Following her 2014 self-titled visual album, on Sunday night Beyoncé Carter gave us her sixth studio album, Lemonade. The LP arrived with a short film and was framed as, as the TIDAL statement that accompanied the released deemed it, a ‘conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing’. Several of the music videos on Lemonade begin with chapter titles like ‘Intuition’, ‘Denial’, ‘Lose’, ‘ACCOUNTABILITY’, ‘Hope’ and, eventually, ‘Resurrection’ – linked by a voiceover from Beyoncé reading poetry by Warsan Shire. The commercial pop many would have anticipated from Beyoncé is mostly absent from this album. Rather the majority of the tracks on the album are piano ballads with harmonized vocals. The songs vary in tone according to Beyoncé’s emotions and themes they explore.
The scenes at the start of the visual seem to be set in the wilderness and the audience are presented with different themes, ‘Intuition’ to start with. During Beyoncé’s monologue she describes whoever she is talking about (presumably her spouse) as reminding her of her father, as he is able to be in “two places at once”. The words she speaks are deep, she says “in the tradition of men in my blood, you come home at 3am and lie to me”. Then questions, “what are you hiding?”; at this point the director has captured a variety of black women based in a plantation house. It is refreshing for Beyoncé to be rocking braids, kinky hair and natural makeup in many of the scenes as opposed to looking ‘flawless’ as she often does in her music videos.
Beyoncé sings “I pray I catch you whispering, I pray you catch me listening”; we see a glimpse of crying her on top of a rise building with her hood up… And she jumps. However, she doesn’t reach the ground: the scene cuts into her landing into water wearing the same hoodie that she is now trying to remove. At this point the audience are given a new theme of ‘Denial’. As the scene progresses, the artist talks about how she tried to be “prettier and less awake”. She is underwater in her bedroom, looking at a version of herself asleep and she informs us that she “fasted for 30 days, wore white, abstained from sex… Confessed [her] sins and was baptized in a river, got on [her] knees and said amen”. The extent of Beyoncé’s religious belief is which is something fans may not have been introduced to through the artist’s music in the past.
It seems that Jay Z’s grandmother helped with the name choice of the album with her speech where she says “I was served lemons, but I made lemonade”. Beyoncé includes the insightful words of Malcolm X: “the most disrespected, unprotected and neglected woman in America is the black woman”. Race and feminism are new sub-themes introduced here alongside Beyonce’s all black female posy.
Lemonade is set in a variety of places, but mainly in southern America. Beyoncé rides horseback in the video and there are references to New Orleans in ‘Formation’. Beyoncé directed it mostly herself, along with Kahlil Joseph, Melina Matsoukas, Todd Tourso, Rikayl Rimmasch, Jonas Akerlund and Mark Romanek. The mother of Trayvon Martin, and Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown feature in the visual, as evidence of Beyonce’s attitude towards the problem of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter manifesto in America.
What follows is a breakdown of the music which accompanied the visuals, song for song:
Pray You Catch Me
This song is the first to reveal that there may have been some infidelity in Beyonce’s marriage, because it seems that she is reverting to prayer to help the truth to come out. The first song on Beyoncé’s visual album sounds almost like it was painful to sing. It is about heartache pure and simple: she even goes as far as to say “you can taste the dishonesty”.
The anger that Beyoncé’s felt in her marriage is again demonstrated in this song and visual. She is smashing cars and windows in the visual and she is singing how “they don’t love you like I love you”. She informs listeners that “I’m gonna fuck me up a bitch,” holding a baseball bat in her hand. She also tells us in this song that there is no other man above her man, and how it is a shame “you make this love go to waste”. However, Beyonce reminds her husband who Queen B is by saying “You ain’t married to an average bitch, boy!” She questions what is worse: being jealous or going crazy. She answers it by saying she’d rather be crazy, because she has been getting walked over lately. She samples Kerry Hilson’s Turn My Swag On at the end.
Don’t Hurt Yourself
Beyoncé takes on a rock sound different to what fans will be used to. The anger the artist feels heightens midway through this song when describing how she “smells that Louis V on his neck” and she’s shouting and cursing at this point. Beyoncé and Jack White are singing “you played yourself”. Then at the end of the song she warns that “this is your final warning, you know I give you life, if you try that s*** again you gon’ lose your wife”. The song was clearly aimed at husband Jay Z.
This visual is all about female empowerment with the ladies all dancing and singing. In the video the women are in period dress that could be a representation of slavery and/or antebellum (after slavery in the South, also known as the Reconstruction) period. The video serves mainly as a representation of her Southern roots, particularly when she is dressed as a Native American, which may be a part of her mother’s Creole ancestry. This is the most unapologetic song on the album. She adopts a care free attitude when dancing alongside fierce tennis star Serena Williams. Beyoncé says in this song that she regrets putting the ring on, because her spouse was “not home, and he always has f****** excuses”. Then she reverts back to prayer that the Lord reveals what his truth is. However, the theme of reconciliation appears at the end when she reassures us that her and her “baby gon’ be alright”. Beyonce does make a reference at the end of the song to “Becky with the good hair” who may have been the person involved in the infidelity which has caused a lot of fans to attack fashion designer Rachel Roy.
This is one of my least favourite songs on the album, despite The Weeknd having a great feature. The tone in which Beyoncé delivers is dark again, but as the song progresses it improves as she switches up her tone. It appears to be about a prostitute that wears 6 inch heels and is “worth every dollar”. How it fits into the themes being explored in the album is slightly unclear.
This song boasts an americana twang, with an interjection by a jaunty brass band. There are flavours of snappy funk and rock gospel. This song is where fans get to celebrate Beyoncé’s Texas roots, and in the visuals she embraces her African ancestors by wearing an Ankara style dress whilst singing.
This song returns to the RnB style that fans will be used to hearing from Beyoncé. It is still about fighting for love, though less angry and more hopeful. It seems like we reach the theme of ‘Forgiveness’, as in the lyrics she starts to be merciful and hopeful that the marriage can work by singing “you and me can stop this love drought”.
Sandcastles is a metaphorical song for describing a love that was built, but failed like sandcastles that got washed away. This song reveals a lot about the domestic conflict that occurred in her marriage by saying “dishes smashed on the counter, from our last encounter”. There is raw emotion on this track; it sounds like Beyoncé is so angry whilst reflecting that she is crying. She harmonizes towards the end of the track with a pre-recorded soundtrack of herself, and it sounds beautiful.
As the title suggests, Beyoncé is moving forward as James Blake sings. But it also may represent how times have moved forward as it is only a 1-minute song and transitions straight into ‘Freedom’.
Bey is telling the “tears to fall away” on this track. This is the most gospel anthem on the LP, with the instrumentals sounding literally like one has taken them to a southern American church with the exaggerated piano. In the visual Beyoncé is simply dressed in a white dress. This song is about breaking away from “chains”. Kendrick Lamar, who has delivered phenomenal Grammy performance this year that represented freedom from slavery, guests on this track. It is a shame, however, that he was not able to make an appearance in the visual.
This is personally one of the best tracks on the album: it is upbeat and is a classic Beyoncé RnB love song that we are familiar with. It is hopeful, and in the visuals we see Beyoncé’s husband Jay Z and her being affectionate. Although she does say that she needs time to trust him again, indicating that they are in the healing process. The visual is amazing as she incorporates all types of love from interracial to homosexual. As she says”‘true love never has to hide”, which she evidently demonstrates through the visuals. Jay Z and Blue Ivy both appear in the later parts of the short film, when the music moves onto the theme of hope and future happiness.
We were given the pleasure of hearing this track in February and received a music video that was able to introduce a vast amount of the themes. This song served more as one that was silencing a lot of rumours and haters. Yet it is also about wanting answers about the events in New Orleans.
This album and short film strike me as the most personal Beyoncé has ever got with her music. As someone that has listened to Beyoncé from a child, it is evident that her music is maturing with her fan base and she literally takes you on a journey with her through her music. It will be interesting to see what else Beyoncé is planning on revealing over the years.