Beyoncé's VMA performance of "Pray You Catch Me" was an earth-shattering nod to BLM
Beyoncé showcased her groundbreaking visual album Lemonade at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in a 15-minute performance that will once again transform the way other artists approach their coveted award show sets. Yet it's unlikely anybody will come close to doing what she pulled off Sunday night any time soon. From her powerful nods to black lives, womanhood, self-love and independence, the international hitmaker proved there's a reason they call her Queen Bey.
The performance was a medley of the narratives displayed throughout her latest No. 1 album, Lemonade, embedding deeply personal and multilayered messages throughout the production's choreography and aesthetics. During "Pray You Catch Me," the first song off her latest album and of the earth-shattering performance, Beyoncé's dancers slowly appeared behind her dressed in all white, their hair wrapped in twists, braids, Bantu knots and dreadlocks — all popular black hairstyles with long histories.
As Beyoncé continued to sing her ethereal lines — "Praying to catch you whispering, I'm praying you catch me listening" — the dancers began to fall, the white spotlights haloing them turning blood red. It was like they were being struck by invisible bullets, falling one by one or occasionally in groups. The message was clear.
After all the dancers were gone, a man in a hoodie stepped out behind the illuminated Beyoncé, slowly reaching for her as she walked forward, as if unable to see him or feel his presence.
The choreography sent a clear message, one similar to the statement Beyoncé offered following the deaths Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. It spoke to the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, killed simply for wearing a hoodie, and the systematic profiling that assumes black people should be shot first and questioned later.
"It's up to us to take a stand and demand that they 'stop killing us,'" Beyoncé wrote in the statement in July. She brought the message to life Sunday.
Since Lemonade, Beyoncé has no longer shied away from addressing issues of police brutality and voicing her support of the Black Lives Matter movement. She arrived to Sunday night's event with an entourage made up of mothers of police brutality victims Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Oscar Grant, as well as her daughter Blue Ivy. Her husband Jay Z also previously decided to donate $1.5 million to BLM through his streaming service Tidal, along with the other stake-holding artists. She also previously teamed up with Mic and We Are Here racial justice activism group to raise awareness about the by highlighting 23 ways people can be killed for being black in America.
She's also taken to speaking about violences plaguing the United States in rare interviews, adding her unique, artistic perspective to a harrowing crisis.
"Anyone who perceives my message as anti-police is completely mistaken," Beyoncé told Elle on the heels of her single release for the music video "Formation." "I am against police brutality and injustice. Those are two separate things. If celebrating my roots and culture during Black History Month made anyone uncomfortable, those feelings were there long before a video and long before me."
It seems with each performance, Beyoncé comes closer to achieving an unprecedented level of artistic awareness in post-Y2K pop. With every performance her art seems to show a more hyper-focused awareness of her blackness, her femininity and the power she has to shape the cultural conversation. She uses that awareness not to preach or lecture, but to truly empower her listeners. Every artist in the room seemed to feel it. Following the extended standing ovation, they likely realized the bar has officially been raised.
Aug. 29, 2016, 2:47 p.m. Eastern: This story has been updated.