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Open Cultural Studies

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“Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation!”: Music Videos and the Construction of Cultural Memory

Laura M. F. Bertens
Published Online: 2017-09-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/culture-2017-0009


This paper explores strategies for constructing and perpetuating cultural memory through music videos, using Beyonce’s Formation (2016) and Janelle Monae’s Many Moons (2008) and Q.U.E.E.N. (2013) as case studies. The medium’s idiosyncrasies create unique ways of communicating and remembering, explored here within a framework of Cultural Studies and Memory Studies. Easy dissemination and the limited length of most videos ensure a large, diverse audience. The relative freedom from narrative constraints enables the director to create original imagery, and most importantly, the medium allows an intricate blending of performance and performativity; while the videos evidently are performances, they are strongly performative as well, not only with respect to gender and ethnicity but in significant ways also cultural memory. A close reading of Beyonce’s video Formation shows how she explicitly does the cultural memory of the New Orleans flooding. The videos by Monae are shown to produce counter-memories, relying heavily on the strategy of Afrofuturism. As such, these densely woven networks of visual symbols become palimpsests of black lived experience and cultural memory, passed on to millions of viewers.

Keywords: Afrofuturism; Beyonce; Janelle Monae; New Orleans; performativity


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About the article

Received: 2017-03-16

Accepted: 2017-06-26

Published Online: 2017-09-02

Published in Print: 2017-08-28

Citation Information: Open Cultural Studies, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 88–98, ISSN (Online) 2451-3474, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/culture-2017-0009.

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© 2017. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

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