Beyonce’s Black is King lets “Black be synonymous with glory.”
By Marissa Lee.
Although it’s been only two weeks since the release of Beyonce’s visual album Black Is King, it has already been the subject of nearly every type of review, analysis, and appraisal on the internet.
From roll calls of the extensive list of Black designers whose work was featured in the piece (13 to be exact), to analyses of the visuals, cinematography, music, celebrity cameos, and everything else imaginable, we now know the background behind every note sung and camera pan.
What Beyonce’s visual album serves to do is, as its name suggests, infuse the very notion of Blackness with opulence, royalty, excellence, and glory. This is facilitated by delicately marrying varying cultural ideas of what we perceive royalty and luxury to be. Beyond the westernized view of luxury pertaining mostly to precious stones, precious metals, and rich fabrics, the styling in Black Is King is rich in traditional African luxury, often even utilizing said ‘western luxury’ to accentuate the traditional stylings.
Countless examples of this can be seen as the sovereign Beyonce glides across our screens encouraging cultural union throughout the album’s one hour and twenty-five minute run. The hairstyles in the video represent traditional African royalty in its truest form. From the flat-top braided headpiece in Brown Skin Girl reminiscent of the Congo’s Mangbetu people (and perhaps a nod to Queen Nandi of South Africa) to the Bantu knot-Fulani braid combination in Already, African heritage stylings are ubiquitous.
Enter the designers that were tasked with styling the woman that almost the whole world has kept an eye on for the past two decades.
While not all of them were Black, all of them successfully served fashion moments that fit the bill for a cultural masterpiece. Jaw-dropping was the leopard print junket that accompanied the Mood 4 Eva video. Beyonce is seen lounging on the hood of a leopard print Rolls Royce, surrounded by a fleet of men in velvet leopard print suits. The queen herself dons a leopard print needle-lace and sequin embellished custom Valentino couture catsuit, which her stylist revealed took over 1,000 hours to make.
The shot practically screams excess and opulence, but symbolizes something more, as well. While the car, the jewels, and the couture are imbued with their own meaning in terms of luxury, the choice to include leopard print is particularly noteworthy. Leopard print was, in early South Africa, a sign of extreme wealth and status among political power, such as the Zulu aristocracy. The presence of leopard print is particularly relevant when displayed in the video, which alludes to a continent where the animals have actually roamed, and where leopard skin has long conveyed political power and cultural distinction.
This connection in the video’s styling and fashion is one of many. The film is an artistic phenomenon so well thought-out that it stands to receive a own succinct analysis strictly devoted to the clothes themselves.
However, examples of this type of dichotomy stretch far beyond just the clothes and props. The setting of many of the songs’ accompanying visuals is often strategic, as is the placement of the numbers.
Most notable is the scene in which Beyonce, her daughter Blue Ivy, and a cast of other women sit in a room sporting cotillion-style ball gowns, reminiscent of the Southern high-society of the early 1900s (the author gets flashbacks to the naptime scene in Gone With The Wind.) These gowns, paired with pristine elbow-length gloves and the occasional tiara, combined with a setting of an expansive house, places these women in all their brilliant Blackness in a setting, costume, and position they would not have been afforded at another time in history.
Once again, we see a marriage between cultural heritage and the idea of western luxury that society has come to understand. In a nutshell, the stylistic choices in Black Is King challenge everything we have come to think we know about luxury, heritage, and cultural symbology. The work attempts, as Beyonce herself put it, to “let ‘Black’ be synonymous with glory.”