Woman of few words Beyoncé dropped her visual album “Lemonade” on HBO last night, and it tells a story of a woman betrayed by her lover, a woman finding and wielding her sexuality, and a black woman holding her place in America.
“I hope I can create art that helps people heal,” she told Elle for the May issue. “Art that makes people feel proud of their struggle. Everyone experiences pain, but sometimes you need to be uncomfortable to transform. Pain is not pretty, but I wasn’t able to hold my daughter in my arms until I experienced the pain of childbirth!”
And from the beginning, ‘Lemonade’ seems to be about pain and struggle.
“Are you cheating on me?” Beyoncé’s voice floats as she lies on the floor in a flooded bedroom.
She swims out, opens the front doors and lets the flood out, walking into what becomes an hour of breaking down her emotions, starting with anger and ending with reconciliation. Through spoken verse and songs, she tells what seems to be her story as a person of many identities: lover, mother, daughter and black woman.
After smashing windows in her second track “Hold Up,” Beyoncé hops into a monster truck and drives over everything in her bath, crushing cars into unusable metal piles. The camera then switches to a cold, dim basement and a chilling voiceover speaks over a creepy lullaby.
“If it’s what you truly want, I can wear her skin over mine,” Beyoncé says. “Her hair over mine. Her hands as gloves. Her teeth as confetti. Her scalp a cap. Her sternum my bedazzled cane. We can pose for a photograph, all three of us. Immortalized. You and your perfect girl.”
Beyoncé uses ‘Lemonade’ as a platform to address past pain — she references her father embracing her mother, a nod to his infidelity that broke Tina and Mathew Knowles apart after a 33-year marriage. But she also gets more direct. In “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” she ends the song by throwing a ring at the camera: “If you try that shit again, you gon’ lose your wife.”
While she never explicitly uses Jay-Z’s name, many lines only bolster the existing suspicion that Jay cheated on her:
“Ashes to ashes, dust to sidechicks.”
“It’s such a shame, you let this good love go to waste.”
“You can taste the dishonesty. It’s on your breath as you pass it off so cavalier.”
While it’s entirely possible that this album is conceptual, the visceral imagery and personal wording style Beyoncé uses has convinced fans she’s telling her own story.
Beyoncé also takes the message from “Formation” and makes it a focus of her visual album. During “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” Beyoncé layers Malcolm X’s words over images of black women smiling for a handheld camera: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman,” he says. “The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
When “Forward” starts, Beyoncé says, “You are terrifying and strange. And beautiful.” And a series of powerful cameos flash on screen: the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown hold their photos silently.
Winnie Harlow, Serena Williams, Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya make appearances.
One more central part of Bey’s identity is her role as a mother and daughter. One of the most stylistically un-Beyoncé songs in “Lemonade,” “Daddy Lessons” has a twangy, folk-Americana style to it. Bey prefaces the song with more spoken verse: “Mother dearest, let me inherit 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?”
And Bey makes sure we know how much power she, her mother, and women have.
“Your mother is a woman. And women like her cannot be contained.”
The album is available to stream on Tidal.