With ‘Lemonade,’ Beyoncé slayed the game, yet again
Beyoncé showcased her visual album Lemonade on HBO this past weekend, and it is now available on both Tidal and iTunes. This time, though, it wasn’t just the surprise of the album that had everyone reeling.
The visual album is separated in sections, starting with “Intuition” and ending with “Redemption”, showing the singer’s transitions throughout her marital rough patch in stages.
Beyoncé managed to incorporate the chilling words of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, surrealist visuals and choreography, and her forever impressive vocals to create what could only be considered a minimalist modern-day opera.
The singer has managed to cross over borders regarding both emotions and genre with this release, bearing her soul in a way only a true artist could. The subject of the album revolved around the apparent issue of fidelity within her marriage. Beyoncé spoke of the lengths she has gone to in order to keep her husband satisfied in the track “Hold Up” saying, “How did it come down to this/Going through your call list/I don’t wanna lose my pride/ but I’ma fuck me up a bitch/Know that I kept it sexy, and know I kept it fun/There’s something that I’m missing, maybe my head for one.”
Then, of her disappointment that it didn’t work with a Shire poem excerpt in “Anger” that said,
“If it’s what you truly want [...] I can wear her skin over mine. Her hair over mine. Her hands as gloves. Her teeth as confetti. Her scalp, a cap. Her sternum, my bedazzled cane. We can pose for a photograph, all three of us. Immortalized [...] you and your perfect girl.”
Dig a little deeper, however, and you see that Beyoncé is speaking on not only her personal struggle, but the struggle of the Black woman as a people. She touches on this directly during the song “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” where a sample from a Malcom X speech is played.
“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman.”
Beyoncé is speaking to the notion of Black women being a monolithic people. Unable to possess complexities, unable to feel, unable to hurt and always having to be strong. She challenges this narrative by being open about the ways that she has been hurt, and showing her transformation during the process.
There are sections in the visual album where Beyoncé seems to be portraying her mother, implying that there were also problems with infidelity in her parents’ marriage. She quotes Shire in “Intuition” saying, “You remind me of my father, a magician … able to exist in two places at once. In the tradition of men in my blood, you come home at 3 a.m. and lie to me. What are you hiding?”
Even though Matthew Knowles, Beyoncé’s father and former manager, defensively denied the accusations of abuse and cheating in an Elle interview, this poem sample adds to her thoughts on the pattern of hurt that Black women have been forced to follow.
“Reformation” serves as the hinge of the album, showing the switch of the negative feelings of the situation to positive, leading to the end where she is forgiving her husband and loving him along with her daughter.
Two tracks later in the song “Hope,” Beyoncé uses Shire’s words to touch on the importance of family and how her daughter, Blue Ivy, has undoubtedly aided in her healing.
“That night in a dream, the first girl emerges from a slit in my stomach. The scar heals into a smile. The man I love pulls the stitches out with his fingernails. We leave black sutures curling on the side of the bath. I wake as the second girl crawls headfirst up my throat, a flower blossoming out of the hole in my face.”
Beyoncé also uses her healing to show the rise of the Black woman. To aid in her point, she included other Black, female celebrities, who at one time or another have been demonized for being who they are, such as actor and activist Amandla Stenberg, pro-tennis player Serena Williams, and young Oscar winning Quvenzhane Wallis.
The lineage of Black women and their need to heal is referenced throughout the album. In the beginning of the song “Forgiveness,” she says:
“If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious. 1,000 girls raise their arms. Do you remember being born? Are you thankful for the hips that cracked? The deep velvet of your mother and her mother and her mother? There is a curse that will be broken.”
She again uses Shire’s words to talk about her family, saying, “Grandmother, the alchemist, you spun gold out of this hard life, conjured beauty from the things left behind. Found healing where it did not live. Discovered the antidote in your own kit. Broke the curse with your own two hands. You passed these instructions down to your daughter who then passed it down to her daughter.”
In the visuals, clips of her own grandmother was shown giving a speech, speaking about how she used the lemons she was given in life to make lemonade.
Sticking to the aforementioned comparison of her plight to the overall plight of Black women, Beyoncé speaks on the issue of the attacks on the Black family. Beyoncé has mothers and daughters of Black men who were murdered all holding up portraits of their fallen family member, including the mother of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Oscar Grant, who were all victims of police brutality.
The women are then all gathered in a room with Beyoncé singing, showing a sort of unity within the community.
The last song before “Formation” is “Redemption,” where Beyoncé explains the meaning behind her album title using Shire’s words.
“I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade. My grandma said ‘Nothing real can be threatened.’ True love brought salvation back into me. With every tear came redemption and my torturers became my remedy. So we’re gonna heal. We’re gonna start again.”
Beyoncé put out a call to Black women collectively. Lemonade is her letting us know that regardless of the obstacles placed in our way, it is okay to be human, and that we absolutely have to use the negativity in our lives to produce something that is representative of the strong and beautiful people that we are.
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