Beyonce’s newest album emerged shrouded in mystery. Fans had nothing to go off of other than an HBO promo and the promise seen in the “Formation” music video and announced tour. Nobody knew what to expect from “Lemonade,” but they certainly did not anticipate the most revolutionary artistic performance given by Beyonce to date. “Formation” was just a glimpse of a much bigger picture presented in “Lemonade.”
This visual album dropped on HBO April 23 at 9 p.m. and shortly after, the video as well as the individual tracks were available on Tidal. In this hour-long, one-night special, Beyonce performs the songs in her album as a short film. The film tells the story of a woman in love who was cheated on by her spouse. She goes through 11 stages, “Intuition,” “Denial,” “Anger,” “Apathy,” “Emptiness,” “Accountability,” “Reformation,” “Forgiveness,” “Resurrection,” “Hope,” and “Redemption.” Of course, the topic of choice has sparked some rumors that Jay-Z has been cheating on Beyonce, but I believe that there is so much going for this album, that Beyonce and Jay’s personal lives are the least interesting part to consider.
The music in this video beautifully ties together poetry written by Somali-British writer Warsan Shire and performance by Beyonce. The poetry explores topics concerning heartbreak, family and intimacy. Shire, a poet with a devout following on Tumblr and Twitter, is best known for writing about her experiences immigrating to Europe from Africa, as well as with sensuality, pain and growth. Her first book of poetry was titled “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth.”
Some of the other features on the album were by Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd and James Blake. In what I love to describe as the “headbangiest” song of the album, Jack White accompanies Beyonce on vocals in addition to having helped write and produce the track. The song “Don’t Hurt Yourself” definitely has a Jack White feel and I believe this is the best rock performance by Beyonce thus far. It has the feel of old school female rockers like Big Mama Thornton in the 50s and Janis Joplin in the 60s.
Great music aside, “Lemonade” is also visually stunning. Some of the best work was done in chapter two, “Denial.” In this chapter, Beyonce recounts trying to change herself as a response to her spouse’s actions. Warsan writes: “I tried to change, close my mouth more, tried to be softer, prettier, less awake.” Here, Beyonce floats in the interior of a mansion bedroom that is filled with water. Each shot is crafted beautifully as we see her writhe and pose in the water. It successfully portrays her struggle with the thought that her love could be unfaithful. She eventually surrenders to the current and swims out of the mansion, seemingly representing her need to know if her love is cheating. This brings viewers into the second song “Hold Up,” where Bey expresses her disapproval of her lover’s actions by wreaking havoc on a city block with a baseball bat named “Hot Sauce.” (She did warn us—She has Hot Sauce in her bag, swag.)
“Lemonade,” on top of featuring the work of the wildly talented Warsan Shire, featured other talented and recognizable black women including cameo appearances by Serena Williams, Zendaya and Amandla Stenberg. Williams, of course, has reigned as a tennis champ for years. Zendaya and Amandla Stenberg are young faces in the industry. Zendaya is a known actor, singer and model, serving as the newest face of CoverGirl starting this year. Amandla Stenberg played Rue in “The Hunger Games” and later gained popularity as an activist after creating the video “Don’t Cash Crop On My Cornrows,” where she and a classmate tackled cultural appropriation. The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner were also included as a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement. Beyonce has always been known for empowering women of color through her music. Her band, The Sugar Mamas, is a culturally diverse all-female group of vocalists and instrumentalists the she started years ago after noticing the lack of female representation as instrumentalists. These are all women who have and will go on to inspire people, especially other black women, across the world. Including them in her career has inspired others not to be intimidated by underrepresentation.
Though people knew not what to anticipate in “Lemonade,” no one walked away from this visual album disappointed. Beyonce capitalized on her hard-earned respect in the industry to take a risk, and the result was an edgy, empowering and well crafted piece of art. I highly recommend that everyone watches “Lemonade.”Every word, costume, set, and cameo had a meaning– one of the most important being the significance of representing black females.
“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” These words, spoken by Malcolm X, were sampled in “Lemonade.” Artists like Beyonce and the commanding women shown in her album are taking steps to remedy this sad truth, and by representing black women in “Lemonade” with such power and beauty, Beyonce has encouraged society to be more accepting of diversity and has inspired other young women to pursue greatness.