The Year Of Bey — How Beyoncé Broke Our Chains And Empowered Black Women In 2016
John Lamb


Her name alone reverberates through our spines and conjures a spectrum of emotions. Singer, songwriter, actress, wife, mother, feminist, and one of the most influential women in all of history, Beyoncé is having her best year ever. The hardest working woman in show business spent 2016 proving why she is undeniably one of the greatest recording artists to ever hold a microphone, and we all got in formation and reveled in her magnificence.

Winner of 20 Grammy awards, and the first woman to win six Grammy awards in one night (For I Am… Sasha Fierce in 2010), Beyoncé again made history this year when she released Lemonade and became the first artist to have her first six studio albums debut at number one on Billboard’s Top 200 chart.

As she enters the 20th year of her career, King Bey shows no sign of slowing down as evidenced by her latest project — which garnered nine Grammy nominations, including five for the lead single, “Formation,” — making her the most nominated female artist of all time. This year, she also became the first female artist to have 12 songs appear on the Billboard Top 100 at the same time.

But wait, there’s more.

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In February, she debuted “Formation,” the lead single from the critically acclaimed project, Lemonade, and performed the song with a cavalry of leather-clad, Black Pantheresque women at the Superbowl. The video for the song resonated deeply with us. She faced backlash for it, as critics launched a “Boycott Beyoncé” movement of sorts, arguing that she was taking an anti-police stance. For us, however, the images of Black women and girls of all shades, the political commentary confronting police brutality, the elements of African and Creole spirituality, and the Indigenous artistry made for a provocative affirmation of the beauty of all facets of Blackness, which she boldly professes with unapologetic and unwavering Black pride.

In April, Beyoncé took to HBO to share her most intimate, poignant work to date. Lemonade, a visual album unlike anything we have seen in recent history, captured the complexity and depths of Black womanhood. There was joy and there was pain, freedom and emotional imprisonment, hope and doubt, celebration and reconciliation, and the inescapable truths revealed about the ups-and-downs of relationships, presumably inspired by her marriage to hip-hop mogul Jay Z.

With Lemonade, Beyoncé gave Black women permission to embrace the fullness of their emotional landscape. Within that, Black women found a safe space to embrace our experience and expression of anger; a freedom, that along with the celebration of our existence, is often followed by chastisement.

This album was ours at a time when Black Girl Magic swept the globe and sisters were experiencing a universal moment of empowerment and pure joy.

When summer arrived, Beyoncé posted an open letter on her website, a call-to-action of sorts. Known for shying away from discussions involving politics and current events, Beyoncé took a definitive stand and called upon us to unite and fight back against the killings of unarmed Black people by police officers. It was an explicit message and an extension of the groundwork she had already laid in addressing police brutality in her work years before. But in 2016, she reminded us that we have the power to bring about the change we seek, and it was important to have an artist of her iconic status and with her global influence join the ranks in this latest iteration of the Black Liberation movement.

Beyoncé was named the most charitable celebrity of 2016 after bringing awareness and donating money to organizations like Black Lives Matter and raising money for causes like the Flint, MI water crisis. Making the short list for TIME Person of the Year, she also released a clothing line, Ivy Park, and was named Fashion Icon of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers. Simply put, she slayed, and she cemented her place as one of the most iconic entertainers the world has even known.

One needs not be part of the Bey Hive to feel the power Beyoncé emits whenever she takes center stage. I caught the Formation World Tour when she came to Philadelphia and as I stood in the rain, completely mesmerized by the magnitude of her presence, I had an epiphany — Beyoncé is the best to ever do it. People were dancing, crying, and singing along to every word as she performed for two-and-a-half hours in the pouring rain, missing not a single step.

Her commitment to giving her very best to her fans is evident; she absolutely loves what she does and displays incredible pride in herself and her accomplishments. Wiping the tears away, I knew I had been changed and that is what Beyoncé does — she changes people, she helps shape our culture, and she defies artist tradition with every innovation she shares with us.

What’s next for the woman who seems to have reached every goal, realized every dream, conquered every fear, and broken nearly every record? I’m not sure we know and I’m not convinced we should worry much about it. I think it is best that we wait and see what surprises she has in store. Perhaps the woman who perpetually grinds until she owns whatever it is she sets her mind to will give us a twenty-year retrospective of sorts during which she gathers together the blueprint for what it takes to be a true star and never quit on oneself.

This was the year that Beyoncé pumped her fist for Black women and inspired us to break the emotional, physical, and spiritual chains that have kept us bound for far too long. Her artistry and renewed vow to be seen and heard, as a Black woman in a society that too often attempts to hide and silence us, gave us all permission to be and love ourselves wholly and unconditionally.



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