What Stands Out, Five Years Later: Solange’s “A Seat at the Table”
Solange’s third album, A Seat at the Table, celebrated its five-year anniversary on September 30, 2021. A universally-lauded follow-up to her 2012 EP, True, Solange used these twenty one songs to explore the state of Blackness, and in particular, Black womanhood, as it existed in 2016. The songs are interspersed with interviews, anecdotes, and monologues by her family and friends speaking about their experiences as Black Americans.
After two presidential elections, a pandemic, a summer of international reckoning with social justice issues, and five years of listening to A Seat at the Table, Solange’s music still resonates. Now, with different circumstances and more points of reference, its messages may be even more poignant than they were when the album was released. This is what stands out after half of a decade.
“Cranes in the Sky”
The soul and infectious rhythm of “Cranes in the Sky” reveals why this is one of Solange’s most famous tracks, despite its depiction of someone distracting themselves from pain as a way of attaining happiness. Solange said in an interview with Interview magazine that, while writing this song, she was inspired by the “excessive building, [while] not really dealing with what is in front of us.” In spite of all which each of us has endured, especially in the past year and a half, the world keeps moving forward, possibly faster than ever before. Perhaps, what we collectively need is to recognize this neck-breaking pace and to take a moment to pause and reflect lest we continue building on unsteady foundations.
“Interlude: Dad Was Mad” & “Mad (ft. Lil Wayne)”
In setting up “Mad” with an interlude where her father recounts his own experience integrating his high school, Solange proposes a society where anger about the condition of Black people is not only expected, but accepted. The song, featuring Lil Wayne, redirects the question of Black anger back to the listener, as she’s tired of explaining the circumstances which wrought her current condition. Post-2020, there have been increased efforts to deflect the burden of explanation from the oppressed to the oppressor. On social media, in news outlets, and in bookstores, we now see material which professes to teach the privileged about their privilege. The next step, however, is to turn what now stands as allyship to co-conspirator-ship in efforts of social justice.
“Don’t Touch My Hair”
“Don’t Touch My Hair” gives listeners an unapologetically defiant anthem vouching for the agency of Black women’s bodies through the motif of Black hair. In the five years since A Seat’s release, the CROWN Coalition and other organizations have brought greater attention to the stigmas surrounding and prejudices against Black hair in order to push legislation to prevent race-based hair discrimination. The personal is the political on “Don’t Touch My Hair,” and Solange ensures that her dedication to her hair, and her dedication to the plights of fellow Black women.
“Where Do We Go”
Solange uses her family history in “Where Do We Go” in order to paint a universal narrative of exile. The maternal side of Solange’s family was “basically run out of town,” and the song imagines this part of her family, sitting in the car, wondering what is next for them now that all that they know is gone. For much of the history of the United States, debates about immigration have permeated news cycles. However, with Solange’s telling of her own family’s story, she conjures stories of not only those who have to move across borders, but those who both have been and feel displaced within their own homes.
“Borderline (An Ode to Self-Care) (ft. Q-Tip)”
“Borderline” explores the Black community’s desire to fight for equitable status in society while also recognizing the need to protect themselves and their mental health. Popular news media, politicians, and smaller community authority figures alike have placed a burden upon the shoulders of Generation Z to remedy society’s ills. This weight, borne much of the time by the most vulnerable of populations, both inspires and threatens to suffocate the youngest generation through unreasonably high expectations and little institutional assistance. “Borderline” lets all people who feel this weight know that it is okay to say no; it is okay to recognize when it is time to take time for oneself and to prioritize one’s own well-being over a cause.
//Soleil Saint-Cyr ‘25 is a guest writer for The Darker Side.