre either politically engaged or you dont have a pulse.