I am a big fan of Beyoncé's vocals/music, dance, visual art, style and some of her insights on art, business and womanhood. She is a really interesting person to me. A Virgo like me. A 30-something Black woman like me. Raised in the South like me, though her familial background—as she passionately conveyed in "Formation"—is Louisiana and Alabama, and raised in Texas; mine is Jamaican and first-generation American, raised in Florida. I wrote about Beyoncé quite a bit on Gradient Lair over the years when it was active 2012-2015, albeit among hundreds of other topics in well over 1000 essays and other long-form pieces. I saw her (and Jay Z's) On The Run Tour twice in 2014; once in Miami and once in San Francisco. I am going to her Formation World Tour this month. It is safe to say that I am a big fan.
I enjoyed her recent interview in Elle magazine; she graces the May cover in the US and in the UK. In all honesty, I do not read that publication very often. However, Beyoncé shared some wonderful thoughts that inspired me as an artist myself, so I am glad that I did read this interview. I truly enjoy when she and many other Black female artists discuss their art, creative process and vision in detail. Honestly, it is rare for female artists to get to speak on actual creative process instead of being expected to endlessly respond to people's superficial consumption at best and misogyny at worst. Though Beyoncé did discuss people's perceptions of her in the interview, I noticed that her answers shifted back to her creative process and vision throughout it, including discussing her new exercise fashion line Ivy Park, which she discussed with interesting detail, creativity and thoughtfulness.
4 of my favorite quotes from Beyoncé's Elle interview include:
"To me, power is making things happen without asking for permission. It's affecting the way people perceive themselves and the world around them."
I like that she discussed power but without erasing how structural power dynamics impacts us. In other words, she mentioned police brutality as State violence, but still also discussed personal power and creativity in running her own business and in creating her art. Sometimes people who discuss personal power like to pretend that structural power dynamics evaporate through personal power and forced positivity. False. Especially false when most Black people are not wealthy, or in the case of many Black celebrities, are usually only one generation removed from poverty.
"I've learned that you have to be prepared. And when you visualize something, you have to commit and put in the work."
This is not the first time that she has discussed visualization; she did so after she released her last album. Visualization, and from start to finish when creating something, is really helpful for me as an artist.
"I'm an artist and I think the most powerful art is usually misunderstood."
This is really powerful; great art rarely exists without controversy. It provokes some and empowers others. It can bore or entertain, anger or please, devastate or transform. Some people feel seen, empowered, inspired and validated by "Formation." One essay that truly captured what I see and feel when I watch and hear "Formation" is Beyonce's Black Southern 'Formation' by Zandria F. Robinson in Rolling Stone. I know @zfelice on Twitter and she captures the Black Southern imagination and reality like no other young Black writer that I can think of other than Kiese Laymon. Her book This Ain't Chicago: Race, Class, and Regional Identity in the Post-Soul South proves this. When I first engaged "Formation," I shared my thoughts about it on Twitter:
Beyoncé improved my day. The sun is now brighter. The air is cleaner. My chicken is even more flavorful. My wine aged even more.— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
I accept this offering of Black excellence as the blessing for all of us it intends to be, w/o divorcing her unique personal story from it.🐝— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
I like how it's new but continues what started with self-titled: visual novel; autobiography; personal/political history; sensual; culture.— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
Human. Woman. Black. Black woman. Wife. Sexual being. Mother. Self. Family. Community. Culture. I always see whole picture in her art. Love.— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
Whole person. All the time. Should be obvious. Not just for her. But any Black woman. Whole people. All the time. Are you willing to see?🐝✨— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
"I'm Black y'all. And I'm Black y'all. And I'm Blackity Black and I'm Black y'all." - Beyoncé. 😂🐝— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
Two more things. As I mentioned, I see the continuity from self-titled. I feel "No Angel," "Haunted," "Yonce," and "Superpower" right away.— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
But I like that it's a bit bolder in certain ways and then like the punctuation to a sentence she already started with self-titled.— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
And I live for how political her work is; people willingly miss this since her appearance contradicts what they see as "political." Seent.— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
The other thing is when I say "whole" in terms of BW, I don't mean each category required to be "whole." I mean there's always layers to us.— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
I mean that viewing her art, her, Black womanhood, Blackness, as whole and human, means engaging beyond superficial consumption. That's all.— Trudy (@thetrudz) February 6, 2016
When I mentioned that "Formation" feels like the punctuation to a sentence that she already stared with her fifth album, the self-titled BEYONCÉ, I am alluding to some things that I analyzed in greater detail on Gradient Lair in 2013 in Beyoncé’s New Self-Titled Album Is A Manifesto of Black Womanhood and Freedom. Conversely, some people (including police unions with zero self-awareness or structural analysis) had their own extremely negative interpretations of and reactions to "Formation." In the Elle interview, Beyoncé is clear about the fact that some of these negative interpretations and reactions rest on thoughts about Blackness that people had before she created "Formation." Definitely. Anti-Blackness is nothing new.
"I hope I can create art that helps people heal. Art that makes people feel proud of their struggle. Everyone experiences pain but sometimes you need to be uncomfortable to transform."
I absolutely love this quote and it reminds me of some thoughts that I had when I wrote Beyoncé’s ***Flawless Feminism: A Womanist Perspective on Gradient Lair in early 2014. Womanism incorporates healing and wholeness for Black women. I have said many times that art saves me. In those moments—of creating some art—I am reminded that my mind does not only exist to process pain nor my heart only exist to be broken. When I think of Janet Jackson—who I, Beyoncé (who can forget that she dressed like Rhythm Nation era Janet for Halloween before, and was seen at Janet's concert in Los Angeles before), and many Black women are fans of—and her album Unbreakable for example, I think of music to heal to and music to celebrate that healing. I get this same feeling with Beyoncé's music and many Black women's music as well. While Beyoncé has used the label "feminist," in Elle she also alluded to the fact that there is no hierarchy of labels for her; she is more than labels. She described praxis, not just theory and not just labels.
The fifth quote from Beyoncé about art, creative process and vision that is powerful and inspires me is not from the Elle interview, but is an older quote from her own short film that she released for her album 4.
"I’m learning how to drown out the constant noise that is such an inseparable part of my life. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I only have to follow my heart and concentrate on what I want to say the world."
Sometimes to create is to channel the pain, but sometimes it is being changed by that pain while also drowning out that extraneous noise and focusing on your own signal. I create to heal, but I also create to heal others. When other people tell me that something I created did this for them, not only educate, excite, intrigue or inspire, but in fact healed, I feel that adds meaning not just to my art but to my journey as a Black woman and as a human being. Even if I were not a Beyoncé fan, I would still find value in how she discusses her creative process. Her art and her vision. It is refreshing and inspiring to hear other artists describe what moves them and what they envision with their talents and their crafts.
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