Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 23, 2024

Beyoncé’s Lemonade breaks pop conventions

By MARCIA ZIMMERMAN | April 28, 2016


ASTERIO TECSON//CC-BY-SA-2.0 Beyoncé released her follow-up to 2014’s “Beyoncé” this past Saturday with a coinciding HBO special.

Beyoncé released her latest album, Lemonade, on Saturday. Her sixth album and second visual album, Lemonade was a surprise, shrouded in hushed whispers, as no one knew its nature before release date.

The much-anticipated album was released on Tidal, Beyoncé’s husband Jay Z’s music streaming service, and on HBO. Both paid subscription services, fans had to sign up for a free trial on HBO or subscribe to Tidal in order to listen to the album and watch its visual component. Tidal jumped to number three on iTunes top 10 list of free apps. Yet some fans were annoyed at the limited release.

Lemonade is meant to be watched and listened to in order, from start to finish. Its storyline touches on many themes, including dealing with infidelity, the struggle of black women, the South, reconciliation and the transcendence of true love. The visual album features four artists and many more guest appearances, the most stunning of which was Warsan Shire, whose poetry was recited by Beyoncé throughout the album and who helped direct the album’s visual component. Beyoncé called it Lemonade as a tribute to Jay-Z’s grandmother, Hattie White.

“I had my ups and downs, but I always found the inner strength to pull myself up,” White said at her 90th birthday party in a home video. “I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”

“[Lemonade is a] conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing,” Tidal wrote on its website.

The album starts with “Pray You Catch Me,” and with the first lyrics “You can taste the dishonesty / It’s all over your breath as you pass it off so cavalier,” it is immediately clear the song is about cheating. Beyoncé presents a stripped-down version of herself with bare makeup and a simple black hoodie and dress. Beyoncé always writes about her personal issues and feelings, but the album has left many fans asking how could the arguably most powerful, beautiful woman in the world be cheated on?

Here, Warsan Shire’s poetry is introduced by a word: intuition. Beyoncé reads them aloud to images of black women in southern gothic clothing. The song starts, and she steps off the edge of a building and instead of smacking onto pavement, she dives into the water. Beyoncé acts out the words, about how the narrator does all these crazy things but still needs to know whether her husband is cheating on her, underwater.

Then comes “Hold Up,” a reggae-infused track with lyrics like “What’s worse? Looking jealous or crazy, jealous or crazy or like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately, I’d rather be crazy.” This track is catchy and upbeat, while the music video is colorful. This tone directly conflicts with the violent nature of the lyrics and Beyoncé’s actions in the video. She smashes car windows with a bat named “Hot Sauce,” which connects to the lyric in “Formation,” “I got Hot Sauce in my bag.”

In “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” an angry song with rock influences and help from Jack White, Beyoncé aggressively dances in a garage dressed in a fur coat. She warns her cheater that he isn’t married to an “average b*tch,” while widening her struggle to the struggle of black women in general, using a powerful Malcolm X quote “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman,” Malcolm X said.

Serena Williams starts off the list of famous guest appearances and features in Lemonade in the up-tempo song “Sorry.” Here, Beyoncé makes it seem as though she is leaving the cheater, talking about how she regrets putting her ring on and how she and her baby will live a good life. This is the first and only time she mentions “Becky with the good hair,” the woman that Jay-Z allegedly cheated on Beyoncé with, who is rumored to be Rachel Roy.

“6 Inch” features The Weeknd. The music video has a red tint to it, symbolizing sex appeal, danger and passion. Beyoncé indicates that she is focusing on her work rather than her love life with lyrics like, “She fights and she sweats those sleepless nights / but she don’t mind, she loves the grind.” Yet she also repeatedly croons “come back, come back.”

“Daddy Lessons,” a song reminiscent of country music, begins with another Warsan Shire poem, alluding to an abusive or unfaithful husband. The song is about her father and one-time manager Matthew Knowles, and its video shows video clips of fathers and daughters, including one of Knowles playing with Beyonce’s daughter, Blue Ivy, effectively dismantling arguments that he had not seen her. Particularly compelling lyrics include, “He told me when he’s gone, here’s what you do / when trouble comes to town, and men like me come around / oh, my daddy said shoot.”

The next song, “Love Drought,” shows Beyoncé and other women in almost sheer dresses wading through water. The tone changes significantly here. She attempts to figure out why Jay-Z cheated on her, then ultimately decides to move toward reconciliation. The most powerful image is of Beyoncé in a white dress in a seemingly one-sided tug-of-war.

“Sandcastles” is a raw ballad that begins with Beyoncé playing piano and singing while sitting on a pillow on the floor. Scenes of Beyoncé and Jay-Z acting out intimate moments appear as she sings him the lyrics. She sees that she hurt him by saying she would leave after he cheated and reiterates that she wants to stay.

“Forward” is a quick, one minute interlude, that speaks about moving forward both as a couple and in terms of racial equality. Electronic music producer James Blake is featured on this track and celebrities like Amandla Stenberg and Quvenzhané Wallis are featured in the visual elements.

In “Freedom,” Beyoncé sings a cappella before the music kicks in, then ballerina Michaela DePrince dances. This track can be seen as a statement of Beyoncé’s freedom to love, but reflects more deeply on the civil rights of minorities. Kendrick Lamar raps, “Open correctional gates in higher desert / Yeah, open our mind as we cast away oppression.”

In the mid-tempo song “All Night,” it seems that all is resolved. Beyoncé sings about wanting to rediscover the love in her marriage by making up “all night long.” Videos of couples play as she sings. She finishes with the lyrics, “Our love was stronger than your pride.”

Staying with a cheating partner is an interesting message to send, and it is unclear whether it conflicts with her traditional views on female empowerment. Regardless of its implications in this regard, Beyoncé is honest in Lemonade.

Sophomore Gabo Sosa-Ebert spoke about the revolutionary quality of Lemonade.

“[The images] vividly and exponentially push a creative visual, so whenever people hear the song they can not help but picture the visual she purposefully created. Beyoncé continues to outdo herself. If this is her new normal, I cannot wait for what she does next.”

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