Beyoncé’s “Gift” That Keeps on Giving

One of my first CD’s was a bootleg of Destiny’s Child The Writing’s on the Wall. My mom gifted me with Survivor not too long after, and I later added …Baby One More Time, The Emancipation of Mimi, and the clean version of Encore (from my dad, of course.) My silver and purple boombox sat on the floor as I played my favorites and gave bedroom concerts to an imaginary audience. When my cousin came over, it was better because we could split up the singing parts. Fake microphone in hand, with my mom’s Von Dutch purses and clear lip gloss on, we thought we were IT. Hitting those runs and high notes had me thinking I was really the 5th/4th Destiny Child. “Who gets to be Beyoncé this time,” was a constant dilemma. I almost always lost that argument because I was the younger one, but it’s okay because I took the part right back after she left.

I’ve followed Beyoncé‘s career for as long as I could listen to and appreciate what music was. For me, she was always a superstar- someone I watched on 106 and Park, who I spent hours re-watching on YouTube, who I have always admired. And I watched as her career constantly evolved, seemingly along with myself. As I got older, so did her music. She stayed relevant in ways many artists did not. From Dangerously in Love to B’Day– “Irreplaceable” and learning every single move to “Get Me Bodied”- to Sasha Fierce, 4, and the surprise release of BEYONCE in 2013, her sound expanded tremendously.

Then in 2016, Beyoncé  released the single and music video for “Formation”, which she performed at Super Bowl 50 the very next day. Following the performance, on April 23, 2016, she released the full Lemonade album on Tidal as well as premiered the Lemonade film on HBO. There is no need for me to make a testament on how monumental and changing Lemonade was. It was the definition of a “cultural reset.” Once the album was finally released on all streaming platforms April 23, 2019, it returned to the top 10 billboard 200 like it was brand new.

Image still from Black is King- with Beyonce and others dressed in cheetah print
Image courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment/Walt Disney Pictures

From there, she has continued to expand her career in unimaginable ways. In 2018, Beyoncé became the first Black woman to headline Coachella. “Beychella” was, yet again, ANOTHER CULTURAL RESET. No, this is not an understatement. Along with the 100,000+ audience members, millions of fans tuned in a YouTube livestream of her performance. Critically praised and culturally saturated, Beyoncé laid it all on the line for this performance. Completely immersing audiences in the HBCU experience, she incorporated Black creatives, dancers, and HBCU band members. After the performance Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé‘s record sales increased 767% and 228%, respectively. Plus, not a single person would doubt that her performance single-handedly busted the door open for female and minority performers of the festival after her. The accompanying Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé documentary of the performance later received 16.6 million views across Netflix within its initial 24 hours.

Now, it’s 2020 and Beyoncé just released her musical film Black is King which coincides with her 2019 album The Lion King: The Gift. Vibrant with African culture and location, it was filmed in Nigeria, Ghana, Johannesburg, Emthambothimi, the Shakaland Zulu Village of South Africa, London, New York, California, and Arizona.

Image still from Black is King- a kid is seen falling, from space to Earth
Image courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment/Walt Disney Pictures

Black is King tells the story of a young, African boy who is cast out from his family, who must reclaim his throne, and heal through the betrayal and malice of his uncle to find self-identity. It is a visual retelling of Beyoncé‘s The Gift album which is her own musical adaption of The Lion King. The visual album contains poetry from Warsan Shire and dialogue from The Lion King live-action film linking them both to its vision. Her incorporation of poetry, visuals, music, and film transcends into an artful experience unlike any other. I’m still not sure how else to review this project, because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. An already beautifully written and enjoyable music album was magnified with its visual album. The music moves symphonically through every motion of the film and tells the story better than any dialogue. Every new song has a new scene, new visuals, and a new look that correlates with the story and carries its own piece of African culture with it.

Hair stylist Neal Farinah and stylist Zerina Akers worked with teams of Black creatives to construct and deliver hundreds of costumes as well as dozens of wigs for the overall look of the film. On top of all of the hard work poured into every scene, every location, and song, is Beyoncé‘s dedication and passion drained into the project. She, herself, has stated that it took year-long, day and night research for this project. This passion piece was her love letter to Africa, and not in a way that was her own interpretation but one that included the voices of the people she was celebrating.

Image still from Black is King- with Beyonce and others in all white
Image courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment/Walt Disney Pictures

Black is King feels like something new. As a longtime fan, it feels like a transcendental step in Beyoncé‘s career. From her early albums and early acting projects, to “Beychella”, Lemonade, and now Black is King, Beyoncé has continuously stepped more into herself, more into her own creativity and vision in a way that shows her growth, the growth of her fans, and Black pride overall. She steeps herself and her art in Black culture. She has always been a standout, an idol, for many in the Black community. Since her debut, she has become a critically acclaimed artist, being the most Grammy nominated woman in history, and being the highest-earning Black musician in 2014. More than that, for a little girl singing concerts in her bedroom Beyoncé  was someone who looked like me, who I looked up to, who made me feel beautiful, who I begged my mom to make my hair look like but she always said no haha. Now as a 24 year old, Beyoncé is someone I have listened to basically my entire life. I loved every moment of this film as I danced in my apartment singing along like I was still 7 years old. Beyoncé‘s newest visual album draws so much to its core. And at this core is African glory, beauty, and the tale of triumph. Because Black is King.

Image still from Black is King- with Beyonce dressed in gold
Image courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment/Walt Disney Pictures
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