Beyoncé tackles infidelity and trumpets her black femininity
THE SANTA CLARA
May 5, 2016
Revenge may be a dish best served cold. But for Beyoncé, revenge means a sky-rocket run to the top of the Billboard charts by unleashing the roast album of a lifetime. “Lemonade” showcases Beyoncé at her most female, her most Black and her most triumphant.
But make no mistake—Beyoncé is angry. While 2013’s “Beyoncé” showed the singer at her sultriest, exulting the emotional and sexual bliss of domesticity, “Lemonade” shows the dark side of happily-ever-after. A narrative of infidelity and its emotional fallout permeates Beyoncé’s sixth studio album.
Beyoncé has touched on the consequences of cheating before, warning her lover she could replace him in a minute in 2006’s “Irreplaceable.” The song voiced the revenge motives of the heartbroken, but it’s an angsty high school poem compared to the carefully orchestrated chaos and fire in every snarling beat and spitting lyrics of “Lemonade.”
“Don’t Hurt Yourself” features Beyoncé and Jack White exuding rock god vibes and demanding worship while reveling in their own badassery. With lyrics like “when you hurt me, you hurt yourself…when you play me you play yourself,” Beyoncé positions herself as a force of nature, meaning that betraying her is like asking for “God herself” to strike you down where you stand. “Sorry” continues the trend as a pointedly unapologetic song urging fans everywhere to “Tell him boy, bye” if their significant other isn’t making the cut.
Anger is only one of the stages in the complex narrative Beyoncé weaves. According to her visual album, there are eleven stages and she explores each with the same high intensity and vocal prowess.
“6 Inch” featuring the Weeknd is a reminder to anyone who undervalues Beyoncé that she is “worth every dollar, worth every minute.” “Daddy Lessons” sees a Southern-blues-inspired Queen Bey who calls on the second amendment to take care of the disappointing men in her life.
Vocally, Beyoncé never lets up but even “Lemonade” has its missteps. Without the power of Beyonce’s singing and conviction, some lyrics would fall flat under an inexperienced singer’s hands. This a concept album whose sum is greater than its individual parts, so it’s easy to wonder if “Lemonade” would be as successful without the novelty of a surprise release and visual storytelling.
Particularly questionable is the cherry on top wrap up Beyoncé chose despite track after track of rage and clap-back goodness. The explosive, raw emotion driving the first half of the album makes “All Night” almost too clean of a coda to be wholly satisfying. The song is the closest to a pop ballad, tying the saga to a close with the promise of reconciliation and “sweet love all night long.” But at this point Beyoncé—and the listener—has been through too much to forget what the cheater has done, even if she has forgiven him.
The album takes a compelling in-depth look into infidelity and makes an unexpected but riveting statement about black womanhood when paired with the Southern Gothic visuals of the special.
As we saw in February with “Formation,” Beyoncé has defiantly embraced her blackness. Her carefully cultivated sampling of Black culture—from Malcolm X speeches to a black prison song—gives way to a different understanding of her album. Beneath the narrative of infidelity is an even more complex statement about cultural violence against Black women.
In “Freedom” featuring Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé broadens her personal grief into an emotional catharsis about “cast(ing) away oppression” in all its forms and refusing to stay down because “a winner don’t quit on themselves.”
Jay Z’s grandmother gets sampled at the end of “Freedom” saying, “I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.” This statement gives the album its title and its essence. Yes, Beyoncé feels anger, grief and denial but confidence in her own self-worth despite these feelings is the reason so many are finding empowerment through this album.
Whether or not Jay Z cheated is really beside the point. Either way, Beyoncé turned the speculation around her marriage into a record breaking, multi-million dollar exposé on scorned women. And winning is the best revenge.
Contact Perla Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.