Beyoncé’s “Formation” has been out for a while. Let me preface this by saying that I will not, in this article, be talking about whether or not Beyonce’s song and video are activism. There are a myriad of other articles that will do that question justice, and if that’s what you’re looking for, I refer you to Google.
When “Formation” was released, it set the social media world ablaze. When Beyoncé performed it at Super Bowl 50, all the white supremacist and bumbling idiots decided they were going to call Beyoncé anti-police and racist. While I could get into how wrong that is and just utterly disgusting, I will not. One critique of Beyonce’s new-found form of activism and speaking out against police brutality and calling for the unification and solidarity of black women is that she was too late. Or rather, she was doing this as a publicity stunt and because it was convenient for her business. Questions arose as to why she hadn’t been protesting and drawing attention to it years ago. Why now? Why wasn’t Beyoncé concerned about the black community before? Why should we believe that she actually cares and that this isn’t a publicity stunt? Why did she wait?
President Barack Obama (not an artist, but just go with me here), during his first term, was a pretty easy-going president. He didn’t push for any major changes or speak out against a lot of forms of injustice, which led to a lot of people claiming that he was a let down, especially to the black community. People wanted him to be more radical and out there, but these very same people seem to forget that brotha still had to be elected for another term. And if you’ve been paying attention, first-term President Obama is very different from second-term President Obama. From speaking out as being an ally for the gay community to addressing gun control to speaking on police brutality against black bodies, our President is seemingly a very different man than when he came to in office.
Do we really think that suddenly Beyoncé and President Obama woke up one day and were like, “Wow, I feel so enlightened for some reason at this very moment; I must speak on this no matter the consequences!” Like, bruh, no. That’s not how it works at all. I’m sure they are the same people deep down that they’ve always been. They’ve just progressed in their careers.
People seem to forget that we live in a world where you must enter a certain game to win at life. And when you’re in the game and in order to stay in the game, you must play the game before you can change the game. And that’s what it seems as if Beyoncé and President Barack Obama are doing. Whether or not this is admirable is a decision I leave for others to decide. People make judgment calls all the time, and they will always be judged for them.
Another thing I take grievances with is the notion that artists should use their platforms to speak awareness. While, yes, it’s always great when artists speak up against injustice and police brutality and such, I, personally, don’t require it from them in order to call them successful, talented, and good human beings. I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that artists have an obligation to make work that is socially aware and for the people. NO. The only obligation that artists have are to themselves. For a society where we do not value artists unless they are super popular, that’s a pretty hefty responsibility people have attempted to put on our heads.
I mean, can we think about that logic for a second? The notion that an artist’s responsibility is to make work that is socially aware and for the people directly invalidates the notion that artist should not succumb to social pressure and should only make work that they feel need to be made. Just because Beyoncé didn’t make a video like Formation three years ago (when, might I remind you, she would have still been called out for it being a publicity stunt) does not mean that she is not allowed to make one now. Who are we to tell artists when they can be socially conscious and make their art? Who are we to tell anyone, for that matter, when it is the right time to be an activist?
I, as an artist, take some offense to this thinking. My job as an artist is not to educate the ignorant or remind our society of injustices. If I happen to do so and make that conscious choice, great. I will not be bullied, though, into doing so. Also, this line of thinking promotes the idea that an artist must produce the same style of art in order to stay true and not be fake. We squeeze artists into boxes, forgetting that they too are human beings who evolve and change as time passes.
I challenge you: if you want artists to only make “conscious” art, then start with yourself. Artists don’t owe society anything. They never have, and they never will.