By Ilana Kaplan
Turning lemons into lemonade is something we’re all taught from a young age: making the best out of a bad situation. It’s something Beyoncé learned from Jay-Z’s grandmother Hattie (who makes the statement on the record) and it’s something her daughter will learn as she grows up. It is this ideology that navigates Beyoncé’s latest visual album. For almost two decades, Beyoncé has lived her life in the public eye—through media scrutiny, idolization and marriage trauma (remember that suspect 2014 elevator incident). Over the years, Beyoncé has always kept her composure, stuck to a script and stood in the corner throughout personal strife. But, after the collective art piece that isLEMONADE, we see her in a different light.
Up until now, Beyoncé has publicly owned her sexuality and independence, serving as an important figurehead for empowerment through her music, but has never publicly owned her personal issues or flaws. We saw a brief glance at the possibility of infidelity on 2013’s “Jealous,” but Beyoncé has never been one to go into specifics. She doesn’t owe us this, butLEMONADEsees her opening up a chapter of enlightenment for herself and for the masses. We’ve never seen Beyoncé publicly go beyond her own politics. But the personal has become the political onLEMONADEas we see the pedestal that the public has put her on removed. She is all of us: insecure, crazy, jealous, angry, sad, sexual and empowered. Beyoncé wants us to see her as pure human: a strong woman with flaws and feelings. A simple, yet complex undertaking given her celebrity status, but the politics of family, sex, love, empowerment, infidelity and of blackness exist inLEMONADE’s roots.
There is so much multi-symbolism to deconstruct in this album, but at its core, are the stages of grief: Beyoncé’s commandments of grief, specifically. She chronicles the stages in intuition, denial, anger, apathy, accountability, reformation, forgiveness and resurrection. However, the grief that Beyoncé experiences isn’t just her own. It’s the grief that black women face when they’re not protected—Beyoncé stands in solidarity with strong black women like Serena Williams, Amandla Stenberg, Zendaya and more in theLEMONADEvisual. It’s the grief of women who face slut-shaming for expressing their sexuality however they choose. It’s the grief that Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown’s mothers (who appear on the visual album) have experienced every day since their children were brutally murdered by the police. It’s the grief Beyoncé has faced as a mother who lost her child (“Here lies the mother of my children both dead and alive”). It’s the grief Beyoncé has gone through allegedly experiencing infidelity firsthand (“If you try that shit again, you gon’ lose your wife”) and watching her father do the same thing to her mother. But the grief she puts on blast becomes a bigger message as a love letter to women.
After consuming both visual and audio components ofLEMONADE, it’s clear how necessary both of these parts are to telling Beyoncé’s story. By weaving song snippets with mini music videos and poetry from Somali-British author Warsan Shire, Beyoncé shows the importance of her roots as a Southern, African-American woman, and how important tradition and culture are through costumes, hairstyles and dancing. What’s most striking is the band of strong women standing with Beyoncé united and as themselves. The visual component shows the worn-down, unglamorous side to being a woman. The fact of the matter is: Beyoncé doesn’t need to smile for us because she is who she is.
The audio component ofLEMONADEgoes deeper through the stages of grieving. If you were expecting a pop album, you'll be deeply disappointed. Experimenting with rock, reggae, country, bluegrass, R&B and soul, Beyoncé created her own version ofANTI—her realest record to date. Opening with a James Blake ballad collaboration, “Pray You Can Catch Me,” Beyoncé waits for her world to explode in the darkness, “You can taste the dishonesty. It's all over your breath as you pass it off so carefully.” But she leaves with the last words: “If you try that shit again, you gon’ lose your wife.” In all its dark glory, the writing's on the wall for her. “What's worse, lookin' jealous or crazy? Jealous and crazy…” sings Beyoncé on “Hold Up,” interpolating Karen O while confessing to feeling the same insecurities women experience when they’re in relationships. Because women can feel however they want to feel, especially Beyoncé when she’s battling an unfaithful husband, “Sorry” is the opposite of an apology, as Beyoncé references an alleged mistress, “Becky with the good hair” and states, “Today I regret the night I put that ring on.” On perhaps his best work since the White Stripes, Jack White joins Beyoncé on the bluesy “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” The track—a fever dream of a woman scorned—shows Beyoncé screaming she’s been wronged and won’t hold back: “Who the fuck do you think I am? You ain't married to no average bitch, boy. You can watch my fat ass twist, boy. As I bounce to the next dick, boy.” While the first half ofLEMONADEfocuses on heated emotions and revenge, the record reaches a truce with “Sandcastles,” as Beyoncé poignantly reflects on pain and looks to the love she and her beau have created. During this song on the visual album, we see Beyoncé at her most intimate in bed with Jay-Z as he kisses her feet while she’s in glasses sans makeup—a return to the simplicities of love.
What isn’t lost onLEMONADEis Beyoncé’s want to stand strong on her own and freely express herself—she wants the world to know that too. On “Love Drought,” she dreamily croons, “I don't care about the lights or the beams. Spend my life in the dark for the sake of you and me.” Whatever she wants to do or say publicly, she will from now on. On “6 inch” Beyoncé reasserts this ethos as an independent woman who has worked hard for her life. “She fights for the power, keeping time. She grinds day and night.” No rumors, speculation or cheating will keep her quiet or overshadow her own personal self-worth.
While Beyoncé aims at her own marital issues, she also turns the story on her father, Mathew Knowles. It’s no secret that she severed ties with her father professionally after news emerged that he had an affair and a love child. On “Daddy Issues,” she addresses the irony and complexities of her relationship with the flawed man he is (accompanied by footage of a young Beyoncé and him on the visual album), “When trouble comes in time, men like me come around. Oh, my daddy said shoot.”
The end ofLEMONADEreveals a calm after the storm: what happens after the depression, jealousy and rage. “All Night” ties the emotional album together full-circle: Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s love is the deepest kind. They’ve been through the trenches—there will still be jealousy ("So many people that I know, they're just tryna touch ya. Kiss up and rub up and feel up”)—but the trust that’s been in question throughout the 12-track album is being repaired (“But every diamond has imperfections. But my love's too pure to watch it chip away"). And giving up is just too easy. At the end ofLEMONADE, there’s solace, reconciliation and love, which may have seemed unfathomable given the airing of dirty laundry at the beginning of the record. Divorce doesn’t look like it’s on the table anymore. What’s clear is that the bond between Jay-Z and Beyoncé is unbreakable. Or at least that’s what the album hopes. Through all of the pain and public analysis, one thing is clear: Beyoncé will no longer be sitting quietly in the corner.