Formation (song)

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Beyonce - Formation.png
Single by Beyoncé
from the album Lemonade
ReleasedFebruary 6, 2016 (2016-02-06)
Recorded2015, Quad Recording Studios, New York City
Beyoncé singles chronology
"Runnin' (Lose It All)"
Music video
"Formation" on YouTube

"Formation" is a song recorded by American singer Beyoncé for her sixth studio album Lemonade (2016). It was written by Rae Sremmurd, Beyoncé, Asheton Hogan, and Mike Will Made It and produced by the latter three. It served as the album's lead single, released on February 6, 2016 through Parkwood Entertainment to critical acclaim. In order to promote the song, Beyoncé performed it during her guest appearance at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show the day after its premiere.

The song's accompanying music video, directed by Melina Matsoukas, premiered on the same day as the song itself through Beyoncé's official YouTube account. Critics praised its depiction of African-Americans, one which they noted was not frequently seen in mainstream media.

The song was placed at number one on several critics' year-end lists, and in 2019 was named the greatest song of the decade (2010s) by several publications. "Formation" was also Google's most searched song of 2016.[1] "Formation" won all six of its nominations at the MTV Video Music Awards, and was nominated for three Grammy Awards: Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Music Video, of which it won the latter award.


"Formation" was written by Beyoncé, Rae Sremmurd, Asheton Hogan, and Mike Will Made It while its production was handled by the latter and Beyoncé alongside Pluss as a co-producer. Beyoncé wrote most of the lyrics for the song herself and all of the verses.[2]

"Formation" was released on February 6, 2016, accompanied by its official music video. It was released in a similar manner to Beyoncé's 2013 self-titled studio album without any previous announcements, leading its release to be dubbed as a "surprise release" by media outlets.[3] The song was made available for free download exclusively via the subscription-based music streaming service Tidal.[4][5] The release of the song was also followed by new merchandise through the singer's website with items and clothing citing lyrics from the song.[3]

Composition and lyrical interpretation[edit]

"Formation" contains strong political criticism in its lyrics, being described by Los Angeles Times's Mikael Wood as "a statement of radical black positivity." It also was noted by Joseph Lamour who commented during a review for MTV that "Formation" is "a song whose lyrics are teeming with notions of empowerment and pride in her heritage as a black American with roots in Alabama and Louisiana."[6] The song opens with rumbling sirens, in the opening lines, "Y'all haters corny with that Illuminati mess," the song addresses rumors about the singer's connection to popular conspiracy theories about the Illuminati.[7] This synth effect appears as Beyoncé repeats the first verse "My daddy Alabama/ Momma Louisiana", NPR's Mandalit del Barco noted during the verse, Beyoncé represents her family roots, she said, "Her mother is from Louisiana, as she let us know in the song. This has always been a big part of her identity; it's not one that the mainstream focus is on. People talk about her not centering it." She also described the lines as an "unapologetic blackness."[8] The Guardian's Alex Macpherson wrote the song "musically transpires '7/11'".[9] The song is written in the key of F minor in common time with a tempo of 123 beats per minute.[10] Beyoncé's vocals span from D3 to A4 in the song.[11] It has a minimalistic beats which transforms into a marching band stomp during the last lines of the chorus.[7]

Critical response[edit]

Pitchfork named the song "Best New Track", with Britt Julious comparing it to "Flawless" and writing that "for Beyoncé (and for her listeners, too), the unapologetic embracing of one's blackness and the power one can harness when making a name, livelihood, and legacy can't ever be ignored or taken for granted."[12] Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley, a professor of African Studies at University of Texas at Austin, writes for Time that the song, which many called "political" because of its references, "differs radically from other post-Ferguson protests songs like Trip Lee's "Coulda Been Me" or Rihanna's "American Oxygen" video, which focuses on black men's deaths," calling African American women to stand side by side ("in formation").[13] The Daily Beast calls the song "a fiery black power anthem and call to arms".[14] A Rolling Stone journalist wrote that "in the era of #BlackLivesMatter, 'Formation' felt downright necessary" and further deemed it "a powerful statement of black Southern resilience".[15] "Formation" was later placed at number one on the same magazine's "50 Best Songs of 2016" list by Rob Sheffield, with him commenting: ""Formation" was a song that kept hope alive in a bleak year – and it will be essential ammo for the struggles to come in the next."[16] Melissa Harris-perry of Time Magazine wrote that, with Lemonade, “Beyoncé publicly embraced explicitly feminist blackness at a politically risky moment”. She described the album to be a “strategic, deliberate way Beyoncé deployed her artistry to elicit, reveal and invert dynamics of power, race, and gender just when those very elements carried their greatest charge.”[17] At CounterPunch, Adam Szetela argued that Beyoncé's "Formation" celebrates the kind of multiculturalism that capitalism loves, a multiculturalism that leaders in the Black Panther Party rebuked.[18]

Besides Sheffield of Rolling Stone,[19] Entertainment Weekly,[20] Time Magazine[21] Complex,[22] Fuse,[23] NPR,[24] and Paste magazine[25] considered the song the best one of 2016. In the annual Village Voice's Pazz & Jop mass critics poll of the year's best in music in 2016, "Formation" was ranked at number 1.[26] Pitchfork[27] and Spin[28] named the song the second best of the year, while NME the sixth.[29] Billboard ranked "Formation" at number 14 on their "100 Best Pop Songs of 2016" list.[30]

In 2019, Essence[31] and Parade[32] named "Formation" the greatest song of the decade (2010s). Consequence of Sound,[33] Insider,[34] and Tampa Bay Times[35] listed "Formation" as the third greatest song of the 2010s. For Pitchfork[36] and Rolling Stone[37] it was the fourth best of the same period, while for Stereogum it was the 8th best,[38] and for NME, the 11th best.[39] Both Billboard[40] and GQ[41] included "Formation" in their lists of the songs that defined and shaped the decade. From over 35 outlets, global critic aggregator Acclaimed Music went on to rank "Formation" the 5th greatest song of the 2010s.[42]

Chart performance[edit]

Flanked by her dancers, Beyoncé performs "Formation" on The Formation World Tour in 2016

Prior to its official release as a single, "Formation" debuted at number nine on the US Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 in February 2016.[43] The song also debuted at number 11 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay with 16.3 million audience impressions marking Beyoncé's highest career debut on that chart.[44] Throughout March, the song reached number 33 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs due to airplay and further purchase was not disclosed to Billboard by Tidal, the official platform where the song was exclusively made available. After the release of Lemonade, "Formation" set new peak positions on the charts.[45] It debuted at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on May 2, 2016, becoming Beyoncé's first top 10 single since "Drunk in Love" in 2014; it is also the singer's highest-debuting single of her career (surpassing "Ring the Alarm" and "Drunk in Love" which both debuted at number 12). During that week, the song debuted at number three on the Digital Songs chart, selling 174,000 downloads.[45] It fell to number 19 on the Hot 100 in its second week.

Upon the release of Lemonade, "Formation" also debuted on several international charts. It debuted at number 31 on the UK Singles Chart on May 5, 2016.[46] The same week it also moved to a new peak position of eight on the UK R&B Singles chart.[47] On the ARIA Singles Chart, the song set a peak of 17 on the chart issue dated May 8, 2016. It managed to top the ARIA Urban chart the same week, while the singer's own "Hold Up" was on the second spot.[48] On the French Singles Chart, "Formation" set a peak position of 24 during the week of the album's release. In Canada, the single peaked at number 32 on the Canadian Hot 100 and was certified gold by Music Canada on July 5, 2016 for sales of 40,000 copies.[49]

Music video[edit]

Release and synopsis[edit]

The accompanying music video for "Formation" was directed by Melina Matsoukas and it premiered along with the song on February 6, 2016.[7][50] It was made available through Tidal as well as an unlisted video on the singer's official YouTube account. The music video for "Formation" was shot in Los Angeles, California, and it features references to Hurricane Katrina, antebellum and Louisiana Creole culture, police brutality, racism and black pride.[7][51][52] Interviewed by Alexis Okeowo for The New Yorker, director Melina Matsoukas discussed the music video: "We spoke about the South, New Orleans, her mother's history as well as her father's". As Matsoukas develops an idea for a video, she spends hours browsing online and through art books and magazines, looking for images that resonate. She said: "I treat each video like a thesis project. Stacks of old sources are piled behind her couch: books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Noam Chomsky, and C. L. R. James; back issues of Wallpaper; math and science textbooks from college". For the "Formation" video, she found ideas in the work of Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Octavia Butler. Matsoukas began to conceive scenes of black history, from slavery through Mardi Gras parades and the Rodney King protests, explaining: "I wanted to show — this is black people. We triumph, we suffer, we're drowning, we're being beaten, we're dancing, we're eating, and we’re still here". She wrote out a treatment and sent it to Beyoncé in the middle of the night. Within hours, the singer had written back to say that she loved it.[53]

The music video modifies the song to include spoken interpolations from the New Orleans artist Big Freedia and the YouTube personality Messy Mya,[54] who was murdered in New Orleans in 2010.[7] It begins with Beyoncé lying on top of a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor in a flooded street. During the end, a man can be seen holding a newspaper with Martin Luther King Jr.'s face on it with the title "The Truth". Later on, a young hooded boy dances in front of a line of police officers with their hands up before the video cuts to a graffitied wall with the words "stop shooting us" tagged on it.[55] Dance routines are performed throughout the video by Beyoncé accompanied by back-up dancers. Her daughter Blue Ivy Carter makes a cameo appearance,[52][56] sporting a natural afro. The music video is narrative based due to the multiple stories it tells with detailed backgrounds to them all.

Reception and controversy[edit]

Syreeta McFadden for The Guardian notes that the video depicts archetypal southern black women "in ways that we haven't seen frequently represented in popular art or culture".[57] Following its online release, filmmakers Abteen Bagheri and Chris Black used their Twitter accounts to clarify that "Formation" used footage from That B.E.A.T., their 2013 documentary about the Katrina disaster of New Orleans bounce.[14] Bagheri said he was asked for approval to use the footage, but the request was denied.[7] In a series of tweets, Black and Bagheri claimed they did not give permission to Beyoncé or the music video's director Melina Matsoukas for using their documentary footage. In a statement to Entertainment Weekly, a representative of the singer said: "The documentary footage was used with permission and licensed from the owner of the footage. They were given proper compensation. The footage was provided to us by the filmmaker's production company. The filmmaker is listed in the credits for additional photography direction."[58] Soon after, Bagheri issued a statement to The Washington Post: "Anyone who works in the industry knows that putting out a work is a miracle. There needs to be a unity amongst directors. We need to preserve the sanctity of the craft and champion individual voices. Our work isn't just b-roll for someone else. It just shouldn't be considered, whether or not it's legal. It's a bad precedent to set."[59]

In 2019, Billboard named Formation the best music video of the 2010s, stating that the music video "served as an active reminder that black people could not be silenced".[60]


The mention of the American restaurant chain Red Lobster in the song's bridge increased sales at the restaurants by 33%, and upon the song's release, the chain was tweeted about over 42,000 times during the first hour and trended for the first time in its history according to Red Lobster spokesperson Erica Ettori.[61]

Since the release of the song and the subsequent Super Bowl performance, various publications have released think-pieces about the song, and the current stage of race relations in the United States.[62][63] Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan backed the singer during a sermon.[64] Saturday Night Live performed a sketch titled "The Day Beyoncé turned Black" as a result of the release, airing Saturday, February 13.[65] As Lisa Respers France commented in her piece for CNN, "Beyoncé is certainly not the first celebrity to cause a stir by inserting race into her art, but there's a reason why her recent actions are resonating. Quite simply, she is one of those stars of color who -- until now -- has been beyond race for the mainstream audience. That was the basis of a recent "Saturday Night Live" skit that portrayed white fans freaking out about her "blackness," as conveyed by her new "Formation" music video and a Super Bowl halftime performance in which her backup dancers dressed in Black Panther-esque outfits. The halftime show has prompted a number of discussions both pro- and anti-Beyoncé."[63]


Year Ceremony Award Result
2016 AICE Awards Best Music Video Won
BET Awards Video of the Year Won
Viewers Choice Award Won
Centric Award Won
Cannes Lions Awards Best Music Video Won
Clio Awards Best Video of the Year Won
London International Awards Best Music Video Won
Best Direction Won
MTV Video Music Awards Video of the Year Won
Best Direction Won
Best Pop Video Won
Best Cinematography Won
Best Editing Won
Best Choreography Won
MTV Europe Music Awards Best Video Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards Japan Best Female Video Nominated
Q Awards Best Video Nominated
Soul Train Music Awards Video of the Year Won
Song of the Year Won
Best Dance Performance Nominated
The Ashford & Simpson Songwriter's Award Nominated
UK Music Video Awards Best Urban Video Nominated
Best Styling in a Music Video Won
WatsUp TV Africa Music Video Awards Best International Video Won
2017 ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Award Award Winning R&B/Hip Hop Songs Won
Grammy Awards Record of the Year Nominated
Song of the Year Nominated
Best Music Video Won
iHeartRadio Music Awards Best Music Video Nominated
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Song Nominated
Outstanding Music Video Won
Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards Brazil Best Music Clip Nominated[66]
NME Awards Best Music Video Nominated
One Show Awards Cultural Diver Award Won
Best Music Video Won
Webby Awards Best Music Video Won

Live performances[edit]

Beyoncé performing during the Super Bowl 50 halftime show

Beyoncé performed the song as part of a guest appearance during the Super Bowl 50 halftime show, which was headlined by Coldplay at the Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California on February 7, 2016.[67][68] Her performance started after Bruno Mars finished with "Uptown Funk". She wore a black and golden leather outfit and was joined towards the end by Mars again. The duo finished his track and went on performing dance choreographies. Jon Caramanica of The New York Times praised the singer's overall energetic performance, concluding that she outshined Coldplay. He felt that Beyoncé was the only artist capable of promoting new songs at the event. and "walking the cultural tightrope of delivering a song with such potent declarations of black pride on a stage that prefers studied neutrality".[69] A writer of Rolling Stone felt that the performance, with tributes to Michael Jackson and the Black Panthers was "awe-inspiring".[15]

"Formation" was the opening number on Beyoncé's The Formation World Tour (2016) with the first performance taking place in Miami at the Marlins Park on April 27, 2016.[70] It was performed with the singer backed by dancers dressed in black sequined leotards and hats with wide brims.[71] "Formation" was also performed as part of a medley of songs from Lemonade at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards on August 28, 2016, along with "Pray You Catch Me", "Hold Up", "Sorry" and "Don't Hurt Yourself". She finished the performance with "Formation", with her dancers forming the feminist symbol at the end. Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield commented that Beyoncé "set the whole thing on fire with a 16-minute stomp through the Lemonade songbook", considering the performance as "one of the most blood-chillingly great live performances in award-show history".[72]


Credits adapted from Beyoncé's website.[73]

Song credits
  • Writing – Khalif Brown, Ashton Hogan, Michael Williams II, Beyoncé Knowles
  • Production – Mike Will Made It, Beyoncé
  • Vocals production – Beyoncé
  • Additional production – Pluss
  • Ad-libs – Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd
  • Additional background ad-libs – Big Freedia, Messy Mya
  • Trumpet – Matt Doe
  • Horn arrangement – Derek Dixie
  • Recording – Stuart White; The Beehive, Los Angeles
  • Audio mixing – Jaycen Joshua; Innersount MGMT, Larrabbee Sound Studios, North Hollywood and Stuart White; Pacifique Studio, Los Angeles
  • Assistant mix engineering – Maddox Chhim, David Nakaji, Arthur Chambazyan
  • Mastering – Dave Kutch, The Mastering Palace, New York City



Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[102] Gold 35,000double-dagger
Canada (Music Canada)[49] Platinum 80,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[103] Silver 200,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[104] Platinum 1,000,000double-dagger

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Radio and release history[edit]

Region Date Format Label Ref.
Various February 6, 2016 Free download (Tidal exclusive) [4]
United Kingdom February 15, 2016 Contemporary hit radio RCA [105]

See also[edit]


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