KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
When Beyonce releases a new song, it's going to get attention no matter what, but her new single, "Formation," and its video has been an even bigger deal than usual. It was released Saturday, the day before her performance in the Super Bowl halftime show, and NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports on why the reaction to it has been so big.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Beyonce's "Formation" video was set in New Orleans with images that evoke Hurricane Katrina, Mardi Gras, elegant Creole women and black Southern culture.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORMATION")
BEYONCE: (Singing) My daddy, Alabama, my ma, Louisiana you mix that negro with that Creole, make a Texasbama (ph). I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros. I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils - earned all this money, but they never take the country out me. I got hot sauce in my bag - swag.
DEL BARCO: The video celebrates Beyonce's power, her success, even her natural hair and her hot-sauce swag. Filmmaker and cultural critic Dream Hampton says Beyonce's video is unapologetically black.
DREAM HAMPTON: It's about a black future that we are imagining ourselves having power and magic, and I think it's beautiful.
DEL BARCO: The video also includes a scene of a young African-American boy dancing in front of police officers in formation. The police hold their hands up before we see the word stop shooting us.
HAMPTON: It is absolutely a message that comes straight out of Ferguson - hands up, don't shoot. It was incredibly powerful.
DEL BARCO: Hampton notes that the video not only dropped during Black History Month but also the day after what would have been Trayvon Martin's 21st birthday. The unarmed African-American was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. His killing and the police shootings in Ferguson, Mo., sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, to which Beyonce and her husband, producer Jay Z, have donated big money. Some fans may seem surprised that "Formation" is so political, but Rutgers professor Kevin Allred argues Beyonce has always been.
KEVIN ALLRED: She's dropping politics all along subtly, and now she's just being explicit about them.
DEL BARCO: Allred teaches a course called politicizing Beyonce that looks at her earlier songs and videos that include some of the same elements.
ALLRED: She's always really focused on Black women's experience, blacks feminist messages. And there's always been, like, a Southern reference because of her own heritage. She also has a lot of other stuff just in terms of gender and sexuality, challenging the way power works.
DEL BARCO: Beyonce performed the song during the Super Bowl with her dancers dressed in Black Panther berets. That angered some, like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who spoke out on Fox.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RUDY GIULIANI: And I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers, who are the people who protect her and protect us and keep us alive. And what we should be doing in the African-American community and all communities is build up respect for police officers.
DEL BARCO: It's pretty clear Beyonce knew she'd cause a stir. In the video, she gives the finger on both hands, and she ends up laying on a police car as it sinks. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FORMATION")
BEYONCE: (Singing) I see it. I want it. I stunt, yellow-bone (ph) it. I dream it. I work hard. I rhyme 'til I own it. I twirl all them haters, albino aligators - El Camino with the seat low, sipping Cuervo with no chaser. Sometimes I go off. I go hard, get what's mine. I'm a star 'cause I slay. I slay. I slay. I slay all day.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.