Blackness, spirituality and the divine feminine have been present in Beyoncé’s work since day one.
Long before she was celebrating the continent with carefully chosen collaborators and big budget companion pieces, the pop princess turned cultural icon was using costumes, lyrics, song covers and symbols to send messages about her heritage.
As Bey’s work has matured, the messages celebrating the continent and Blackness have become bolder. But as longtime fans know, they’ve always been there.
As we prepare for her visual album Black Is King to debut on Friday, let’s look back on seven times she let her work do the talking.
When She Took Us To Church
During her time with Destiny’s Child, King Bey was known for dropping what Candice Benbow calls “Jesus Tracks.” Each album she dropped with her bandmates would have a song stepped in melodies from heaven. When Michelle Williams released “Say Yes,” Beyoncé followed her right back into the Black Christian tradition. Later in her career, she touched on the importance of connecting with God in dark times through her song “Heaven” and amplified themes found in Negro spirituals on the track “Freedom.”
When She Stepped Into The Bayou
Beyoncé proudly championed her mother’s Louisiana roots on “Formation,” but she was representing her heritage long before then. She used wardrobe and set designs to honor women who attended church on Sunday mornings and predicted pregnancies with Friday afternoon fish dreams in the videos for “Haunted” and “Deja Vu.” She also embraced the Black southern gothic aesthetic throughout Lemonade by including references to life lines, intuition, resurrection and the tree of life.
When She Transformed Into Oshun
Beyoncé channeled the Yoruba goddess as she strutted down the street, holding a Louisville slugger and one heck of a grudge in the "Hold Up" video.
When She Deferred To The Ancestors
Beyoncé is constantly exalting the themes of legacy and purpose in her work by incorporating those who came before her, a spiritual tradition practiced by many Black people globally. She named her clothing line after her maternal grandmother, and has shouted out her parents for providing her life force on several tracks, including “Daddy” and “Savage Remix.”
She featured the mothers of the movement in Lemonade, invoking the spirits of their tragically slain children with framed photographs.
She also embraced speaking openly about the child she miscarried during the documentary Life Is But A Dream d, dedicated a song on her self-titled album to the concept of celebrating lost loved ones, and named Lemonade after a speech given by her husband Jay-Z’s grandmother.
When She Referenced Fasting
While submerged in a pool of denial, Beyoncé spends the second chapter of Lemonade describing all the measures she took to avoid her fate, including fasting. Used by many as a means to gain favor, clarity, and discernment, fasts are frequently called for by religious leaders of different faiths.
She also makes reference to chastity and vanity, two concepts the Bible considers to be deadly sins. “Fasted for sixty days, wore white, abstained from mirrors. Abstained from sex,” she said before emerging from the water.
When She Embraced Numerology
Numerology has roots in ancient Egypt and the star is a big proponent of the practice. She has a near devout obsession with the number 4 and credits it for being a meaningful symbol in her career and personal life. She named one of her albums IV and has matching roman numeral tattoos with her husband denoting their anniversary, the fourth day of the fourth month of the year.
When She Led The Black Parade
Beyoncé made several references to the Afro-Caribbean religion Santeria, including charging her crystals in the moonlight on this single. She even compared her beloved baby sister Solange to the goddess Yemaya, who was also said to be a fierce protector on the track.