Lemonade is Beyoncé’s sixth studio album and like her self-titled 2013 release caught a lot of fans by surprise when it was dropped over a week ago. Accompanying it is a video art piece that is visually stunning and powerful . . . or so I am told. In truth, I have refrained from watching it thus far – no disrespect to Queen Bey – but as someone who has not historically been much of a Beyoncé fan (come get me internet!) I wanted to know if this was an album that could stand on its own. And it does.
Thematically, Lemonade is a clever melding of the personal and the political, of Beyoncé’s and indeed many black women’s struggles and triumphs and how this is reflected in both personal relationships and society. Much of the album appears to focus on her relationship with rap icon Jay Z and although Beyoncé has been very closed-lipped about her private life in the past, in Lemonade she puts her marriage on display in a way that is nothing if not raw. Still, and it has to be said, this is all packaged in a pop-music format, albeit one that crosses quite a few genres and showcases Beyoncé as a vocal chameleon. One of the more surprising collaborations is with Jack White on Don’t Hurt Yourself, in which Beyoncé’s distorted, passionately angry vocals actually feel reminiscent of Janis Joplin. On 6 Inch she begins the song with a deep almost lion-like purr in her verses, only to end it with a breathy and tear-filled plea of “Come back”, which is heartbreakingly rendered.
But the meat is in the most personal and the political songs. Songs like Pray You Catch Me, Hold Up and Sorry deal with infidelities in the marriage and the difficulty with being the suspecting wife. Oddly enough, even though Hold Up and Sorry have become the bigger focuses of media discussion, it is Pray You Catch Me that is my favourite of the three and indeed my favourite on the whole album. Its stripped back sound, polyphonic vocals and melancholy refrain makes it the most haunting of all the songs on the album and by far the most underrated.
And then there are the songs that are more overtly political. Freedom is an activist song reflecting on the turmoil involved in the Black Lives Matter movement – that of young black men and women gunned down by police, with little repercussion for law enforcement. It is a forceful and driving song, and there is passion in Beyoncé’s delivery, but in truth it is Lamar Kendrick’s rap cameo that provides the most venom. Still the pairing is a good one and it makes for a worthy addition in the great anthem of civil rights songs. Formation is a celebration of all black womanhood, and a call for black women to stand together, a call I cannot help but admire, even if the song does grate from time to time.
And this is perhaps the main criticism I will offer up – some of the songs tend toward the repetitive side. Even then Beyoncé manages to save the song usually with a killer ending, such as on Sorry when, after time and time again stating that she “ain’t sorry”, she ends with a brutal spoken word piece lamenting her husbands “fucking excuses” and that she regrets the “night [she] put that ring on”, and the now-infamous lyric that he “better call Becky with the good hair”.
It is a brave record from someone who could have easily rested on her laurels. Instead, she makes a conscious effort to put herself out there in an unfiltered way; she both raises herself up in power anthems and delves deep into her own insecurities. Lemonade is about the struggles and rewards of being a black woman, trying to keep hold of her sanity and decide whether to stay with her cheating man, a man that may also be gunned down at any moment due to police violence. Whether or not you are a Beyoncé fan it is worth listening to, if for no other reason than that it is destined to become an iconic record.
Click here to listen to Pray You Catch Me from Lemonade:
- Pray You Catch Me
- Hold Up
- Don’t Hurt Yourself (feat. Jack White)
- 6 Inch (feat. The Weeknd)
- Daddy Lessons
- Love Drought
- Forward (feat. James Blake)
- Freedom (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
- All Night