Saturday night, April 23 at 9pm EST, Beyoncé reminded the world why she is music’s preeminent star amongst stars. She premiered Lemonade, her innovative second visual album, which might be her most personal body of work to date. Only an artist of Queen Bey’s stature can receive the attention she received on Saturday night, and only days after the loss of musical giant, Prince. Every major social media platform was trending about pop music’s biggest artist, and then Beyoncé dropped her surprise album. The lyrics seem too personal, the emotion too real; I mean, I know she’s acted in a few films and is a trained vocalist but DAMN! Is hip-hop’s first couple on the rocks? We all saw the elevator fight video and heard the whispers of trouble in paradise for the Carters, but we never thought it would be addressed like this! Whether expressing art or real life, we all did exactly what the Queen and her team wanted us to do. We watched this masterful visual album and made it the topic of discussion. Lemonade is a rollercoaster ride of heartbreak, betrayal, and redemption. The project comes, as a statement that all that glitters isn’t gold. Even a star of her status has real life problems.
This isn’t your typical Beyoncé album, with pop radio hits, dance anthems, and a ballad here and there. This isn’t Sasha Fierce, Yonce, or any other alter ego she’s created; this is just a black woman pissed off, letting it be known somebody is going to pay. Finally, Beyoncé is letting us know she has chinks in her glittery armor. After hearing the first four tracks, one thing is evident; Bey isn’t “Drunk in Love” anymore. All that is left is heartache, betrayal, and resentment, and a grocery list of collaborators ranging from James Blake and Jack White, to The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar. As you listen to each track, Shawn Corey Carter and his sidepiece “Becky with the good hair” are being dragged through the mud and then some. On “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” rock God Jack White combines his scathing guitar riffs with Bey’s vocals as she delivers some of her most scolding lyrics ever. “Who the fuck do you think I is?! You ain’t married to no average bitch, boy!” she screams. I mean, she’s always had songs that made us wonder if she was talking about Hov, but the anger in her tone is hard to fake.
This album also boasts some of her best-recorded vocal work to date. She experiments with new sounds, as evident on the reggae-influenced “Hold Up,” enlisting highly sought after DJ/producer Diplo. The genre hopping doesn’t stop there. On “Daddy Lessons” she blends country folk with New Orleans bounce, paying homage to her Creole and Texan roots. She sings “My daddy said shoot,” if she meets a man like him, possibly referencing that she married a man just like her father, who is guilty of his own public infidelities. “Love Drought” documents a conversation between her and her lover trying to make sense of where they went wrong, while she’s also owning up to her own flaws. “Ten times outta nine, I’m in my feelings, but nine times out of ten I’m only human.”
She finally hits her breaking point on “Sand Castles,” giving an emotional performance, hitting her breaking point, comparing her life and marriage to a sand castle being tested by ocean waves. On “Formation” and “Freedom” she goes into full militant mode, enlisting Mr. Black Power himself Kendrick Lamar on the latter to deliver a strong sonic message of rage and independence. She enlisted the mothers of Mike Brown, Treyvon Martin and Eric Garner to give a voice to the mothers who lost their sons to police brutality. The strong visuals and poems by Warsan Shire are the backbone of the entire project, driving home the importance of black pride, feminism, coming-of-age and reflection.
Lemonade is Beyoncé’s best work. The stunning visual album finds her exploring sounds she’s never tried, all while sticking to her roots and never neglecting her core fan base. We’ve watched Beyoncé grow up before our eyes and I don’t think we’ve ever seen such raw emotion from her. Some would say she seemed robotic, fake, non-authentic, or too perfect. The instant Lemonade‘s opening visuals appeared on the screen, it became evident she was about to evolve in front of our eyes. This is the emancipation of a pop icon like we have never seen before. She shook the young teeny bopper label years ago of course, but on Lemonade she tapped into Aretha, Lauryn, MJB, and Nina Simone levels of becoming a voice to women. After making nearly an entire album about rage, infidelity, and redemption, she shares the beautiful love ballad “All Night.” There is a yin and yang to this album. Many may think it’s about breaking up or being a victim but it’s neither. It’s about strength and values. Giving the message that it takes more strength to forgive than hold on to past issues, she sings “nothing real can be threatened,” choosing love over hate. Lemonade also lets us know Bey values family and spirituality more than anything, from the snippets of Jay Z’s grandmother Hattie White giving her “turning lemons into lemonade” poem. No matter the obstacle she will fight for love and her marriage. Whether she likes it or not, she is the voice of many women and she’s pulling the curtain back to show us even the baddest bitch can be hurt, but it’s what you do after that hurt that defines you. Life imitating art or not, after Lemonade, Beyoncé held the world in the palm of her hand once again as the biggest pop star on the planet and maybe that’s why she made sure the last lyrics we heard on the album were: “you know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation.”