Once a day, until Dec. 25, we'll be highlighting a specific small, good thing that happened in popular culture this year. And we do mean small: a moment or image from a film or TV show, a panel from a comic, a brief exchange from a podcast, or a passage from a book.
"Formation," the lead single from Beyonce's sixth album, Lemonade, dropped on Feb. 6. It was a Saturday.
To say it came as a surprise is an understatement. The critical community rushed to their laptops, wiped the sleep from their eyes and responded swiftly, as they've learned to do in this era of surprise releases.
Fans also did their part.
Which is to say: They freaked out, with verve and alacrity.
(If you're okay with some explicit language, maybe check out the episode of the podcast The Read immediately following the song's release, in which the show's two hosts Crissle and Kid Fury proceed to explode with hilarious, high-pitched, blissfully profane joy and gratitude.)
Much has been written about the song's imagery and context and meaning(s) and musicality. Our focus here today is one line that took on a life of its own, namely the opening verse's kicker:
My daddy Alabama, momma Louisiana
You mix that negro with that Creole, make a Texas bama
I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils
Earned all this money, but they never take the country out of me
I got hot sauce in my bag, swag
It was a statement of authenticity of the sort we've had occasion to grow used to from mega-celebrities. It inspired some lovely writing about the role of food in Southern Black culture and identity. Inevitably, it also found itself drawn into the gravity well of the Presidential campaign, when Hillary Clinton, in a radio interview, mentioned her own abiding affection for the condiment.
And, as if the song's mere use of the word "swag" worked some kind of eldritch summoning magic, it inspired ... merch. Merch by the metric ton.(Not gonna link to it; Google it if you're curious.)
Two months later, when Yoncé's visual album Lemonade debuted on HBO, sharp-eyed viewers noticed that the baseball bat she wielded to great destructive effect was emblazoned with the moniker "Hot Sauce."
Aha! said the internet. We were wrong! That line's not about sriracha at all! "Hot Sauce" was her bat all this time!
But that kind of Citizen Kane-esque sleuthing is too tidy. Music, like life, is not an either/or proposition. Multiple meanings accrue, and coexist peacefully, vibrating at different frequencies, perhaps, but equally valid, equally true.
Also? Not for nothing? It's a great line.
Previous Pop Culture Advent Calendar Entries