By: Abbie Kilgore
I watched Lemonade five times before I had the slightest idea of what to say about it. Last Saturday, the 23 of April, Beyoncé released the hour-long music video that strung together the twelve songs on her new album in a music event that is in a category of its own. It is detailed and thought-provoking, as well as vulnerable and explicit. Lemonade takes you through several different phases of emotion, rooted in her reaction to the infidelity in her marriage. The range of feelings Beyoncé portrays in the video is vast. From disbelief to disappointment, to anger then apathy, and finally forgiveness – she shows all of these feelings vividly.
I wasn’t sure about my thoughts – and I still go back and forth – but if Beyoncé wanted to tell a story of redemption, I believed it when I saw her name in the credits: “Executive Producer: Beyoncé Knowles Carter.” Jay Z’s actual name is Shawn Carter, and his wife still wears his name.
The first song, Pray You Catch Me, immediately calls Jay Z out. You’re initiated into support of Beyoncé as she pleads for truth. Singing, “My lonely ear pressed against the walls of your world, pray to catch you whispering…pray you catch me listening,” suspicion is planted and watered. Intermittently, Beyoncé recites Warsan Shire’s poetry, which bridges the songs together uniquely and specifically.
I tried to make a home out of you. I tried to be softer, prettier, less awake.
I whipped my own back and asked you for dominion at your feet. I grew thickened skin on my feet.
I bathed in bleach…but still inside me, coiled deep was the need to know. Are you cheating on me?
Denial is one of the initial thoughts. Denial says that if you simply act as if nothing is out of the ordinary, and dull your mind enough, then maybe you won’t feel the pain. But, “still inside…coiled deep,” the suspicion had taken root and germinated.
The next feeling is anger – or better, rage. Hold Up, a groovy (yes, groovy) reggae tune, explains what Beyoncé will do with her confirmed suspicion. Taking a bat to the city, she wreaks havoc, while smiling. “What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy? Or being walked all over lately? I’d rather be crazy.” From a seemingly ‘fun’ anger that this song gives off, Don’t Hurt Yourself is next. Instead of a destructive anger, she moves into an angry independence. In no uncertain terms, she asks who he thinks she is, as if he doesn’t know how good he has it with her. Saying over and over again that she, “ain’t lonely, [she] ain’t crying,” there is an attempt to make her husband feel as if he meant nothing to her. Oddly enough, this song is ushered in by Shire’s poem The Unbearable Weight of Staying. Shire beautifully and painfully describes a bout of unrequited love. Just before the song starts, you hear Beyoncé ask, “Why can’t you see me? Everyone else can.” While she works through her anger, this question and that poem unveil the hurt she feels deeper than the anger.
The next few songs stick to the idea of independence. “Middle fingers up,” in the face of a failing marriage, “me and my baby are going to be all right,” and talk of “grinding” through the hardships of life paint a picture of self confidence being built up. Yet at the end of 6 Inch, in a cracked voice, you hear, “come back.” Either Beyoncé is completely weak in this moment, returning to the man who betrayed her, or is admitting the desire to be with her husband strength? Honesty is much harder to live in than pride is. Pride says she should move on, that she doesn’t need that kind of relationship; that she deserves better. And that’s not untrue. No one deserves infidelity. But seeing your feelings clearly and deciding to put away pride for the sake of reconciliation requires an honesty that is valiant. You must be honest with where your heart is, honest with whether or not forgiveness is something you’re capable of, and honest with yourself in whether or not you want the relationship still. For Beyoncé, Jay Z’s duplicity wasn’t enough to end the marriage. Her heart is still his.
“You and me could move a mountain,” is where the scale tips in Love Drought. The song is reunifying. Then Sandcastles hits and you see an unedited, untouched singer spilling out the extent of the hurt felt. This song is mainly just her voice and the piano. It is simple, bare, and open. There are clips of her and Jay Z throughout this song. In every shot, they’re close. There is an intimacy that is solid about the two of them. “What is it about you that I can’t erase?” Its as if she is unable to live without him.
She keeps moving Forward with the next song. This is the shortest song on the album, but easily one of the most powerful. It takes a time out from the over all story, and focuses on the Black Lives Matter movement. The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner are shown with pictures of their sons who have passed away. Sung with James Blake, the song is extremely evocative. Wherever anyone stands with Black Lives Matter, the song is undeniably moving, and speaks to the sacredness of life.
With the last three songs, Queen Bey gets back on her horse. Freedom is loud and powerful. She enforces her attitude of not quitting, and that she’s a force to be reckoned with. All Night shows the healing of her and Jay Z’s relationship. Clips from their wedding, the tattoos on their ring fingers, running and playing with Blue Ivey show the healing that has taken place in their lives. Finally, Beyoncé claims dominance with Formation. She’s “so possessive, [she] rock[s] his Roc necklaces,” – a play on Jay Z’s fashion line Rocawear.
The final segment of Lemonade is called Redemption. This is what it is all about. Moving into another excerpt, Beyoncé reads off another poem that starts with a recipe for lemonade.
You spun gold out of this hard life. Conjured beauty from the things left behind.
Conjured beauty from the things left behind. Found healing where it did not live.
Their relationship is not perfect. Lemonade revealed a truthful and real account of a broken relationship not given up on. There is a lot more to be said about this album. Its filming and recording is remarkable. The collaborative effort is like no other album. The production as a whole was actually record breaking. All thirteen songs are on Billboard’s top 100, and it is her 6th album to be No.1 on the Billboard 200 chart. No other artist has done that. People respond to vulnerability. It breeds more vulnerability. It is relatable and realistic, and people are drawn to that. So when life gave her lemons, she made Lemonade.