Format: Visual Album
Platform: Disney+ Hotstar
Movie Rated: (U) All Ages
Digital Premiere Date: 31 July 2020
The concept is familiar and yet, it is still difficult to categorize Beyonce’s third visual album ‘Black is King,’ which has dropped on Disney+ Hotstar today. After Beyonce (2013) and Lemonade (2016), and even the recording of her live performance at Coachella that became Netflix’s Homecoming, this is the Queen Bey’s new project which doesn’t just mark yet another achievement in her repertoire but further establishes her as a world-class creative businesswoman. But perhaps amidst all the anticipation, it is most important to acknowledge Black is King’s place in the canon of African history and heritage, and the various narratives surrounding it that exist in the non-African world.
Beyonce writes, directs, and executive produces ‘Black is King,’ - which adapts the ‘The Lion King’ story (note that she also voiced the character of Nala in Disney’s live-action version which released last year) into a grand visual representation boasting of a vibrant and eclectic aesthetic. The Lion King: The Gift is a collection of new songs inspired by the Disney movie, and she uses this soundtrack as the basis to tell a black story with black talent. A young crown prince finds himself in trouble and is banished from his kingdom. He soon embarks upon a journey of self-discovery which leads him to back to his family and roots, where he must reclaim his place as King. The way it is told, however, is no longer a cute lion prancing around the Savanah. We move across Nigeria, South Africa, Mali, Belgium... a tattered godown to a sprawling desert and along a shimmering beach… across natural landscapes and futuristically constructed sets. Guest stars Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Rowland, Pharrell Williams, Burna Boy, Oumou Sangare and Moonchild Sanelly, join Beyonce to tell this amazingly universal and resonant story.
That Black is King is important and innovative, just in the world of music but also in the world of new-age visual content, is a given. Much like visual albums of the past (the likes of Michael Jackson, Prince and Pink Floyd come immediately to mind), Black is King has the appeal to be the seminal visual album for a new generation of musical artists, as well as a welcome interpretation of how Black people see their own identities in the post-#BlackLivesMatter era. In this way, the album is a perfect fit to tell Simba’s story as well - a young lad who feels dissociated from his legacy but moves towards self-acceptance as he is able to embrace his position in his own community.
Beyonce’s creative team embellishes Black is King with impeccable detail to costumes and choreography. Each song is specific, it is a stand-out. I won’t critique the music for that would be subjective to the listener, but there is no doubt that the vocals and the folksy instrumentalizations soar as each song progresses due to the way it is shown and shot. Pertinent quotes from last year’s movie and James Earl Jones’ voice come to us in interludes. What we see, however, is extraordinary visuals of fantastic dancers who adorn gorgeous outfits and move to this album’s rooted and raw groove. Sometimes, the transition from one song to the other feels a bit disjointed but the overarching theme of identity and connection is never forgotten.
Brown Skin Girl, specifically, speaks volumes for female empowerment, feminism, and the power of speaking up (as well as being heard). Each song in the album, though, should resonate with those people who feel strongly about how fashion enables the wearer to make bold statements about who they are and the values they represent. It may sound frivolous but Black is King’s aesthetic is a testament to how strong visualization has the capability of making great commentary.
At the end of the day, Black is King is a visual album, i.e. it is a filmic interpretation of a collection of songs, and I don’t know how much of an audience that has. Skeptics may claim that it is easier to just… hear the music. And it might as well be, no doubt. If you can try and separate the music from this visual album, however, and consider the latter as a separate art-form, how may find watching Black is King a very enriching experience. This is if its slight inconsistency doesn’t test your patience.
Certainly. With Hamilton breaking records, it is obvious that the audience is ready for new things. Black is King is not just beautiful, it is also timely in the way it opens up the possibility for more conversation around Black artistry and identity. Watch it now.