Critical Voices: Beyonce, Lemonade

April 29, 2016


Last Saturday night Beyoncé reaffirmed her dominance over the R&B/pop music scene and dropped her sixth solo album, Lemonade, alongside her hour long HBO special of the same name. True to form, there was very little marketing attached to the project. Beyoncé has reached a point in her career where she only has to name a time and a place and the public will come running. The album itself is her best work to date. Intensely personal, Lemonade provides a more detailed picture of Knowles than she has ever revealed to the public.

Beyoncé has always had a vice grip on her public persona, carefully revealing bits and pieces of her personal life through carefully controlled outlets. In 2013 she paired up with HBO for Beyonce: Life Is But a Dream, providing a glimpse into her private life, though Lemonade takes this to another level. It is not clear whether or not the infidelity referenced by the album is about Jay-Z, but what is clear is that Beyonce has put more of herself into Lemonade than into any of her previous works. It was always evident that she had the singing and performance ability to be a megastar, but Lemonade resonates more easily because it feels honest.

The album features an eclectic mix of genres like rock, country, and R&B with each song serving the greater narrative of healing and repairing a broken relationship. The beginning of the album features a hurt and angry Beyoncé coming to terms with her situation. In the reggae flavored “Hold Up” she sings with cool anger, “Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you,” a reference to the more emotional “Maps” by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Throughout the track, Beyoncé pretty clearly references Jay-Z singing, “Let’s imagine for a moment that you never made a name for yourself/Or mastered wealth, they had you labeled as a king/Never made it out the cage, still out there movin’ in them streets.” She even goes as far as sampling “Countdown,” her own song dedicated to her marital bliss.

This anger only grows in the next track, the aggressive “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” As Jack White lends his rock credentials to the song, she lets her ire fly with lines like “Who the f–k do you think I is boy?/You ain’t married to no average b—h boy.” The song packs feelings of anger and betrayal into an intense four minutes. Her message is pretty clear when she declares “You know I give you life/If you try this s–t again/You gon lose your wife” at the end of the track.

As the album progresses, so do her emotions. “Sandcastles,” the most emotionally resonant song on the album, shows all of the anger has washed away and Beyonce figures out how to move forward. Although her impressive vocals mix well with every style on the album, the simple piano backed ballad is where her impassioned singing shines the most.

The last three songs on the album offer a vision of hope and empowerment for the future. “Freedom” and “Formation” are all about black empowerment and agency. In “Freedom” she belts, “I break chains all by myself/Won’t let my freedom rot in hell/I’ma keep running/Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.” This, along with a feature from Kendrick Lamar and other allusions to breaking the chains of slavery, make “Freedom” a powerful anthem. Although “Formation” is the last track on Lemonade, “All Night” feels like the true closer to the album. Its calming, soulful sound offers redemption and reconciliation for the earlier strife.

In an attempt to achieve mass appeal, Beyoncé has always danced around her blackness. The reason the internet is abuzz with think pieces on Lemonade is because Beyoncé went all in on this album. She committed her singing and performance abilities to sharing a piece of herself with the world, in particular the piece that is black woman. Each track is laced with cultural references to the black community. These references are only enforced by her HBO special, as she uses sound bites of Malcolm X, and every extra, save for those at the very end, is a black woman. In a cultural landscape where one as talented as Beyoncé felt the need to glaze over such a large facet of her identity, it is a breath of fresh air to see her let go and proclaim her whole self. Lemonade is a dazzling combination of talent and truth and its impact will be felt for years to come.

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