Beyoncé’s Formation at Wembley Stadium
Beyoncé takes up a lot of space. She is a cultural phenomenon, a mastermind, a physical miracle, a storyteller, a challenger and an influencer. Whilst she is hailed as ‘Queen’ to her global audience, she is without nationalistic loyalties. Instead, she embodies a more spiritual power – those who follow her live by her testimony, recite her mantras and worship her philosophy. With the release of her sixth album Lemonade earlier this year, Beyoncé gave not only her fans, but the rest of the world another chapter to her story, presenting the uncensored, politically charged, sacred world of the black female protagonist.
Unsurprisingly, Beyoncé is featured in a lot of the work we do, and her recent work on Lemonade and her sportswear label Ivy Park help us evolve our understanding of emerging representations of what it means to be a powerful woman. In search for a new layer of meaning to ‘Queen Bey’ and her cultural power and spiritual presence, we went to see her in the greatly anticipated Formation Tour.
Arriving at Wembley Stadium, perched in the middle of the materialist utopian village that is Wembley Park, we became part of a large crowd excitedly gravitating towards the stadium. Huge posters of Beyoncé wearing her Ivy Park range were inescapable. In a black crop top and sports underwear, hanging from gym equipment in a raw, urban, concrete space, we witnessed the warm up to the show: Beyoncé’s training regime.
Standing amongst the 90,000 strong beyhive anticipating Her Majesty’s arrival, I really didn’t know what to expect but I could begin to gather some sort of perspective on what this event meant to her fans. Excuse the rather cliché example, but I became reminded of an important moment in early noughties romcom cinematic history. Cady Heron stands on stage, tearfully handing pieces of her snapped tiara around to the girls in her year who have all been victims of the malicious backstabbing torment that the fictitious cast of Mean Girls inflicted upon one another—a socialist message that entitles everyone to a well deserved piece of royalty. Well this wasn’t too dissimilar. Despite semi-aggressive warnings from other girls to not step in their territorial ‘watching Beyoncé’ area, we were all accessing some sort of safe, non-competitive alter ego—the versions of ourselves we wanted to project to the world and the mutual respect was evident. To me, the crowd demonstrated the literal manifestation of Beyoncé’s message: self-empowerment and democratic accessibility.
When it was time, the unforgiving, fierce first twangs of “Formation” fill the stadium. In a slow march, Beyoncé’s dancers walk from each side of the stage. Head bowed, Beyoncé rises from the centre in a cloud, wearing the iconic big black hat (seen in the “Formation” music video), heavy with historical and political significance. Forming an arrow, Beyoncé and her dancers/sisters look like an army. Using their hats as shields and in formation, of course, they jerk their heads up and then down, flashing and revealing their faces like an eerie light steadily swinging in the dark. She welcomes London to the formation tour and asks us, uncompromisingly, ‘If you came here to have a good time tonight say I slay…. I slay…I slay’. There’s about 87,000 people here tonight with a Snapchat story worth watching.
Like Lemonade, the performance was intensely emotional, empowering, politically challenging, fierce, awesome. Beyoncé moves her body in a way I can only compare to Michael Jackson, not in style but in the way that it is unmatched. ‘But she can’t actually be human’, I heard someone say on radio1 extra this week. I felt enticed by her stature. Jealous and crazy, jealous and crazy – one could say.
There were several moments in the show that speak directly and explicitly to Beyoncé’s spiritual presence and her enigmatic power. At one point, Beyoncé walks barefoot onto a soaked stage, wearing her signature leotard. It is pale pink and is embellished with jewels. Behind her flows a pink cape. (At this point in Lemonade, she is on stage, dressed in a long white dress with no makeup, hair flowing, singing “Freedom” acapella to an audience of black women, also all dressed in white.) The song is undoubtedly about the oppression of black women during and ever since the slave trade. As Beyoncé dives into the main body of the song, joined by the band, her surrounding dancers ignite. Like disciples, they swarm around her, scooping up the water that has quietly filled the stage and they drench her. As Beyoncé sings, “freedom, freedom, I can’t move, freedom cut me loose”, we realise we are watching a baptism. Rebirth is a powerful visual metaphor in Lemonade and we are watching the live manifestation of this. Although we are relying on the screen for references, being just that little bit too far from the stage, we witness the water and the synchronised, ritualistic fountains created by her dancers. The significance is vast. Beyoncé’s cleansed body represents the turning point, a new beginning, taking back control, making lemonade out of lemons.
Lemonade is a testament to the struggles of the black woman epitomised in large by Jay Z’s apparent infidelity. Lemonade isn’t singly about Beyoncé—it is about the journey all women need to take to find self-love which will in turn, help them through anything. Turning around pain, anguish and suffering into self-realisation, self-belief and love is manifest through rebirth, baptism and the cleansed soul.
– Grace Flavin