“Well Jay Z has found his 100th problem” I read this tweet and pretty much lay on the floor dying from laughter for a good few minutes. It is the perfect tweet to describe Beyonce’s epic thrill, and visual album that dropped over the weekend, which puts Jay on blast about his infidelity. I think we all agree its Jay… K. Its much more than just about Jay Z and the alleged infidelity, it so much more and Bey does a masterful work of bridging her pains together in Lemonade. I would imagine this is how the scene plays out in Beyonce’s head, when she decided to clap back having had enough of the bullshit.
‘You’re not ready. I’m not ready.’
Two years later…
‘You’re not ready. But here’s Drunk in Love & Co. Go be Flawless.’
One year later…
Double oak doors swing open and Beyonce ushers us in. ‘You ready?’
I would imagine this is how it unfolds as she sits back watching the world lose its collective shit over her marriage and every move she and her husband make, and have made, since that explosive night in the elevator. The world talks a lot of crap about someone it hardly knows, but thinks its entitled to it. A generation of the entitled. I woke up too early to make my 9am flight to Marrakech, on the cab ride to the airport I was catching up with twitter and the world was freaking all kinds of out. I mean Bey can we talk? Let’s talk. You have fans in London too so you gotta time these things when we are not deep in sleep slumbering and sleep walking. As I listened to it the plane started to taxi down the runway, and I almost wanted to tell the air hostess to tell the pilot to wait whilst I finished downloading the album.
Lemonade. Its a revelation and a celebration, a conversation and a declaration of who she is, and always will be. Human. A woman. A Black woman. She feels and breathes. Its pain and fury and anger and sorrow and forgiveness. And above all else, its Love. Uncompromising and unconditional with all its complications. I would imagine Bey to be a good hostess, so she’ll serve home cooked food, Southern, and really good wine before going in.
She is a story teller, her life plays out in the lyrics of her songs- a cheating husband, broken friendships, daddy issues, cultural identity, feminism… but this is more than an album, its a story, a one hour long movie in song and poetry, about marital strife, empowerment, injustice, history, culture, remembering the dead, and celebrating life. It is a window into the soul of a woman whose life has always been a closed book. This wound is open and fresh, and here she is taking us through the stages of her healing. Her marriage, which to some has been the perfect union of power and intrigue, is one of the primary sources of inspiration for Lemonade, for the most part a story of a woman much loved by the world, but is at pains to gain the love of the one she much loves.
The other is the truth of being a black woman in a world that expects too much of us but constantly holds us down. The pains of having to dampen our spirits, thoughts, words, ideas to fit into a world we are merely allowed to inhibit. It is the pain of black women who dare not dream. Lemonade is a battle cry to create a world for our future generations so that their spirits will not be dampened, their identities need not be compromised, their truths not be diluted. That they would dare to dream. And do. And be. In their own truths, and never apologising for it. Freedom! Freedom!!
Intuition. Denial. Anger. Apathy. Emptiness. Accountability. Reformation. Resurrection. Hope. Redemption. These emotions are framed by the beautiful words of Warsan Shire the 27 year old Somali poet whose work, if you are not familiar with, you need to get familiar with. The words are from her poems- For Women Who Are Difficult To Love, The Unbearable Weight of Staying, amongst others. Though it’s been slightly altered for this project, it never loses its power. She is a brilliant poet, who happens to have gone to my Uni (twirls of pride). I digress, her words help Beyonce tell her story, exploring layers of emotions, what it means to be a black woman in love, our bodies, that bittersweet reality of love. About family and infidelity, forgiveness and strength. The words help transcend this beyond the banal lyrics that often colour songs of infidelity from artists, hence at the heart of it, this is not just about a man fucking another woman behind his wife’s back, it is more about the systemic fucking over of black women by society at large. Which is why that line “Becky with the good hair” from Sorry, is more than just throwing shade at whomever Jay Z was doing the nasty with, it delves deeper into the stereotype of black women and that stigma of “good hair” and of never being good enough no matter how great we are.
‘Are you cheating on me?’ The shots are fired in Hold Up a reggae infused song that sets the stage for the journey. In Sorry, with a cameo from Serena Williams all twerking and sensual, she goes deep in to Jay Z-
Me and my ladies sip my D’USSE cup
I don’t give a fuck, chucking my deuces up
Suck on my balls, pause, I had enough
I ain’t thinking ’bout you
D’USSE is his preferred brand of cognac. Man! Who hasn’t done this with her girls in the club after a fight with your significant other.
For a long time after that elevator fight all parties involved more or less ignored the situation, but the public never forgot about it. Beyonce addresses the public in Lemonade and then some. This is a far, far cry from Jumping Jumping in the club or the romanticism of Halo, hey its as far away from Drunk In Love n’em as it possibly could be, and that was a phenomenal body of work. Lemonade is a masterpiece. A damnation, an in your face fuck you, middle finger high up in the air fuck off. She alludes to regretting the night she put her ring on in Sorry, but we see a footage of her wedding day, happier times in All Night alongside that of her mother’s Tina Knowles Lawson to Richard Lawson. Forgiveness and family. With the power of imagery she references her parent’s now broken marriage alongside hers, to the man whom her father warned her against. A man like him. Like her mother, Beyonce has gone through her struggles and come out on the other side. The men in her blood have let her down and she has had to look and learn from the women before her, to be a better woman for the women coming after her. It is these women with whom she surrounds herself that have given her the place to be free, and be true. Hence Lemonade is not merely an album about cheating husbands and lying fathers, its about the strength and bond of womanhood. Black womanhood.
Musically, this is a superior exploration of sound, from rock infused hip hop, Don’t Hurt Yourself featuring Jack White, country chords of Daddy Lessons that quickly follows the high blues of 6 Inch featuring The Weekend, Beyonce is at her most supreme self yet. Her voice is seamless, emotional and up lifting, she is vulnerable and open, placing her foibles out there for all to see. And it is more beautiful than ever before. Freedom preceded by Forward are the two most most poignant works on the project and happen to be my favourite, with cameos from the mothers of slain Black men- Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin lest we forget. Forward has the most raw and emotional scene where a high priestess blesses an empty dinner table, honouring the dead? Only the dead are our children, young black men and women killed by the system meant to protect them. Where are all the children?
Visually, its stunning; from the first image to the last; There is a scene in Freedom that reminds me of a place I visited in Trinidad, Cuba recently; slaves were given the space to sing and dance and make merry in an effort to divert them from starting a revolution. The opening sequence where Bey stands dresses in white singing, is achingly similar but only here the lyrics are different, I would imagine, here she is calling for Freedom, telling us to never stop fighting because “a winner don’t quit on themselves” it might be dark now but the light is just within reach if we only find the strength to keep going. In Love Drought and several other songs she references Oshun in her imagery, the Orisha of love, womanhood, fertility, fresh water, (I had to speak with my mom and grand aunt about this so my interpretation could be hazy.) Oshun is an important Orisha especially for women who have gone through hurt and pain, just like she had. She is the patron saint, in this instance, goddess of broken hearted women whose revenge when meted out on the deserving is a war of its own. She is tempestuous as water whose anger cannot be quantified. Oshun has been the wife of many gods- Shango, Orunmila, Ogun… but was never able to find one to love her like she craved to be. Her favourite colour is yellow… go figure in Hold Up and that water bursting scene. In Sorry the reference to Yoruba body painting is clear as day as seen on her dancers and Bey herself. There references are not just cool things to have in a video it is Beyonce telling else she knows her roots and saluting her beginnings. Formation sees black women in the house not as house slaves but as free women holding court. She wrecks this rose tinted world of perfection, sears through the messiness in the middle, and puts it back together in the end. Her world. In Hold Up, the bat is “hot sauce”, she looks into a surveillance camera all nice and sweet before smashing it up, an indictment on the world that dared hold her responsible for whatever imperfections she has. She in turn calls the world out with these words from “God is God. I Am Not.” from Don’t Hurt Yourself. She is not perfect, far from it, another lesson from Lemonade; life happens and has no respect or regard for anyone when it does. Net worth regardless.
We work our way from Anger to Redemption, in our feelings with Bey, this is her journey, her moment in the sun after the tumult of rain and thunder on her house. Lemonade is charged with anger and pain, love and hurt, and its these emotions that elevate both the sound and the visual, and for a long time it stays with us. It is the liberty to be mad and sad and angry and want to smash shit up after losing ourselves in a love that breaks our hearts, but there comes a time to move on, to believe in yourself, let the tears fall away and burn in flame. Freedom.
She finds that way to let love in, and whether we are ready or not, she kicks us out, locks the doors, and they heal away from the prying eyes of the world.