Beyoncé's weekend looked almost like a sea change. For an artist who's largely kept her politics in the background, her Super Bowl halftime show was perhaps surprising: The costumes she and her dancers donned strongly referenced the Black Panther Party, while the performance itself ended in a call for justice for Mario Woods, a 26-year-old victim of police brutality. That was Sunday night. On Saturday, she had released the video for her latest single, "Formation," a welcome rallying cry for black, feminist and LGBTQ groups.
Taken all together, Beyoncé's behavior makes a definite statement. And it raises some questions: Is this a watershed moment for Queen Bey in terms of social activism? If so, why is it coming now?
Why might Beyoncé want to keep her politics quiet?
When a celebrity takes on a controversial social cause, they risk alienating fans who don't align with their beliefs: While most people warmly embraced the position Beyoncé put forth in "Formation" and in her Super Bowl performance, there were a determined few who voiced their discontent with the politicization of entertainment.
Yet Beyoncé's influence is tremendous; she doesn't need to placate each of the nation's demographics in order to sell albums. And even if she did, coming out adamantly in support of Black Lives Matter has, for the most part, only energized her fan base. Mic asked pop critic Madison Moore, who has lectured extensively on Beyoncé and her position in culture, why she chose this moment to take a stand for social justice.
Moore said celebrities who involve themselves in social activism don't necessarily torpedo their careers. Citing such artists as Lady Gaga, who has become a strong voice within queer politics, and M.I.A., whose recent work has taken on the refugee crisis, he said that clear politics needn't be detrimental to one's image. And when it comes to Beyoncé, that might be exactly what her fans want.
"Students really want, from what I can tell ... a political Beyoncé," Moore said. "They like the music; they want her to put her mouth where her feminist lyrics are, basically.
"I think that she's been listening, as someone who is obsessively documenting herself and recording herself all the time and knows everything about what people are saying, maybe she's listening now."
The danger there, he said, is that investing herself in social causes for careerist purposes could cheapen her genuine beliefs. It might look like she's supporting civil rights movements because it's professionally advantageous.
And considering Beyoncé's activist history, that doesn't seem to be the motivation.
At the 2015 Grammy Awards, Beyoncé's performance of gospel song "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" rang as "a subtle yet pointed call for unity" in the fight for racial equality, and touched on nationwide protest in the wake of Michael Brown's death. In April, she shared images on Instagram of people demonstrating against Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore and encouraged her followers to donate to the NAACP's relief efforts in the city.
On Friday, Jay Z's music streaming company, Tidal, in association with Roc Nation, made a $1.5 million donation to Black Lives Matter. He and Beyoncé have reportedly made private donations to Black Lives Matter in the past as well: In May, filmmaker and writer dream hampton confirmed rumors that the couple had sent thousands of dollars to help bail protesters out of jails in Baltimore and Ferguson.
"I'm going to tweet this and I don't care if Jay gets mad," hampton tweeted, adding that, within minutes of being asked, he wired "tens of thousands" for activists in Baltimore.
"When BLM needed infrastructure money for the many chapters that we're growing like beautiful dandelions, Carters wrote a huge check," she continued, "...and more stuff, too much to list actually, that they always insist folk keep quiet."
The tweets were quickly removed, and while there was no definitive comment on the reason for their deletion, Moore offered a viable theory: "Maybe to her, it seems a bit more earnest if it's not done for publicity in some kind of way." Bey keeps her efforts quiet because she doesn't want them misconstrued.
Either way, Queen Bey is definitely getting publicity for "Formation."
So maybe the decision to lean into the limelight speaks to a change in the tide. On Wednesday, she reportedly fired her entire management team, a move she allegedly made before releasing her 2014 self-titled album. Perhaps she's not only paying attention to what fans want, but the current social climate.
"With the terrible year we've had this year in terms of police brutality, violence, it also being black history month — I think that's a reason for her to step out," as Moore told Mic. Maybe she wanted a management team that would promote her desire to get involved. That, of course, is speculation, but if bringing on new management signals the release of a new Beyoncé album, as it has in the past, it's quite possible that said album will look a lot more like "Formation" than "Drunk in Love," and that its release could usher in a far more socially vocal Beyoncé.