It’s been two days since Beyoncé unleashed her latest visual album onto the world in the form of Lemonade.
Two days since the visual component showed her strutting down a street, armed with a baseball bat and smashing in car windows with a reckless abandon of woman scorned.
Two days since she further explored and embraced her Southern heritage, first hinted at with the “Formation” music video, employing the beautiful and striking presence of the likes of Amandla Stenberg, Ibeyi and Winnie Harlow in demonstrating the strength of ‘Black Girl Power’.
It’s been two days since Beyoncé threw down what is possibly a collection of her most personal and revealing material yet and well, we’re still feeling some kind of way about it.
When she released album number five in Beyoncé in 2013, we thought the same way; here was an artist whose public image and brand was so meticulously handled and preened, oozing sexuality and candidness (“Drunk in Love”, “Rocket”), while showing off a more private and revealing aspect of her artistry (“Blue”, “Haunted”). Here, we have the opposite end of the ‘Mrs. Carter’ spectrum. Indeed, Beyoncé has never been content with being ‘just his little wife’, but on Lemonade, the singer goes in on infidelity, betrayal, emotional trauma and reconciliation in a way that has left fans and anyone else with a passing interest in Beyoncé-the-celebrity-spectacle with their jaws on the floor.
There’s nothing on Lemonade that even comes near the glossy pop tempos of “Love on Top” or “Party” – Beyoncé is in beast mode and as she happily sings on the Yeah Yeah Yeah‘s sampled “Hold Up”, “I don’t want to lose my pride, but I’mma fuck me up a bitch…”. Regardless of how much of the album’s themes of martial discord and unrest is rooted in truth, Beyoncé is quick to establish herself as a woman not to be messed with, on record and off.
Take a look at the writing credits on this album and you’ll see just how many writers have been onboard in bringing Lemonade to fruition but what stands out, are the places Beyoncé has pushed her music to in a clear attempt to showcase another distinguishable and memorable facet of herself as songwriter, entertainer and person of public prominence. The music encompasses a variety of styles from R&B to gospel, to rock, hip hop and soul, even dabbling in a bit of murderous country on “Daddy’s Lessons”.
A well-trained pop vocal is swapped for a growling snarl on “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, where Beyoncé teams up with Jack White for one of the most aggressive songs on the record. “Who the fuck do you think I am? You ain’t married to no average bitch, boy!”, she questions before comparing herself to a fire-breathing dragon and delivering her final warning, “You know I give you life; if you try that shit again, you gon’ lose your wife.”
The female empowerment theme is one established fairly early on Lemonade and in Beyoncé’s featuring of the likes of White, James Blake, Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd throughout the record, it comes through even more obviously. The guest spots are impressive (the Blake-featured tune “Forward” needed to be longer), but they don’t do much other than support the evocative vibe Beyoncé powers through on her own. Where The Weeknd’s narration on “6 Inch” is trademark Tesfaye (celebrating the sexiness of a woman who is assertive and can get her own), the delicateness of his vocal is in stark contrast to the deeper range of Beyoncé’s, who comes in with an almost drawl, “She works for the money, from the start to the finish; she worth every dollar and she worth every minute.”
From “Love Drought” through until the penultimate album track, “All Night”, Beyoncé enters the ‘redemption’ and conciliatory end of this personal journey. If you were watching the visual component, by this point you were probably drained and wanting to see if Jay Z was still alive. It’s an obvious shift in tone; the music is less heavy, given room to breathe, Beyoncé utilises the higher, loftier end of her range and strips things back to let some gorgeous lyricism shine.
“Sandcastles” harks back to album opener, “Pray You Catch Me” (written and produced by emerging star Kevin Garrett) and calms Lemonade down. Beyoncé’s voice cracks with emotion as she details the end of a relationship (“Every promise don’t work out that way“), before “Forward” offers hope of a reunion.
“Freedom”, the Lamar-featured anthem is inserted to bring the mood back up and is one of the album’s strongest cuts. Beyoncé hooks into her gospel background in delivering a criticism of racial politics in the US and the pain and oppression African Americans have felt through years and still suffer from now. Lamar is frenetic, spitting rhymes as chaotic as the organ arrangement driving the song itself. Home footage of Jay Z’s grandmother Hattie telling family and friends as her 90th birthday, “I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to cool myself off. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade,” is inserted following the song on the visual album, a fitting reminder that this album is all about a woman’s resolve to pick herself up and survive.
When “Formation” was released, its music video struck a nerve – Beyoncé getting political? Embracing her ‘blackness’ too much? Disrespecting the American police force? Lemonade goes further in demonstrating her at her most opinionated yet. The mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown feature in the visuals for “Freedom”, holding photographs of their deceased sons, while “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is intercut with a clip of Malcolm X quoting, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person is America is the black woman.”
Beyoncé is above all things on this album, unapologetic. She’s unafraid to air dirty laundry and call both offending parties out on it. She’s unafraid of admitting her own flaws while still offering chances for hope and redemption. As it stands, this is Beyoncé’s best and most arresting personal statement to date; love or hate her, you can’t deny the power this woman has on pop culture at the moment and with this kind of material causing the amount of conversation it is, it’s fascinating to watch.
Review Score: 8.5 out of 10.
Lemonade is available on TIDAL, iTunes and Amazon now.