The year 2016 as Kylie Jenner (unintentionally, yet hilariously) put it was really the year of just realizing stuff. For many black people, in wake of the presidential election, and the highly publicized police brutality & police killings that occurred on social media all throughout the year as a whole we saw our community begin to wake up. Many television shows began to tackle racial issues casually and gracefully, and many musicians, models, and actors began to speak out more on social media, and through campaigns to stop police violence among other things black Americans face. Not to say that majority of black people weren’t already woke to an extent (because our existence is resistance) but, 2016 was when social justice became “mainstream” and while there are some negative sides to this, mostly so I feel like it was a great thing. Which is why when Beyonce released Lemonade I felt like the ultimate bridge between music, and political message had finally been built through the art of one of the greatest entertainers of our generation.
For those who have followed Beyonce’s career for as long as I have, you will know although she was always subtly pro-black in the early stages of her music it wasn’t until recently Beyonce went all out. Considering Beyonce’s large amount of white following and her determined management I can fully understand why they would not want a budding popstar with so much promise getting deeply invested into politics, because that is a PR mess waiting to happen. Most black celebrities (sadly) have to wait until they build a fan base and make their mark to speak out about anything because Hollywood and racism go hand in hand. So that is why it wasn’t until recent years Beyonce actually started becoming truly political. To me the tip of the iceberg was when her and Jay Z attended the vigil for Trayvon Martin. That right there was a message that Beyonce sees it all, she knows, and she cares. Beyonce always remained involved as much as a celebrity can, but when Lemonade dropped it was as if she had let herself become fully immersed in blackness, and it gave so many black people a rush of empowerment, and as black as Lemonade and its live performances was, it was also an album about self healing and black womanhood that shined brightly so. Lemonade provided the healing, empathetic channeling of anger, sadness, hopelessness, and revenge that loomed inside of me and many other black people who were mourning the loss of police victims, Prince, and anxious about the upcoming election, and its release date couldn’t have been more appropriate.
Lemonade in all was excellence, but certain songs & aspects of Lemonade spoke to me harder than others did. Lemonade begins with “Pray You Catch Me”. Starting from the first track on the album Beyonce is hoping her significant other knows that she has her doubts. The haunting melody hits home to many who have felt the lingering aura of infidelity roam around their relationship without the internal confirmation of monogamy to soothe your anxiety. Pray You Catch Me was one of the most underrated songs on the album because the soft, soothing tone also has an air of bitterness, worry, and atonement as if Beyonce is repenting as well as releasing. The transition from “Pray You Catch Me”, to “Hold Up” was the smoothest. In “Hold Up” Beyonce is at her most vulnerable. A jealous Beyonce, who is insecure and is singing all of our relationships into real life all the way down to scrolling through the call list. The video aesthetic was breathtaking and the subtle tribute to to the Yoruba Orisha “Oshun” was icing on the cake
“Hold Up” assured us all that we aren’t “over the top” for how we cope with infidelity, because Beyonce does it too. Beyonce feels what we feel, and even Beyonce finds herself acting out for the sake of wondering “Is he cheating on me?”
The vibe of insecurity transitions into anger. “Dont Hurt Yourself” is perhaps the second best on the album, and one of Beyonce’s greatest songs ever made. The anger on “Dont Hurt Yourself” is reminiscent to the warnings on the hook of “Ring The Alarm” but the former is much more matured. Beyonce is no longer questioning, she knows, and this part of Lemonade was what really grabbed me. Whether Beyonce is a really good actor, or she was genuinely pissed off, it grabbed my heart strings because of how black people & anger are underrepresented. Black people are taught to hold in anger because of how we are stereotyped, and this impacts our work relationships, family relationships, and love life. I have truly never expressed the anger I wanted to through my art about love due to being afraid of being labeled, so seeing Beyonce do just this gave me the kind of chills you can only receive from a shot of Dominican rum, or an extreme roller coaster.
“Sorry” coming after “Dont Hurt Yourself” was necessary. Beyonce boasts about not only not needing her man and having her own to support herself, but that she isnt sorry about anything she has said/done, and in my mind “Sorry” clicked with me for a good reason. Any and every black person has gone through each stage of anger, and once they reach the end the unapologetic attitude begins. I think more black people should display an “I aint sorry” attitude toward things because often times we are told to be apologetic to things people should be apologizing to us for, and the costumes and direct tributes to African tribal paint & hairstyles was what made “Sorry” the song and video of the summer and an anthem to every black person (especially black women struggling with what Bey was going through) who is completely unapologetic.
My next favorite, and the best song on Lemonade is “6 Inch”. On face value it seems that this song has no place on the album, and a lot of people question what it even means in reference to the rest of the theme of Lemonade. The song samples “Walk On By” by Issac Hayes, which in itself is a masterpiece, but if you dig deep into the lyrics, the songs Beyonce sampled, and how that relates to her current state in Lemonade, it makes perfect sense. “6 Inch” is a carefully constructed masterpiece where Beyonce is her most confident. She boasts about owning the club, owning her sexuality, and feeling empowered by working hard for the money, and being worth every dollar. Beyonce is letting us know that after all shes been through, she hasn’t moved and still retained her confidence. “6 Inch” is the perfect descent from being weary, vexed, and bamboozled by infidelity and heartbreak, and in combination with each of the rest of the songs “6 Inch” actually fits perfectly.
“6 Inch” shows a healthy balance of a black woman actually being broken, and then building herself back up, as opposed to the narrative that black women are always “strong” and “emotionless”, and able to take anything thrown at them.
“6 Inch” comes after Beyonce has broken down and lashed out and showed her weakness, and is now building herself back up and boasting the cleanest swagger she has ever boasted, and its the most important song on Lemonade because of this.
Last but not least “Formation” the video that shook the world. Upon release Formation was so iconic that it was being discussed during the presidential election. Formation was a plethora of blackness, and a celebration of all things black and Southern. From the Southern Gothic influence in Beyonce’s outfits, to Big Freedia and Messy Mya on the intro Formation, all of it was the surprise release that black people needed. Beyonce proclaiming that she loves her baby’s hair was the greatest clapback due to the anti black comments launched at Blue Ivy that she needed her hair to be done, among other things made on social media, and Blue Ivy’s regal appearance in the video displaying so much confidence was something I couldn’t wait to show little black girls who love Beyonce as much as me. The way Formation is constructed is simple yet complex. The Beyonce in Formation is the Beyonce mainstream media and non black fans wanted hidden, or didn’t want to acknowledge. Beyonce not only proclaiming her blackness, but celebrating and making a clear direct nod to Hurricane Katrina, and police brutality was something that gave so many black people joy and a new found confidence in themselves and their culture that is constantly being stolen and degraded.
In closing, Lemonade is more than just pro-black. The stunning cinematography, celebration of black southern culture, and African influenced costumes, hairstyles, and tribal paint were just icing on the cake. Lemonade unlike many albums released had every song on the album be an important piece to a puzzle. From all the songs I reviewed to songs like “Daddy Lessons” that tackle the complex similarities of your father, and your significant other, “Sandcastles” the “lay everything wrong out” stage of forgiveness, and “All Night” and ode to rebuilding a cracked foundation, Lemonade tells a story. Lemonade doesn’t just empower black people, it tugs at our souls. Beyonce using her platform to celebrate blackness while also sharing an album with us that is her most personal, and most relatable was much needed and an excellent relief to the woes of 2016. Lemonade provided quality music, interactive story-telling, and a fiesta of black culture showing just how beautiful being black can be, and because of that Lemonade was the album of 2016.