As she is wont to do, Beyoncé surprised the world overnight with a new song, "Black Parade." Released in the final hours of Juneteenth — the holiday observing the June 19, 1865 date which marked the end of slavery in the United States — the song sounds like an outright celebration. The Juneteenth release date is especially deliberate, coming from Beyoncé, a proud Texas artist: The commemoration itself is tied directly to the day the enslaved in Texas were finally informed of their freedom, two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
So when Beyoncé sings, "I'm goin' back to the South," at the opening of the song, it's a substantive statement declaring and reclaiming her roots. Co-produced by Beyoncé and her long-time collaborator Derek Dixie, and penned by a small army of writers (Blu June, Brittany Coney, Worldwide Fresh, Derek Dixie, Kaydence, Caso, JAY-Z, and Beyoncé herself), "Black Parade" is the ever-evolving artist's offering of musical empowerment as a stand-in for the Juneteenth parades that can't take place this year due to Covid-19.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm for us, all Black," she boasts on the track. "All chrome, Black-owned." According to Beyoncé's website, proceeds from "Black Parade" will support Black-owned small businesses in need, through the singer's BeyGOOD initiative. Additionally, the site lists a directory of Black-owned businesses — the "Black Parade Route" — curated by Zerina Akers, founder of Black Owned Everything, and "wardrobe curator" for celebrities like Beyoncé and Parkwood Entertainment artists Chloe x Halle.
"Being Black is your activism," the post tied to the song's release states. Music is Beyoncé's form of protest. Outside of the studio, her commitments to Black liberation remain palatable and polite; in an Instagram video discussing George Floyd's death posted in May, she calmly calls for petitions and prayer. But on wax, she's vocal and vexed: "Need peace and reparation for my people," she sings at one point in the song. "F*** these laid edges, I'ma let it shrivel up / F*** this fade and waves, I'ma let it dread all up." With these lines, Bey is defenestrating respectability politics, especially those that come with policing Black self-expression.
In addition to addressing the Black American experience, Beyoncé uses "Black Parade" to draw attention to Africa: "Motherland drip on me, motherland, motherland drip on me," she borderline chants. Throughout the song, Beyoncé casually weaves those references into one another, shouting out the Egyptian Ankh symbol, and name-dropping Osun, a goddess of the Yoruba religion based in Nigeria. She takes it a step further and expands to include diasporic traditions and routines we've seldom heard her speak about, like charging crystals in a full moon, and encouraging the ghosts of her ancestors to chat amongst themselves in her home.
As I wrote in 2018, Beyoncé has methodically transitioned from using her music as a vehicle for pop domination to using it as a means to position her support of Black pride, front and center, in all of its iterations. "Black Parade," a call to action and a salve for a wounded nation, is the latest extension of that.