“When I’m not feeling my best I ask myself, ‘What are you gonna do about it?’ I use the negativity to fuel the transformation into a better me.” -Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
“We have to teach our boys the rules of equality and respect, so that as they grow up gender equality becomes a natural way of life. And we have to teach our girls that they can reach as high as humanly possible.” -Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
In 2014 a video of an altercation between Sean “Jay-Z” Carter and his sister in law Solange Knowles was in the headlines. The video is without sound but there is clearly a heated verbal exchange which results in Solange physically attacking her sister’s husband. The whole time this is going on, Beyoncé watches what happens, not stopping her sister from assaulting her husband. Speculations sprouted like weeds and most signs seemed to indicate that the exchange had happened because Jay-Z had cheated on his wife.
When put in this situation, most celebrities would make a statement, a social media post, a television interview appearance, or sit in silence and hope that people would eventually forget.
Beyoncé made an album.
That album is 2016’s Lemonade. It would be natural for many people to take the weight of such an unfortunate situation and paint themselves as a helpless victim, complain or wallow in their own sorrows, say “woe is me” and “that man is evil”, but Beyoncé does something no lesser artist, or lesser person, could do. She forgives.
Lemonade and its accompanying visual album explore the whole spectrum of human emotion and make such a personal story into a grander cultural narrative, firmly stating that we are not the curses we inherit. An album which flows flawlessly from genre to genre, honoring Beyoncé’s personal history and the history of her music and culture sonically as well as thematically, Lemonade is nothing short of a triumph, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.
When preparing for this month’s plan I reached out to a friend to whom this album is much more important than it is to me. My friend, Seth Schafer, took on the task and wrote about this remarkable piece of music from his perspective. Seth and I are very different people, and this can be reflected in our musical tastes. That being said, our shared love for this album is a testament to its power, universality, and to the incredible power of Queen Bey herself. Here’s Seth Schafer on Lemonade.
When Ben asked me to write about Beyonce’s Lemonade, and I was immediately wondering how I was going to boil it down into a length anyone would be willing to read. This album is nothing short of powerful. It is so sonically diverse yet thematically consistent. One of my favorite albums of all time, one of the best albums of all time.
This album comes from a place of hurt. Opening with “You can taste the dishonesty / It’s all over your breath as you pass it off so cavalier”, the tone is set: Beyoncé is dealing with Jay Z’s rumored infidelity. This pain is felt throughout the album, but this album is more than a sad story about mending a relationship. It’s so easy to focus on who “Becky with the good hair” is, but this album is ultimately about the life of a Black woman.
When speaking on this album, its thematic points are really driven home when tied to the 65-minute visual album. Go stream it, watch it, pirate it if you have to. I cannot recommend it enough. This is where it goes from an amazing album to a masterpiece. This is where the themes of overcoming shine through. Malcolm X plays early on in the visual saying “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”.
This pain, anger, fear, has turned into reclamation and celebration throughout the album. On one of my personal favorite moments, Don’t Hurt Yourself, Beyoncé isn’t afraid to be the “angry Black woman” trope. She knows that now is the time to express the anger she feels, saying “You know I give you life, if you try this sh*t again, you gon’ lose your wife”.
Then there’s “6 Inch“, a working woman’s empowerment anthem on the surface with an underlying story of using work to distract from issues at hand. Ultimately showing vulnerability at in the track’s final moments. The simple plea “come back” is repeated with a heartbreaking crack in Beyoncé’s normally strong voice. This leads into the endearing country song “Daddy Lessons”, reflecting on her roots and lessons from her father. We also have airy pleas on “Love Drought” and a powerful, hopeful ballad on “Sandcastles.” But through these lows, there is still resilience as shown in “Hold Up”, “Sorry”, and “Formation.”
The thesis of the album, though, takes form as “Forward” with James Blake and “Freedom” with Kendrick Lamar. Overlayed on the visual album with scenes of the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. As the song transitions to Freedom, Beyoncé alludes these women, herself, and Black women as forces of nature and proclaiming “I break chains all by myself / won’t let my freedom rot in hell / Hey! I’ma keep running ‘cuz a winner don’t quit on themselves”. This empowerment anthem is wrapped up with Jay-Z’s grandmother speaking at her birthday, “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”.
At face value, this is an amazing collection of songs. If you want extremely enjoyable music to listen to, I cannot recommend this enough. And if you want an impactful and culturally important commentary, I still cannot recommend this enough (Also, go watch the damn visual album. You won’t regret it). As a white guy, this album is not for me. But we can all appreciate and enjoy the beauty of it. Like Adele said during her Album of the Year acceptance at the 2016 Grammys, dedicating it to Beyoncé who did not win, “The Lemonade album was so monumental. The way you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my Black friends feel, is empowering”.
There is so much left to be said about this album, especially by people who can put it more eloquently than myself. But regardless of who you are, there are lessons to be learned from this album. These 46 minutes can turn lemons to lemonade.
A huge thanks to Seth for writing the bulk of today’s blog, a huge thanks to you for reading this, and a huge thanks to Beyoncé for doing what she does.
Now go on, listen to the album already!
Only 1 more day oh boy oh boy what could it be?!