On Saturday, April 23, 2016, Beyonce premiered Lemonade. With a HBO special followed by the album release. As a member of the BeyHive I was excited and anxious. The video for her single Formation set a tone for this album that was more “black”, for lack of a better word, than her previous work. I also had questions that I hoped would be resolved; Why is the album called lemonade? Where does Formation fit into this album? Formation was about black women empowerment and returning to her southern roots; is this the theme for the entire album, for her career moving forward? I had hoped that this visual album would have a clear theme was a bit less disjointed than Beyonce, her previous visual album. My expectations were low, but I was excited as I sat down to view. And I WAS NOT READY.
The visual album opens with “Pray You Catch Me”, a somber ballad accompanied with an understated Beyoncé in fields, and on a stage. A word appears “intuition”, followed by a poem about what it’s like to be a woman who suspects her man is cheating. At the end of the video Beyoncé jumps off a building. This song was a statement on the mania, paranoia, craziness and ultimately hopelessness that is felt to love someone who has been cheated on. “In the tradition of men in my blood, you come home at 3 AM and lie to me.” This is way out in left field compared to what I expected. I, honestly, expected “Formation” to be the opener.
Beyonce jumps off the building into a room filled with water and the word “Denial” and another poem. This one about the self-doubt, self-pity, self-blame and shame one feels when they may have been cheated on. (She SLAYS this scene by the way- but I’m trying to be intellectual and thoughtful right now). The building opens and the water pours out to begin “Hold up”, a more upbeat, Caribbean jam about what it’s like “holding down” someone who doesn’t treat you the way you deserve. She walks through what appears to be Cuba smashing cars and blowing things up in Angela Bassett “Waiting to Exhale” fashion. That bra wasn’t made for that yellow dress but this was a nice follow up to the previous song and the brevity was needed to break a very severe, and intense 10 minutes.
“Anger” the theme for “Don’t Hurt Yourself” featuring Jack White opens with another poem, this one about the desire one feels to become the woman that you are being cheated on with... by dismembering her and literally wearing her skin. Beyonce, in fur, an ankh, and cornrows takes her first swing at a rock and I have mixed feelings about it. She’s doing this weird like rap-singing thing. I’m not sure I like it. She cuts to a sound bite from a Malcolm X speech about how the black woman is the least protected and respected group of women in the world and a quote pops out at me “Love God Herself”. Although I personally don’t like the song, the imagery, the lyrics, and the overall theme of the song fits into the visual album so far.
“So what are you going to say at my funeral now that you’ve killed me?”- “Apathy”, black girls in tribal paint sit on a school bus dancing interpretively to the poem. “Ashes to ashes, dust to side chicks”. “Sorry” is the most marketable song of the album so far. Serena Williams accompanies Beyoncé in this video and they spread Black Girl Magic, while not thinking about you. I hereby declare this song the song of the summer. If any man gets on my nerves this summer, he will get told to “call Becky with the ‘good hair’.”
“Emptiness”, this poem is about the pain of a miscarriage and a woman self-medicating her pain with sex. “6 Inch” featuring The Weeknd is a song about clubbing and getting money. This is the low-brow moment of the whole album. This is clearly meant to be the single. The imagery of the video is in line with the theme, but is simplistic. We get it. Red lights equal sex. She’s being overly sexual cause she’s empty and hurting. Cool; kind of a basic point in the story, but ok. Moving along. They can’t all be winners.
“Accountability”, a poem about a little girl wanting to be her mother; a beautiful woman with a strong spirit. A young black man talks about what it’s like being from the hood and having hope for his children. The poem continues. The little girl can see the hurt and disappointment in her mother’s eyes. She is still beautiful but is broken. At this point, it’s pretty clear to me that Beyoncé doesn’t seem to be talking about Jay Z cheating. This album is about her father cheating on her mother and her unresolved feelings on the topic. “Daddy Lessons” is an undeniably country song dedicated to her father. Videos of Matthew Knowles with Beyoncé and with Blue Ivy are the most adorable things this video.
A parking garage, a football stadium, Beyoncé is crying on midfield. “He bathes me until I forget their names and faces.” “Reformation”, the theme of “Love Drought” is the trouble one has to move on from being cheated on. The distrust that one feels with future partners, and the feeling as though one is unworthy of love. This video is beautiful and somber and light. “If we’re going to heal, let us be glorious”. “Sand Castles” continues the theme of reformation. Beyoncé sits at a keyboard, sings, and cuddles with Jay-Z. I didn’t come here to feel Beyoncé. Why are you making me feel things?
“Resurrection” an older black woman speaks about leading children into the future with love and about calling on God. Another poem, “You are terrifying, and strange, and beautiful”. This part of the visual album features the mother of victims of homicide by the police. The children and grandchildren of those affected by violence against black men and ends with a native black woman shaking a tambourine around tables and a baby all alone on a bed with no parents around. “Forward ft James Blake” is a short song that perfectly accompanies the strong and emotional imagery of this portion of the film.
A poem about the pain and beauty of giving birth, of watching your creations grow. “Hope”. “Freedom” featuring Kendrick Lamar is a song about letting go and never giving up. With lyrics like “Tryna rain, tryna rain on the thunder, Tell the storm I'm new” and “I'ma wade, I'ma wave through the waters, Tell the tide, ‘Don't move’”, this track seems to signify a sharp contrast to “Love Drought” and a shift from reforming oneself to feeling free.
A recipe for Lemonade is spoken. “Grandmother, the alchemist, you spun gold from this hard life.” A video of Beyoncé’s grandmother at her 90th birthday;
“I’ve had my ups and downs but I’ve always found the strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade”. The album title is a tribute to her grandmother. “My grandmother said that ‘nothing true can be threatened’”. A poem about healing after being hurt follows. “All Night” ends the visual album with a tribute to love featuring couples and families of all kinds showing their love for each other and being affectionate.
All in all, this visual album exceeded all of my expectations exponentially. It is a wonderfully and intricately woven story about a woman being hurt and a family learning to heal. It is about making peace and making love. It is a celebration of the talent, beauty, and magic of Black women of different shapes, sizes, skin tones, and hair textures. It is a statement to believers of the black superwoman stereotype that black women can be vulnerable while maintaining our strength. It is political. It is personal. It is everything. This album was a statement that is absolutely unexpected but very necessary. This was a level of depth and seriousness that is uncharacteristic for Beyoncé, but I am hoping that this will be a theme for all future albums. Even if Beyoncé is not your taste musically- the imagery of the album is undeniably powerful and thought provoking and I encourage you to watch and judge for yourself.