An Idiosyncratic Hook
My sister sent me this message out of the blue the other day:
While she was merely pointing out an idiosyncrasy within the English language, I immediately thought that she was referencing Formation, Beyoncé’s controversial banger from last year. My sister is absolutely infatuated with Beyoncé, so it was a more than reasonable assumption.
Formation was the first single from Beyoncé’s superb album Lemonade, and Khalif Brown (Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd) is given writing credits for the hook:
Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, ’cause I slay
Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, ’cause I slay
After receiving my sister’s text, I couldn’t get this hook out of my head, and I was drawn to the potential connection between this idiosyncrasy and the lyrics. The song’s theme is centered around the notion that women and minorities must unite to secure their place in the fight for social justice, rights, and liberation—a subject that lends itself to the application of this literary quirk quite well.
The Communication Process
One fascinating aspect of music is the freedom it allows for the listener in decoding a message. The listener has the ability to transcribe the lyrics (the message) themselves in addition to interpreting (decoding) the meaning behind them.
Rarely does the receiver decode the exact meaning intended by the source. Music can be decoded solely for the lyrics and for the intended meaning behind them, allowing for additional disconnect within intentions and interpretations.
When I actively engage with Formation as a listener, I perceive the message in two different ways:
Option 1: “Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, ’cause I slay
Option 2: Okay, okay, ladies, now let’s get information, ’cause I slay
These two interpretations provide for an intriguing exploration of my sister’s display of the aforementioned literary quirk. “In formation” is just “information” with a space. For this exploration, we can break the lyric down into three component parts:
If “in formation” is just “information” with a space, then Beyoncé’s hook can be interpreted as an assertion of the need for information and a space to share it with others to truly unite and “get in formation.”
The Knowles Family Belief
A recent article in Interview magazine documents a conversation between Beyoncé and her younger sister, Solange. Solange recalls that “you and I were raised being told not to take the first thing that came our way, to build our own platforms, our own spaces, if they weren’t available to us.” Solange’s words work to strengthen this connection between information, space, and formation. A space to share the information is important, but Solange has given us a glimpse into the Knowles’ family belief: if there is no platform available to you, create it.
This concept of creating a space for expression seems rooted in the civil rights movement of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. People mobilized and organized to create their own platform for expression (Bus Boycotts, Sit-ins, Marches) when they weren’t available to them.
With this added dimension of understanding, we can infer that Beyoncé is not just appealing to people to use the spaces available to them. Rather, she is making a much broader call to action: seek information and unite behind a common purpose, but don’t limit yourself to those platforms currently available. Beyoncé has wasted no time in developing her own platform for expression, and she seems to be encouraging her listeners to create their own platforms.
Historically, social movements have started with information before employing formation and space. Referring back to our example of the Civil Rights Movement, information relayed from leaders (MLK Jr, Malcolm X, etc.) was an important catalyst for the movement. Space was created through formation, which followed from information. But movements may also operate inversely: a lack of information could inspire people to unite and utilize a space to demand more information.
Thus, it is not a requirement that social movements follow this progression of information→formation→space. The existence of each of these components is more important than the order in which they arise. Each component often amplifies the effects of another.
I interpret Beyoncé’s message as a reminder that we should not limit ourselves to those spaces most apparent and available to us. There’s always another medium of expression, another channel for distribution, or another platform for connection; it’s just not available to us yet.
Whether you hear “get in formation” or “get information” Beyoncé’s trap-fusion banger employs somewhat of an auditory double entendre. The communication process allows for this manipulation of listeners into questioning the roles of information, formation, and space. Beyoncé constructs much of her music with an underlying theme: do not limit yourself, and this song is certainly no exception. Obviously, Formation could be enjoyed on the surface, but the song appears to have several depths of meaning which are unlocked when the listener is willing to explore and question the deliberate actions of the artist.
Potential takeaways and areas for further exploration:
- Is the disconnect between intentions and interpretations a hindrance or a blessing? Differing perspectives help us propel our understanding of reality forward.
- If there is no platform available to you, work to create your own.
- Do literary quirks help us extract meaning or exploit our way into creating meaning?