Whether you’re a self-proclaimed member of the Beyhive or just another innocent onlooker, the fact that Beyonce just released a brand new album will not have escaped your attention – at least not if you’ve so much as glanced at social media in the last week.
If you’ve heard anything deeper about the release, it’s likely to be this: The central theme is her husband Jay Z’s infidelity. There’s allegedly truth in that, and make no mistakes, Queen B is full of vengeance in the first few chapters of the album. (The visual version is laid out much like a novella.) Before now, we’ve seen her Crazy in Love and then, a little later, Drunk in Love; but this is the first time we see her truly angry in love. It’s something rare and beautiful to see her show this darkly fierce side within her music; and it’s fascinating too.
If that plot line – the one where her husband cheats on her and she repays him by immortalizing his sin in verse – were the only notable feature of the album, it would still be a masterpiece. Yet, there’s so much more you need to know about Lemonade, about what’s woven between each sure-to-be hit single and why it’s culturally important.
The album features an array of pure musical legends
There’s just no denying the fact that Beyonce is a legend in her own right. When you talk to people about her and her work, everyone has a firm, unyielding opinion. She divides people so that we fall into two camps: Either people recognize her as one of the world’s great contemporary artists, or they resent the fact that she’s become so popular, given that they can’t see what all the fuss is about. Those in the latter camp will do all they can to persuade you that her fame and all that surrounds her is nothing more than well-thought-out marketing – an illusion of sorts. Still, the rest of us know the truth. Like legends before her, she has weathered the storms of the music industry, grown and changed with each release and still managed to remain relevant.
So, arguably, to work with her on a project like this one, you’d have to be someone of notability – another great of the industry. Here, Beyonce has pulled together some of music’s most creative artists. From an unexpected collaboration with Jack White and writing credits from Robert Plant to her sampling the likes of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Animal Collective, this is a highly diverse album. Forget your average pop record; Beyonce has used her industry influence to entice some spectacular artists. That in itself should be reason enough to listen to it in one sitting – from start to finish.
The visual album will be submitted for an Emmy
For those of you still under the impression that Lemonade is merely a collection of music videos and catchy tracks, perhaps this will change your mind. Since the visual album first aired on television a little more than a week ago, it is actually eligible for Emmy consideration. Unsurprisingly, the executives at HBO have decided to submit the video release. Despite the fact that the album was available for just 27 hours, it still had its initial release on TV – and that’s all the panels needs to go on. Sadly, you can no longer catch the full visual album on the channel, but there are still options. You can buy the album on iTunes, which comes complete with all the videos, or you can sign up for TIDAL (that’s Jay Z’s music streaming service) and watch it there.
It absolutely is about the experiences of black women
Aside from the undeniably real focus on the instability of her marriage, there is yet more to this album than a mere tale of a love story gone wrong. Within the visual album, she quotes Malcolm X, stating:
“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.”
Those who listen to and watch the album without acknowledging this fact may still enjoy it on a surface level, but it is by no means something that should be overlooked. Throughout the videos, she includes a selection of symbolic imagery to this effect: hoards of black woman coming together to hold hands and tell their individual stories to the camera. These women are here to be seen.
This is Beyonce making a statement about her history and heritage, about the struggles that many women like her face when it comes to being recognized by the greater community. It is her telling the world that this is still an issue today, even in a Western society that many of us perceive to be more equal than ever.
It’s a convincing and weighty sentiment. What’s more, it marks a change in Beyonce’s statements, a more political side of the songstress. This is the woman who just three years ago, in Vogue, replied to the question of whether she was a feminist with:
“I don’t know. That word can be very extreme. But I guess I am a modern-day feminist.”
“Hot Sauce” turns out to be a baseball bat
Back in January, Beyonce released the single “Formation” – the same song she performed live at the Super Bowl less than a month later. The song and performance were controversial for numerous reasons; but among all the hype, there was one lyric that stuck in all our minds: “I got hot sauce in my bag.” Wait, what? Why was Beyonce carrying hot sauce everywhere she went? Surely, she’s the kind of lady who frequents the type of restaurants where the condiments are thrown in free of charge, right? We were all a little baffled by this reference in an otherwise flawless, not to mention sensical, song.
Well, all becomes clear when you watch the second video of her album, the one that accompanies the song “Hold Up.” Clad in an outrageous yellow dress, Beyonce is seen smashing up the streets with a baseball bat. Look a little closer and you’ll see a faint inscription on the weapon: “hot sauce.”
The poetry between songs is just that – and it’s not by Beyonce
While the audio album is nothing short of brilliant, it lacks something that the visual album has to offer – poetry. In the film version, Beyonce punctuates the gap between each song with readings of strangely vivid poetry extracts. In fact, the words are the work of another rising star. Warsan Shire is a Somali–British poet who already has a cult-internet following. I’ll admit that before this, I had no idea who she was; I’d not so much as heard the name. I doubt I’m alone. Now, though, she will undoubtedly widen her audience further still, and so she should.
A stand-out line, which is likely to stick with you long after you’ve finished the album, plays with the idea of love – both family love and romantic love:
“My father’s arms around my mother’s neck, fruit too ripe to eat. I think of lovers as trees … growing to and from one another. Searching for the same light.”
Hearing Beyonce’s voice-over of these words – this striking imagery against the backdrop of her bizarre visuals – is utterly awe-inspiring.
Of course, you don’t have to know all of the above to find joy in Beyonce’s latest musical offering. It stands alone as a catchy R&B album with a few rare digressions into soul and even country too. It asks nothing more of you if you’ve nothing you’re willing to give. Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s a work of unlike any other in mainstream music; showcasing the most mature version of the star yet and allowing her to break violently into a new era of her career.