It is Mardi Gras Day. I am 22 years, 589.9 miles, and 721 feet above sea level removed from living in New Orleans. Like many of you, I watched the Formation video over the weekend, and saw Beyoncé's halftime performance. There is a lot to think about. The world does not need more Formation thinkpieces, so I will keep this brief.
The video is anchored by Katrina imagery -- specifically Beyonce on a sinking NOPD cop car with flooded houses in the background. There is what looks like real post-K destruction footage. Elsewhere the video invokes New Orleans via American Horror Story: Coven / Pretty Baby iconography. After Beyoncé mentions Red Lobster, there is a cut to a shot of crawfish. Geographically and culturally, New Orleans is close to at the center of the persona Beyoncé produces here: "My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana. You mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bama."
Beyoncé's live performance of "Formation" occurred during halftime of the Super Bowl on Sunday. It was cool to see a Super Bowl halftime show that answered the question of "what if the S1Ws were women, and dressed like Black Panther reenactors"? That said, if you went to Bacchus, you probably missed it.
All of this is to say that on first and repeated viewing, there is something about seeing Katrina invoked as a trope in a music video -- even one as righteous as this -- that makes me a little bit uneasy. I can only imagine how hard it must be for some Katrina survivors to watch this. At the same time, I've not seen much pushback in this vein (I am sure there is some I missed). I have a guess about why.
Releasing a NOLA-themed video like this right in the middle of the climactic weekend of Carnival is a strange move, when most New Orleans folks are a) celebrating b) serving food and drink to revelers c) hiding out from the revelry -- but it makes a lot of sense if your Big Chief is the Super Bowl. Beyoncé drops the single on the Internet on Saturday afternoon, performs it in San Francisco at the Super Bowl on Sunday evening, and announces a tour on Sunday night (one that bypasses New Orleans). As she tells us herself, the best revenge is your paper, but I will be curious to see what New Orleans folks have to say about all this once Lent gets rolling.