What a perfect Beyoncé song name: “Formation.” All great pop involves people acting in formation. So does all great change. And while fans scream that Beyoncé’s a “queen” and “goddess,” her core appeal really is as a drill sergeant. With Beyoncé in command, greatness is scalable, achievable, for the collective. Everyone waves their hands to the same beat. Everyone walks around like they have hot sauce in their bag.
But in pop and in politics, “everyone” is a loaded term. Stars as ubiquitous as Beyoncé have haters, the “albino alligators” who “Formation” informs us she twirls upon. And in a more general historical sense, “everyone” can be a dangerous illusion that elevates one point of view as universal while minimizing others. Beyoncé gets all of this, it seems. As a pop star, she surely wants to have as broad a reach as possible. But as an artist, she has a specific message, born of a specific experience, meaningful to specific people. Rather than pretend otherwise, she’s going to make art about the tension implied by this dynamic. She’s going to show up to Super Bowl with a phalanx of women dressed as Black Panthers.
The poor guys of Coldplay, meanwhile, actually think they can work solely at the level of the universal. “Wherever you are, we’re in this together,” Chris Martin cried out, early on, last night. I don’t want to diss that intention, nor the take-home message at the end: “Believe in Love.” But from their first hit, “Yellow,” to their recent Holi-appropriating music video with Beyoncé, to their pan-cultural rainbow rally at Levi’s Stadium last night, their theme has only been about love to the extent that it’s been about how everyone loves colors. It’s music about being awed by the blandest kind of harmony: ROYGBIV, yeah yeah yeah!