How does an uncompromising and fully empowered woman who commands her rivals to ‘bow down bitches’, traverse the realities of her life behind the spotlight, as a daughter, wife, mother and granddaughter – simultaneously holding it down with reserve and dignity.
In the past few years, we’ve watched Beyonce take steps further and further away from speaking openly with the media, appearing in a Vogue photo spread without granting an interview. Over the past 3 years it turns out she’s gone from a woman drunk in love, to a woman scorned.
Beyonce is a woman who takes charge of her own story, amidst an age of click bait celebrity gossip and trash talk, she’s managed to keep control of the reins to her personal life. But after that elevator incident, once the veil was lifted, the media was firmly fixated on every move in an attempt to detect signs that things may not have been all that alright in the Carter home. Keeping a lid on the matter behind the spatter was managed to pr perfection and although divorce rumours swirled alongside rumours of Jay-Z’s infidelity, somehow through it all, Beyonce appeared to keep her composure.
Beyonce, is a media savvy personality who’s carefully constructed her image over the course of her 20 year career, that image has maintained her position right at the centre and at the top of her game. Make no mistake, in 2016, once again, Beyonce delivers a master stroke, with a 1 hour film told in 12 parts through stages of what transpires to be a personal journey through her personal relationship, this is apparently Beyonce at her most vulnerable.
To experience this new project, we recommend you watch ‘Lemonade’ the film first and listen to the 12 track album next – there are two sides to every story – but in this story there’s only one narrator and one star with a supporting cast. It’s a poetic visual musical album, where Beyoncé narrates quotes from the Somali-British poet Warsan Shire throughout ‘Lemonade’, alongside personal insights. Leading us through an immersive visual feast of effects, b-roll footage, home videos – both artfully curated into colourful landscapes and black and white scenes – we are taken through a multitude of cultural references through costume, dance, ritual, scene and song.
Whatever the truth of the matter in that spatter, in the 3 years since her last album, Beyonce has successfully put together an album concept that leads us through the emotional recipe of ‘Lemonade’ revealing the ingredients to what may or may not be an autobiographical story but is certainly a relatable story about the trials and tribulations of love and marriage. Leave behind your cynicism to truly immerse yourself into the experience of this visual album.
After kicking off the Superbowl with Formation, understandably we were all intrigued in anticipation of what F-bombs Beyonce would be dropping this time round. Put any preconceptions aside, this is more personal than political. Maybe some would say it’s a masterful stroke of artistry but truthfully told as that slow begging vocal starts the film, you can’t help but find your curiosity peaking – “You can taste the dishonesty, it’s all over your breath“.
As Beyonce appears on screen, post Ivy Park, walking through the long grass, stripped down in a zipped hoodie looking forlorn, could we finally be on a journey behind that public facade? Beyonce doesn’t disappoint as she barely whispers, “I pray to catch you whispering, I pray you catch me listening.” and walks us into the first chapter of her story, as she taps into the first stage of her Intuition. A spoken word narrative cuts into her song as she speaks “You remind me of my father, a magician… able to exist in two places at once. In the tradition of men in my blood, you come home at 3 a.m. and lie to me. What are you hiding?”
Could this be Beyonce’s story about the gift and the curse of loving Jay-Z – “The past and the future merge to meet us here. What luck. What a curse.“
After intuition comes the 2nd stage of Denial, Beyonce stands at the edge of a ledge and takes the leap off a building, plunging down into the depths of the water that submerges her into a bedroom, “I tried to change, closed my mouth more, tried to be softer, prettier less awake.” Despondent and lost, Beyonce faces her other self, swimming under water drowning in the truth of her intuition.
“but still inside me, coiled deep, was the need to know… are you cheating on me?”
Finally asking that question, the question a woman dreads to know the answer to, not wanting her intuition to be right, so the floodgates open as Beyonce steps out emerging from the water dressed in yellow but ready to exercise her revenge. It’s that battle between pride and perseverance, Beyonce struts with a sassy smile while knowingly being walked all over, “what’s worse looking jealous or crazy?” Donning a bat in her hand like an elongated phallus, she heads down the street smashing every window in sight but retorting “Can’t you see there’s no other man above you, what a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you. Hold up they don’t love you like I love you.”
‘Hold Up’, is a quirky track featuring samples from Soulja Boy’s ‘Turn My Swag On’ and Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘Maps’, almost comically playing on the irony of being that crazy in love woman. Whatever sentiment lies behind that strut, it’s still that very familiar feeling of losing your state of mind where all you wanna do is lose any sense of reason and just go get those scissors, bats and matches out, taking your wrath to the flame.
It’s at this moment in the film, we’re almost seeing what may just be the reasons for Solange’s moment of rage in the elevator, going all bitch crazy at Jay-Z, although truth be told we’ve never seen Beyonce lose her own sense of composure, till now. It’s in the ensuing moments you almost want to cringe in pity for every Jay stan as he’s about to get a taking down. If you haven’t seen the woman in rage, it’s that picture perfect Beyonce that comes back with “We can pose for a photograph all three of us immortalised, you and your perfect girl” while still pleading as one of the most photographed women in the world – “Why can’t you see me? Why can’t you see me? Why can’t you see me? Everyone else can.”
For any man who’s suffering from that God complex, just don’t play yourself, because truly there is no fury like a woman scorned. As Beyonce plays out her 3th stage of Anger cursing out her man on ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’, she’s unleashes all her rage backed by Jack White, in a rock fuelled peak. This is her final warning, and it’s one of her best boasts as a boss bitch – “Don’t hurt yourself, 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“.
It’s at this point that we see the political Beyonce marry her message with that of the historic plight of the black woman in America, “Bad motherfucker, God complex, motivate your ass call me Malcom X,” since that black power salute, this is no arms down moment, as Malcolm X’s own words cut into the track;
The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman, the most unprotected woman in America is the black woman, the most neglected woman in America is the black woman.
Forget emancipation this is pure emasculation as Beyonce tears down the king from his throne and comes in for a take-over like the queen she’s claims to be,“This is your final warning, you know I give you life , if you try this shit again, you gon lose your wife.”
After anger comes Apathy, the defeat of knowing that you’ve lost that fight, Beyonce speaks of the heartbreak entertaining those suicidal thoughts once again, playing out fantasies of his regret in her eulogy, “So, what are you gonna say at my funeral now that you’ve killed me? Here lies the body of love of my life, whose heart I broke without a gun to my head. Here lies the mother of my children, both living and dead. Rest in peace, my true love, who I took for granted. Most bomb p*ssy who, because of me, sleep evaded. Her god listening. Her heaven will be a love without betrayal. Ashes to ashes, dust to side chicks.“
Queen Bey is the king of collaboration and here features the work of NY based Nigerian artist Laolu Senbanjo in the face-painted black and white imagery of ‘Sorry’. Joined by the most powerful women in the game, Serena Williams, Bey hits the ball back in his court with force – “suck on my balls“. Throwing her middle fingers up, Beyonce couldn’t care less, “Today I regret the night I put that ring on, He always got them fucking excuses” taking shots at his rumoured side chick, the instantly quotable “You better call Becky with the good hair” has already gone viral.
Filled with Emptiness, Beyonce writhes in the complexities of sexuality and god, natural urges that leave her pining for the one who’s left her feeling empty and hollow, “She sleeps all day. Dreams of you in both worlds. Tills the blood, in and out of uterus. Wakes up smelling of zinc, grief sedated by orgasm, orgasm heightened by grief. God was in the room when the man said to the woman, “I love you so much. Wrap your legs around me. Pull me in, pull me in, pull me in.” Sometimes when he’d have her nipple in his mouth, she’d whisper, “Oh, my God.” That, too, is a form of worship.”
Channeling the power in her sensuality and the force of her nature, Beyonce takes on the seductive ploy of her success and lets that fuels her killer confidence, as she leads to the aptly featured collaboration with The Weeknd, on ‘6 Inch’ she faces “Every fear, every nightmare anyone has ever had.” Working to make ends meet, pain powered into her work, distractions that can only fill that emptiness to a point, she works day in day out, and we witness not only her sexual awakening but her journey to self empowerment. Even when that sense of emptiness eventually ends with her pleading, out of a sense of Loss, “come back, come back, come back.“
Following on from sex, money, power, emerges the need for Accountability as Beyonce reasserts her womanhood with a maturity in the recognition of her multi-faceted roles as a daughter and mother. Reminiscing childhood memories while mirroring her own daddy issues, she posits the place of motherhood vs womanhood, “Your mother is a woman, and women like her cannot be contained, Mother dearest, let me inherent the earth. Teach me how to make him beg. Let me make up for the years he made you wait. Did he bend your reflection? Did he make you forget your own name? Did he convince you he was a god?”
A shadow in the darkness, at this point it feels like a retreat to a solitary state of mind, finding consolation in existing family values, and broken family ties – “Am I talking about your husband or the father.”
From the Mardi Gras sounds of New Orleans to her Texan roots, Beyonce pens a versatile and unexpectedly well played country song ‘Daddy Lessons’. Complete with the contradictions of her inherited tough girl stance, it’s embedded in her from the lessons from her manager/father “He’s playing you, cause when trouble comes in town, and men like me come around, Oh, my daddy said shoot.”
Transformed from daddy issues to trust issues, Beyonce comes to a point of self affirmation and healing, as the visual moves into the beautifully mellow, and calm waters of Reformation.
“He bathes me until I forget their names and faces. I ask him to look me in the eye when I come… home. Why do you deny yourself heaven? Why do you consider yourself undeserving? Why are you afraid of love? You think it’s not possible for someone like you. But you are the love of my life. You are the love of my life. You are the love of my life.”
In ‘Love Drought’, Beyonce steps into the clear waters of Eve’s bayou, forming a line of women walking amongst the reeds – part ritualistic, part haunting, the anger subsides as a calm prevails through the floating feeling of the vocals, with Beyonce seeking out an equilibrium and balancing the tough girl with the optimism of renewing her love, “Ten times out of nine, I know you’re lying, But nine times outta ten, I know you’re trying, So I’m trying to be fair.”
Striping it all back, Beyonce reaches a place of resolution in their reformation as she finds her faith again, ‘you and me would stop this love drought and so if there’s healing to being, let it be glorious”.
Beyonce comes to resolve the gift and the curse, by breaking the curse as she asks to be cleansed “Baptise me now that reconciliation is possible.”
In the most emotional segment in the film, this is the first time Jay-Z appears in the film and marks an intimate moment watching Beyonce sit at a keyboard in an emotional, heart wrenching plea. The hardest point of any relationship is letting go of the pain and reaching a point of peace through Forgiveness, for some that is an unfathomable outcome, for Beyonce its a rite of passage. As the man at the receiving end of her scorn, Jay-Z seem’s content in finding his place back in Beyonce’s grace and there’s the halo effect set above the two as they’re softly lit in repose.
‘Sandcastles’ a slow piano led ballad, opens by exposing the vulnerability of his emotion, as she softly sings “I made you cry when I walked away. Although I promised that I couldn’t stay, every promise don’t work out that way.” Vows are renewed, and after testing their resilience in the face of infidelity, the duo find faith in face of their true selves, “show me your scars and I won’t walk away.“
And so we come to the Resurrection, the beginning of the next steps as they leave the past behind and move forward with a short interlude featuring a hauntingly beautiful collaboration with James Blake, as the quiet settles after the storm and Beyonce narrates “You are terrifying and strange and beautiful.”
Finding Hope moves from Beyonce’s self awareness to awareness of what’s happening around her, an awakening beyond her own personal pain to the pain and suffering of the black lives matter movement. Beyonce is finally woke “Lord forgive me, I’ve been running, funning blind in truth.” Seeking out solidarity with other women, Beyonce cuts herself loose from the chains of the side chicks undermining her confidence and uplifts her state of union with her fellow females. We revel in black girl magic, as she fuses a spiritual anthem into a ‘Freedom’ song – “Freedom freedom where are you? Cos I need freedom too.” Adding a powerful verse from Kendrick Lamar, the track reaches it’s rightful pinnacle.
Ibeyi, Zendaya, Chloe and Halle, actress Amandla Stenberg and model Winnie Harlow all make appearances in the film, as Beyonce speaks to a multi-generatal cast of descendants of strong black women. With images of the mothers of police brutality victims like Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin appearing with photos of their slain loved ones, this is a real moment of reckoning.
Closing off the album, with Redemption, Beyonce finally reveals the concept behind her album title ‘Lemonade’, as she passes on the recipe from her Grandmother the alchemist, who “broke the curse with your own two hands.” We cut to video footage of Beyonce’s grandmother, Hattie White making a speech on her 90th birthday, “I had my ups and downs but I always found the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons but I made lemonade” and we learn of her new wisdom is inherited.
‘All Night’ comes as a victory lap, harking back to the beginning of their relationship with footage of them getting matching tattoos, interspersed with wedding footage, we are witness to a new beginning as Beyonce immerses herself once again in the sweetness of love, as she sings “But my love’s too pure to watch it chip away, Oh nothing real can be threatened, True love breathes salvation back into me, With every tear came redemption, And my torturer became a remedy.“
“How I missed you my love.”
‘Lemonade’ is a moving film and a beautifully constructed body of work, and while we may want to believe the truth of the story, it is just that, a beautifully told story where the truth can only truly be known by the two people in the true story. How Beyonce chose to tell their story has already set off a new media storm of speculation but frankly no matter what rises to the surface, Jay-Z rises to the occasion. Mr and Mrs Carter are partners in their crimes and it’s their business we’re building, but in this story it’s Beyonce who holds the power to appear as the one who holds the key to their love.
There’s another story to be told here and it’s told in the way we historically relate our own personal stories of heartbreak and sorrow through storytelling, it’s in music that we often come to relate to what it feels like to love in all the right and wrong kinds of ways. As hurtful as it is, sometimes it’s through another’s relationship story that we come to realise the truths in our own battles with love. Whether you’re severely or utterly in love, point blank, love never really makes sense, there’s nothing sensible about feelin’ a certain type of way about that one person, so is that true love?
Sometimes there’s only one person who just gets you in a way that no one else can, maybe they’re the one that you just can’t break away from, and that’s regardless of all the big talk you may want to give the big homie. Sometimes you have to just work at it, because no one can come out a true victor at the end of a war, everyone bears a scar. But in the end who the fuck can tell me if a love song ain’t real, if you have no fucking clue what the hell love puts you through, you can’t tell me nothing. We sing song after song about love, lust, confusion, conflict about what we woulda, coulda, shoulda done, but love is not the kind of emotion that is ever logical. You can’t follow any rules, love hurts and if you haven’t cried over someone you know goddam well you can’t speak on a love that cuts your world in two.
Beyonce’s visual album ‘Lemonade’ will be debated and deconstructed scene by scene, and while it will also undoubtedly unleash all the cynics, haters, music critics, celebrity obsessed freaks, faux feminists and internet trolls, what most people don’t expect is for any artist today to actually sing words like they mean it! But Beyonce makes you want to believe in her empowerment even though she chooses to stay with the man who hurt her the most. Beyond her Instagram facade of perfect pictures that got ya’ll believing in her perfect life, maybe Beyonce is subverting the fact that the fake ain’t real and for all the perceived reality out there, her reality ain’t no reality show till shit gets real. Just remember this is still her own reality show and its all of her visual construction.
Who the fuck can tell Beyonce whether the conclusion to her journey through love, marriage, motherhood to redemption is right or wrong, love isn’t some sanctimonious act of benevolence, we don’t do it as an act of charity – we do it because we want to. Believe her story or not, what Beyonce attempts to do, is take command over her vulnerability, and regardless of her success, she admits her weakness lies in her love for one man, the father of her child. She consolidates all her power and wants us to believe that she’s come into her own as a woman, a daughter, a mother and a wife – a woman who can suffer pain and give forgiveness and still win. It’s a story that’s generational, it’s passed down from her grandmother, passes through her mother, from herself and along to her daughter. It’s a story of a women who questions her own sexuality, own identity, own worth, own strength, own weakness and comes face to face with her own determination, perseverance and survival.
Emotionally raw, this album reminds me of the contradictions of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Hear My Dear’, the heartbreak of Nina Simone, the pain of Mary J Blige’s ‘My Life’ and maybe we’ll look back at this moment in time and think of this as an album where Beyonce poured her heart out in ‘Lemonade’. After Prince’s passing, as we reminisce over the genius of his vision in ‘Purple Rain’, Beyonce gives us a very modern treatment of how vision can be shaped in the network age of the internet and streaming wars – adding another gem to the musical marketing genius that is Beyonce.
At the end of this story, she is still Beyonce Knowles Carter – she’s a powerhouse and a partner, she may not want you to bow down bitches, this time it’s just dust to side chicks and ladies get in “Formation“.