On the last day in July, Beyoncé’s unveiled her new visual album Black is King on Disney+.
Designed as a re-imagination of the 2019 Jon Favreau film The Lion King, itself a remake of Disney’s iconic original, Black is King is Beyoncé’s attempt at recreating the Black experience, especially for people of African heritage scattered across the diaspora.
The music is lifted from last year’s The Gift, the record which Beyoncé curated as a side project for the film in which she also voiced Nala, the love interest of the hero Simba. Because Black is King is a Beyoncé project after all, there are no half measures involved and she assembles an army of talented performers, dancers, designers, artists, not to mention some of her famous friends in a bid to realize her vision.
How well did she do?
We attempt the extremely difficult task of ranking all the videos in Black is King. Definitely one of the hardest things we have ever had to do.
- Keys to the Kingdom
The Keys to the Kingdom video opens with an aerial shot of what used to be Lagos’ signature shot before the Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge came along- the national theatre. Tiwa Savage appears as a royal vision in lemonade. Mr Eazi attempts a dance while singing about the Chinese bamboo tree. But there’s too little of both stars in it. Taking up a significant portion of the real estate? An inexplicable segment that has dancers in NYSC garb performing for a non plussed audience of men in courtroom attire. Is it saying anything about colonialism or being victim of a judgmental gaze, who knows? At least there is the wedding sequence of Simba and Nala to look forward to.
Like Be Prepared in Jon Favreau’s photorealistic remake, Scar’s The Gift anthem is shortened considerably on making the transfer to Black is King. This leaves no room for the plaintive 070 Shake verses. Narratively, the video isn’t half bad. The darkened tones are right for charting Scar’s betrayal of Mufasa’s, his banishment of Simba and eventual ascendancy to the throne. Jessie Reyez appears as a fallen angel to recite her verse, but everything is over in a blur. Blink and you might miss it.
With a new clip for Spirit– the only new song added to Favreau’s photorealistic remake- Beyoncé closes Black is King with a grand and soaring rendition, worthy only of the biggest divas in the game. Spirit opens acapella with Beyonce in lemonade, backed by a harmonious choir for the song’s first verse and chorus. The harmony swells to accommodate color coordinated choreographed sequences set in the vast plains and canyons that act as a stand in for Africa for the entirety of the project.
- Ja Ara E
The one song on Black is King that could have benefited from the manic energy of a sprawling Lagos does not suffer from Burna Boy’s conspicuous absence. Beyoncé and her squad of directors make up for this with a gorgeous evocation of a debauched Simba wasting away his adult days in exile. The cinematography is rich with neon lit urban streets and moving tricked out cars. Beyonce herself makes a cameo appearance, gyrating to the melodious beat.
Bigger serves as a welcome introduction for what is to come and sets the tone for the rest of the film. Gorgeous imagery, captivating photos of black bodies, Beyoncé as a mythical, maternal presence. Baptism by the water, a procession, body markings, calabash, Blue Ivy. Plus an elite squad of dancers in red that look like they came off the set of another Suspiria remake. It is all quite grand and enticing. Bring on more.
- Find Your Way Back
A sexy shot of Afrofuturism, the Find Your Way Back visual is one of the most shimmering, dynamic parts of Black is King. Beyoncé , dressed in several glittering custom-made body suits designed by Destiny Bleu’s D.Bleu.Dazzled and putting on interesting robotic dance moves offers daddy lessons from Mustafa to a young Simba. A larger than life moon is on hand to guide him home. And don’t forget Bankuli’s background vocals melding smoothly with Sarz’s hypnotic work on the beat.
The weirdest song on The Gift album- Kendrick Lamar feature notwithstanding- surprisingly transfers beautifully to the small screen. Set up as some sort of funeral procession for the recently slain Mufasa, Nile recalls mummification rites in ancient Egypt that were set up to preserve the essence of loved ones. Impeccably photographed and sublimely directed, Nile easily stands out as some of the most indelible Black is King clips.
Aka the one where Beyoncé does the gbese. Already, released as a promotional single ahead of Black is King’s July release is a thoroughly enjoyable affair filled with the kind of infectious energy to be expected when Beyonce and Shatta Wale collide. Beyonce is decked in some striking looks as per usual including one where she ties a gele. She is complimented by scenes of raw street energy from the green painted dancers who ground the video. And of course by Mr Wale who gives a decent account of himself.
The emotional core of Black is King is this striking ballad that has adult Simba finally reconnecting with his late father and finding release from the guilt that has haunted him since he left home. In the parallel storyline, there is more drama to be found as Beyoncé makes the maternal sacrifice of saving her baby when dust clouds roll in and threaten to wipe out the population of the village. In a depiction that recalls the Biblical story of Moses, Beyoncé wraps the baby in a basket and sends him floating down a river. He is rescued on the other side by another maternal figure, played again by Beyoncé.
- Don’t Jealous Me
Two words for this thoroughly enjoyable romp: Yemi Alade. Opportunity meets preparation as Yemi Alade- whose early career move was shooting a knock-off of Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love video- seizes the moment and runs away with this video. Good thing that Beyoncé knows to stay on the sidelines as Alade triumphs over the basic lyrics and melodies of the song to serve fabulous fashion and dance moments. Young Simba wanders into a warehouse that appears a stand in for the film’s elephant graveyard scene and is tested by Ghana’s Lord Afrixana.
- My Power
Black is King’s big climactic number is a good vs evil battle between Simba and his villainous uncle Scar. But the drama takes a back seat to the sheer pleasure of watching Beyoncé do what she does best, perform for the cameras. While Simba and Scar go at it, Beyoncé and her dancers put on an instantly iconic choreographed set that is sure to go down as one of her finest. This high-powered set has since found life on the internet as the #MyPowerChallenge with fans replicating the moves. Nija, Tierra Whack and Moonchild Sanelly all have space to shine but it is Busiswa who manages to steal the show. Oh! Lets not forget little madam Blue Ivy also.
While Water isn’t one of the strongest songs on The Gift album, the lush visuals are some of Black is King’s finest. For significant portions of the film, water represents some kind of spiritual transformation. Cameroon’s Salatiel films his bit by the shore and Pharrell Williams performs atop a platform set up with water gallons. Beyoncé pays homage to the role of African women in providing water for the home by performing most of her rump shaking choreography with either a calabash or basket atop her head. The cinematography and art direction here is second to none.
- Brown Skin Girl
Set in a lavish debutante ball, this dazzling celebration of black womanhood is also impressive for how inclusive it is. With guest appearances from Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Rowland and Adut Akech, Beyoncé issues a reproach to Disney for its decades long sidelining of black women as princesses. Beyoncé revisits her Oshun playbook which was a recurring theme in her Lemonade album and with each stunning shot after the other, dismantles the racist notion that blackness isn’t sophisticated or appealing enough. The images are warm, enveloping and invoke themes of beauty, family and royalty.
- Mood 4 Eva
A cross between Hakuna Matata and I Wanna be a Mighty King but instead of a harmless jungle party, think a Gatsby inspired bacchanal featuring a lavish mansion, familiar guests (Jay-z, Kelly Rowland, Tina Knowles), animal prints, jollof rice, a white butler, over the top costumes, reclaimed paintings- Beyoncé and her spawn as the Madonna and child- and the music of Oumou Sangare. The royal couple of pop go back to their Love is Everything era to send up media portrayals of their fabulous lives. Everything in this video is dialed up to the maximum as Beyoncé portrays a luxurious lifestyle fit only for the king in everyone.
Do you agree?
Wilfred Okiche is a medic, reader, writer, journalist, culture critic, and occasional ruffler of feathers. One of the most influential critics working in the Nigerian culture space, his writing has appeared extensively in platforms like YNaija.com and 360nobs.com. Okiche has provided editorial assistance to the UK Guardian and has had his work published in African Arguments, Africa is a Country and South Africa’s City Press. He has received trainings and acquired experience in multimedia and online journalism. He also appears on the culture television show, Africana Literati. He has participated at critic programs in Lagos, Durban and Rotterdam.