Michelle Obama has left the internet buzzing after her participation in a photo tribute to Beyoncé Knowles in light of the singer’s birthday.
Obama and 17 other women dressed in black hats, wore their hair in two braids and donned large necklaces for the black and white photos in order to recreate Beyoncé’s style in her critically acclaimed “Formation” video. The photo was posted to Beyoncé’s website on honor of her 36th birthday, which was on Sept. 4.
Serena Williams and Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, Beyoncé’s former Destiny’s Child band mates, also joined in the photo, as well as Beyoncé’s mother; her daughter, Blue Ivy; and her mother-in-law.
Obama fans took to Twitter to express their excitement over the first lady’s return to the spotlight.
— Erin Matheson (@purpledcake) September 5, 2017
— ☀️ (@alexandraplicky) September 5, 2017
Michelle Obama as Beyoncé in Formation extended my life expectancy and paid off my credit card bills 😍😍😍 pic.twitter.com/cKjVy7TwIw
— Alp Ozcelik (@alplicable) September 4, 2017
And the best FLOTUS of all time goes to…
Mrs. Michelle Obama. pic.twitter.com/pWFf1fQyHS
— Christian J. (@dtxErgaOmnes) September 5, 2017
Beyoncé really got the one and only Michelle Obama to imitate her Formation ensemble for her birthday. You won, sis. You won.
— I. (@ivorieeee_) September 5, 2017
Beyoncé’s “Formation” video garnered widespread attention for its powerful cultural and racial themes. It makes references to Hurricane Katrina as well as police violence in the United States. NPR called the video a “visual anthem,” and Business Insider described it as “the most political message [Beyoncé’s] ever shared, evoking powerful images of black cultural pride, oppression, wealth, tragedy, and resilience.”
In 2016 Beyoncé performed the song during the Super Bowl halftime show and included themes that seemed to allude to the Black Panthers and Malcolm X.
Critics called the “Formation” video anti-police. However, in an interview with ELLE magazine the singer insisted this is not the case:
“I mean, I’m an artist and I think the most powerful art is usually misunderstood. But anyone who perceives my message as anti-police is completely mistaken. I have so much admiration and respect for officers and the families of officers who sacrifice themselves to keep us safe. But let’s be clear: I am against police brutality and injustice. Those are two separate things. If celebrating my roots and culture during Black History Month made anyone uncomfortable, those feelings were there long before a video and long before me. I’m proud of what we created and I’m proud to be a part of a conversation that is pushing things forward in a positive way.”
Meanwhile, regarding the former first lady, Obama has kept a relatively low profile since leaving the White House in January. She has made occasional appearances, including at the ESPY Awards in July, at which time she honored Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics. Shriver, who passed away in 2009, posthumously received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award from Obama.
In June Obama presented a heartfelt video message to Chance the Rapper at the annual BET Awards, at which time Chance received the network’s 2017 Humanitarian Award. Chance has a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering impoverished youth in his hometown of Chicago, where he has also donated money to the public schools.
Beyoncé and Obama have been longtime friends and supported one another. Earlier this year Beyoncé created the “Formation Scholars” awards. For the 2017-2018 academic year, four scholarships will be awarded, one per college, to female incoming, current or graduate students pursuing studies in literature, music, creative arts or African American studies. Colleges chosen to participate in the program are Howard University, Spelman College, Berklee College of Music and Parsons School of Design. Both Howard and Spelman are historically Black institutions.
At the time, Obama took to Twitter to applaud her friend’s efforts.
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) April 26, 2017
Obama and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, celebrated Beyoncé’s birthday with her in 2016.
While the photo has received widespread media attention, it also serves a philanthropic purpose. The page featuring the portraits contains a link where people can donate to support relief efforts in Houston, Beyoncé’s home town, after the devastation from Hurricane Harvey. It also contains the hashtag #BeyGOODHouston.