Let’s talk about ‘Formation’

Beyonce preformed at the 2016 SuperBowl Halftime show and it was a perfectly executed call to action.  She used her public identity as a powerful African American woman who is the leader of her own BeyHive to bring public focus back to the issue of police brutality in America.  Her new song ‘Formation’ that she released Saturday approximately 24 hours before she was to preform is the first part of her political statement about the plight of the African Americans, citing Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans as the jumping off point for this political movement.  The second part of the call to action was her iconic Superbowl performance during which she presented a symbolic call to action using Black Panther imagery.


“Okay, Ladies now lets get in FORMATION”

This song is not only iconic because its a new Beyonce song, but it is a powerful political statement.  The line that she repeats over and over again is ,”Okay, Ladies now lets get in formation” signaling that her desired message from this song is a call to action and not just another chart topping hit.  People responded as they often do when a new Beyonce video drops, and it was all about black power and how Beyonce has made certain features mainstream again.  She uses the south as the setting for her video.  New Orleans is one of the most historically neglected cities in the country and she used imagery from Hurricane Katrina to highlight that.  The video showed flooding, graffiti, and New Orleans residents to put a face to the issue that nothing had been done to protect the African American during the disaster.  She made a previously invisible group completely reborn in a 5 minute video.  All her dancers were powerful looking African American women with natural hair styles showing off their beautiful selves.

SuperBowl Queen

Beyonce preformed at the Superbowl on Sunday and she killed it.  She used her clothes, her song choice, and her dance moves to further her call to action message.  First, her performance started with a drum line beat that only enhanced her militant presence and showed that she was there to deliver a strong message.  The second thing I noticed was that all her dancers were, just like in the video, powerful, talented black women.  She used this to prove that her call was being answered already.  Her next rhetorical choice was her clothing.  She and all her backup dancers were dressed in militant clothing and the dancers were all wearing black berets with their Afros.  This has been a point of discussion all week with various media outlets and that is exactly how she intended this statement to work.  Many people are claiming that this clothing choice was in direct homage to Malcolm X and the Black Panther movement.  I think this was confirmed when she and her dancers took the formation of an X and she was right in the front.


Beyonce has been known to present herself at the forefront of incredibly important issues like education, feminism, and now, she is breathing life back into the Black Lives Matter movement.  She could not have chosen a better rhetorical situation to release this song/video.  She used Black History Month and the magnitude of the Superbowl to propel her powerful message to a multi-million member audience. Her video shows cops with their hands up, she calls to mind Malcolm X and she shows that black is beautiful and no one will tell her otherwise.  This video and performance will shake up the discussion about race and maybe people will fall into the formation by taking Beyonce’s example.


‘Style’ and ‘Blank Space’

These are two of the most popular songs off of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album.  They are both about romantically dysfunctional relationships based on how beautiful they look on the outside.  Swift uses binaries to show that she lives in the extremes of her relationships in both of these song.  She also likens herself to Marylin Monroe using her personal clothing choices and how she situates herself in these relationships.


Swift’s Extremes

In both of these songs she appears to situate herself as the naive, sweet girlfriend.  She appears to not know how these relationships are going to end, even though she says that these relationships are cyclical.  She uses her binaries to show that she will act like she does not know where the relationship will end, but then her next lines are proof that she is not as naive as she seems.

Blank Space “So its gonna be forever/ or its gonna go down in flames”

“It’ll leave you breathless/ or with a nasty scar”

Style “Could end in burning flames or paradise”

She lives in the extremes of her relationships.  Binaries are by definition two mutually exclusive opposite ideas.  She does not allow herself to see a relationship that has a real chance of working out because those relationships do not look sexy to the public eye.


Swift as Monroe

Swift’s idea of the picture perfect relationship is built on the personas of two people that never dated: Marylin Monroe and James Dean.  Monroe had 3 famous husbands, multiple famous boyfriends, and lead a life at the heart of the tabloids.  It has been said that ‘Blank Space’ is Swift’s satirical response to the media’s discussion of her relationships, and there is evidence to support the idea that Swift feels like she is the target of media speculation based on her relationships, like Monroe.  She also appears to exhibit erratic behavior in both songs.  In the video for ‘Blank Space’, she is stabbing a cake with a large knife, she is standing on the back of a horse, and she attacks her male counterpart’s car with a golf club.  The lyrics also lend themselves to the assumption that Swift acts erratically, by saying ‘screaming crying/perfect storm”.  In these songs, her obsession with a relationship that looks cool, but is bad for her appears to have the same markers as an addict has with their addiction of choice.  Monroe was famously an addict and died of an overdose.  I think Swift is aligning herself with Marylin Monroe because it allows Swift to continue this public image of living in the extremes of her relationships, just like Monroe was rumored to have lived.

Romantic Disfunction: ‘Blank Space’


Taylor Swift’s song ‘Blank Space’ follows the pattern of dysfunctional relationships and how she allows her over-romanticized dreams of relationships to lead her into a cycle of toxicity and breakups.  She again shows that she prefers intense, passionate, short relationships to endearing, safe, long-term ones.

‘Its gonna go down in flames’

She starts the song by saying the new man that is pulling up to her mansion ‘looks like my next mistake’. She even explicitly stated that she sees love as a game and asks him to play.  The idea of that the ‘high is worth the pain’ seems to be something that an addict would use as justification for the dangerous actions that they enjoy. Her long list of ex-lovers is open for a new addition and she almost alludes to her plan to put this new boy’s name at the top.  She admits that her ex-lovers will tell her new one that she is insane and that she loves players.  Players are the bad boys of today.  They have bad attitudes, they are deceptively bad to women, and they are often without direction or goals.  These are men who are young and reckless, as Swift states, she even says that they will take it ‘way too far’.  The last part of the song is the best example of a toxic relationship because to her ‘boys only want love if its torture’.  Tortuous love affairs are not good, but they have been portrayed in movies, songs, and books as the most passionate and the most beautiful.  Swift prefers the intense, passionate relationships that look good on paper and in the tabloids to the substance and stability of a mature relationship.

‘Its gonna be forever’

Taylor Swift uses the image of old Hollywood glamor in several of her songs.  She is more interested in having an infamous relationship than being in a stable relationship. This song is another example of Swift preferring image over reality.  She chooses to dress in classic styles, with cat eye sunglasses or red lips, because they have a history of being flattering and popular.  She uses her classic style to hide that she is a ‘nightmare dressed like a day dream’.  The use of binary in this song comes up twice: once with the lyrics “So its gonna be forever or its gonna go down in flames” and again with the lyrics “it will leave you breathless or with a nasty scar”.  She again proves that she lives in the extremes of relationships.  The important part of Swift’s idea of forever is shown in the video.  At the end of the video, the tall, dark and handsome boyfriend basically runs away from her estate.  Seemingly out of nowhere, another tall, dark, and handsome man, in the same type of nice car, with a similar tuxedo on. This shows that her idea of forever is the image of a perfect man and not the man that would be perfect for her.

Her idea of a relationship seems to be the boys that look the best.  She chooses looks over substance and idyllic over reality.

Romantic Disfunction: ‘Style’


In her song ‘Style’, Swift tries to make sense of a toxic on-again-off-again relationship.  This is evident from the lyrics and the main binary she presents in the first verse.  The binary is used to set up the internal conflict of the song, “End in burning flames or paradise”.  She is appears to be unsure of the outcome, but then at the end of the verse she admits that she knows what is going to happen.  Swift has allowed herself to create this over-romanticized version of a toxic relationship based on a twisted view of what looks good to the public.

Evidence of the Toxic Relationship

Her lyrics are filled with different indicators of the toxic nature of this boyfriend.  One of the most interesting is that she considers herself to be almost a bystander or maybe even a victim.  She says, “I know exactly where it leads/but I/ watch us go round and round each time”, and she never appears to take action to change the outcome of the relationship, even though she knows it is doomed from the start.  Another example is from the chorus when she tells the audience, “when we go crashing down/ we come back every time/ ’cause we never go out of style”.  Style is something that the public sees and it allows Swift to define herself through her clothing, her music, and even her choice of boyfriend.  She is alluding to the fact that she thinks having this boyfriend will keep her stylish, even if they are bad for each other.  The last major example of the toxicity of the relationship is when the boy in the song admits to being with other girls and then she also admits to seeing other boys.  This would prevent most couples from getting together, but it seems to only increase her desire to stay with him.  After that chorus, she repeatedly asks to be taken home, proving that their mutual unfaithfulness does not prevent her from wanting to be with him.

Over-Romanticized Glamorous Relationship

As discussed in class, the entire video aligns Swift with the ideal Americanized relationship.  This relationship is all about living fast, dying young, often times, the people most known from relationships similar to the one in the song are dead.  In the song she mentions specifically James Dean.  He died young, in a car crash, and was only in one movie before he died.  He is not the classic bad boy but for Swift’s love story his ‘couldn’t give a crap’ attitude fits what she wants because it feeds her insecurities concerning their relationship and she appears to feed off of the drama.  She needs someone in her life that is as self-destructive, if not more so, as she is because she does not want to be simply a pretty, lonely famous girl.  She aligns herself with the Jackie Os and Marilyn Monroes of history in her choice of man, her clothes, and her signature red lip.  Dean and Monroe were both beautiful, died young, and lead very salacious lives.  Swift has used these tragic lives as a metaphor for how she thinks her own toxic relationship will go.

Swift has focused on the dysfunction present in her numerous relationships as a form of art.  She uses past lovers and crushes to make music and in turn music allows her a creative outlet to process the pain of the betrayals, breakups, and unrequited loves.  This only one of several songs on the 1989 album that shows her finally acknowledging that she is drawn to the high passion, low functionality relationships.