Beyoncé isn’t too fond of sharing intimate details of her life — that is, before Lemonade dropped — but when it comes to advocating for social justice and tackling politics, she employs the grandest of stages to let her voice ring.
A day before her highly anticipated Super Bowl performance with Coldplay and Bruno Mars, Bey surprise-released the anthemic “Formation” and accompanying powerful visual. “She wants us to know — more than ever — that she’s still grounded, she’s paying attention and still a little hood,” New York Times writer Jenna Wortham wrote in an op-ed following the video’s release.
“I think she wants us to know that even though she’s headlining a mainstream event like the Super Bowl, she has opinions and isn’t afraid to share them, nor is she afraid to do it on a national and global scale.”
Beyoncé has shown her support for a slew of different social movements, from her Black Panther-inspired Super Bowl performance to backing the Black Lives Matter movement. On Tuesday night, Bey showed her support for another movement by awarding Colin Kaepernick — who has stirred up buzz by protesting the national anthem to advocate against police brutality — with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award at the 2017 Sports Illustrated awards.
Here, Billboard takes a look back at Beyoncé’s activist moments.
2014 – VMA Performance “Feminist” LED Sign
If you were ever unsure of Beyoncé’s stance on feminism and female empowerment, a dip into her extensive repertoire will reveal a bevy of anthemic cuts catered to helping empower women, including “Run the World (Girls),” “Single Ladies,” “Pretty Hurts” and the list goes on. If you’re still unsure, the large, bright LED sign from her 2014 MTV VMAs performance that read “Feminist” should surely do the trick.
Beyoncé performed a 15-minute medley at the 2014 MTV VMAs, where she launched into a rendition of the female anthem “Flawless,” with lines from poet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay “We Should All Be Feminists” plastered on the screen. The stadium went dark with just a shadow of Beyoncé gliding across the stage in front of the “Feminist” sign, leaving no doubts about her position on the movement.
I guess I’m gonna wallpaper my apartment with this. pic.twitter.com/Z8yG5UdA8O
— Allison P Davis (@AllisonPDavis) August 25, 2014
2015 – “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”: The Voices
For the 57th annual Grammy Awards, Beyoncé was tasked with introducing John Legend and Common’s performance of “Glory” with her own rendition of the classic spiritual “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” The emotive, powerful ballad was especially memorable because of Beyoncé’s all-male choir providing the background vocals — some of whom were introduced in the mini-documentary Bey released to coincide with the performance.
The footage takes viewers behind the scenes of the “Take My Hands, Precious Lord” rehearsal, where she reveals why she hand-selected the men to be a part of her special performance. “I wanted to find real men that have lived, have struggled, cried, have a light and a spirit about them,” Beyoncé said in the black and white video. “I felt like this is an opportunity to show the strength and vulnerability in black men.”
Throughout the video, the men share their experiences of being black men in America, such as being “threats” and inciting fear in others despite doing nothing wrong.
2016 – Beyoncé Unleashes “Formation”
“You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation,” Bey confidently proclaims at the end of “Formation,” and if there’s anyone who can cause a stir, it’s Beyoncé. She did exactly that when “Formation” dropped ahead of her Super Bowl performance.
Bey traveled back to her roots in New Orleans post-Katrina in the nearly five-minute visual and delivered a video ripe with gripping imagery. For starters, the Houston native stood atop a police car floating in water. Toward the end of the clip, a young boy clad in all black stands in front of an army of police officers with his hands up as a wall spraypainted with “Stop Shooting Us” appears onscreen.
As for her Super Bowl performance, Bey and her dancers made a powerful statement with costumes that called to mind the Black Panthers. Bey saluted the late Michael Jackson by wearing a bullet vest like the King of Pop donned back in 1993. The performance garnered praise and mixed reviews from spectators, but Beyoncé knew what she was doing and succeeded — she brought an often overlooked issue to one of the biggest stages, and got paid for it. As she said in “Formation,” “Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper.”
— Girlful (@TheGirlful) February 9, 2016
2016 – Beyoncé’s Political Statements at the 2016 MTV VMAs
Beyoncé made a few bold statements from the start of her 2016 MTV VMAs red-carpet appearance to her performance. On the red carpet, Bey invited the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Mike Brown and Eric Garner — some of whom made a cameo in Lemonade — to the awards ceremony. Next, she posed with the rest of her black, all-female Lemonade squad on the carpet featuring women of all different shapes, colors, sizes and backgrounds.
One of the night’s most memorable moments came toward the end of Bey’s performance of “Formation,” where her dancers formed the Venus symbol, to honor women.
— BEYONCÉ LEGION (@Bey_Legion) August 28, 2016
— xoNecole (@xonecole) August 29, 2016
2016 – Hillary Clinton Receives Support From Beyoncé
Beyoncé rallied voters in support of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. In an effort to mobilize young voters at a concert put on by her husband JAY-Z in Cleveland, Ohio, Bey took the stage and delivered a speech endorsing Clinton ahead of Election Day.
“There was a time when a woman’s opinion did not matter. If you were black, white, Mexican, Asian, Muslim, educated, poor or rich, if you were a woman, it did not matter. Less than 100 years ago, women did not have the right to vote,” she said. “Look how far we’ve come from having no voice to being on the brink of making history again by electing the first woman president. Yes! But we have to vote. The world looks to us as a progressive country that leads change.”
Beyoncé also performed her single “Formation,” which saw her and her dancers trading in their Formation World Tour ensembles for pantsuits to honor then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. After the concert, Clinton posted an image of Beyoncé and JAY-Z backstage talking with her with Bey dressed in an “I’m With Her” shirt.
2017 – Beyoncé Returns Home to Houston Amid Hurricane Harvey Disaster
Hurricane Harvey pummeled the South back in August, destroying homes in Texas and Louisiana. Beyoncé, who hails from Houston, released a statement to the Houston Chronicle announcing her hurricane relief efforts. A host of celebrities announced their donations, but Bey took her efforts a step further and journeyed to Houston to meet with some of the families affected by the hurricane.
“This today is a celebration of survival. Y’all are my family. Houston is my home. I thank God that you’re safe, your children are safe. I think that really matters is your health and your children and your family,” she told the crowd at a local church. “I just wanna say I love you. I’ve been blessed so that I can bless other people and I ask of God to continue to do that for other people.”
The “Formation” singer along with her mother Tina Lawson and former Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams also served food to the victims of the disaster during their brief trip.
— BEYONCÉ LEGION (@Bey_Legion) September 8, 2017
2017 – Beyoncé Presents Colin Kaepernick with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award
Colin Kaepernick — whose protest during the national anthem has garnered praise and critique alike — has had a whirlwind year, but earned a major feat on Tuesday night when he received the prestigious Muhammad Ali Legacy Award at a Sports Illustrated awards ceremony. Much to the crowd’s surprise — and delight — the award was presented by Beyoncé, who thanked the embattled football star for his “selfless heart.”
Bey’s support of Colin’s protest comes just months after JAY-Z saluted Colin during his recent Saturday Night Live appearance. Hov donned a custom jersey with the football player’s jersey number inscribed on the front as he delivered a medley of his 4:44 cuts.
“Thank you for your personal sacrifice. Colin took action with no fear of consequence or repercussion, only hope to change the world for the better; to change perception, to change the way we treat each other, especially people of color who are still waiting for the world to catch up,” she said. ”It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we’re protesting America.”
Beyoncé presents Colin Kaepernick with the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award at the Sports Illustrated Awards tonight! pic.twitter.com/U9J4gwmGdA
— Philip Lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) December 6, 2017