I’ve been intrigued by the Beyonce phenomenon (what does she sing/do/say that makes her no. 1?) for some time. Recently I decided to buy (yes, pay for) her new CD, Lemonade, which she released, unheralded, with no standard distribution system, via her facebook page. I was fascinated by the bold, anti-establishment approach, so listened to a song or two on YouTube (along with the millions who had already listened in the first week, really), found them compelling, and decided to buy it. Analysis: this is an amazing album that breaks/sets so many trends, you too should consider it. Why?
Let’s be clear where I come from. I like pop (and lots of other musical forms). I’m intrigued that women dominate pop now. I hate the hype around megastars. But Lemonade is a continuous, very, very personal story about her relationship with Jay Z, his affair(s?), its impact on her, her reactions and the evolution of their relationship. Standard stuff?? Not at all.
Why Lemonade is iconic
First, Lemonade comes with a video as well. Perhaps not unusual, but each video song is very provocative (eg B wielding a baseball bat and smashing cars), features virtually all women and no men, is a story rather than dancing, is filmed in black and white, not colour and long shots and poor lighting dominate, not quick scenes and enhanced production.
Second, the video is in ‘chapters’, that cover the stages of a relationship breakdown…and recovery (Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Reformation, Forgiveness, Resurrection, Hope, Redemption) that match the songs.
Third, rather than individual songs with random themes, all the songs are part of the one story of infidelity in a relationship her (but not his) reactions to it.
Fourth, the songs are quite sad, somewhat depressing (like the blues) and not really ‘pop’ in terms of encouraging singing or dancing along. I’m amazed it has sold well, given its ‘anti-pop’ nature. It’s really more like a book than a CD.
You’re probably thinking, ‘OK, so what? I’m still not interested’. I understand that. But consider this. Beyonce is the number 1 recording artist in the world. In time, this album will be like some of the Beatles and Stones albums – recognised as changing the face of pop music. And it is pop music that most of us (of all ages now) grew up with and loved. And pop music is one field where women have taken charge, a trend which will be more common in a variety of fields in the future.
Why is it called ‘Lemonade’?
Where does the name come from? There’s no song of that name on the album. But, at the end of one of the songs, Jay Z’s grandmother has a line from her 90th birthday party, ‘I always tried my best. I was given lemons but I made lemonade’. She was given a sour, unwanted fruit, but she made it into a highly valued drink that everyone loves. And that’s what the album is about. A relationship turns sour, but by fighting through, being strong, taking control of yourself, you can come out well. In an early song B ends with ‘What are you doing my love?’ and in another she tells him, ‘You better see Becky with the good hair’. Yet by the end, she ends a song with ‘I’ve missed you my love’, as the relationship resumes, with eyes wide open.
Lemonade is an intimate book
It’s a very, very personal album. There’s a lot of swearing, a lot about personal aspects of their relationship. There’s a lot of black American language. She uses the word ‘niggah’ in several songs, something I wouldn’t be allowed to do as a white. What comes out for me is her strength – I’m not going to put up with this, I need freedom, I’m strong (her father tells her to shoot men who try to take advantage of her in ‘Daddy’s Lessons’) and I’ll determine what I want and whether or not I’ll let you back.
She’s not doing this for publicity, for sympathy or to flaunt herself (anyway, she’s the deceived party). Both of them are megastars (‘You just could be a black Bill Gates in the making’; ‘I own my own recording studio and label’), so it’s not about money. But it is like an intimate novel. It makes you think. What would I do in such a circumstance?
The music and the video are compelling, despite going against every trend in the business. Finally, who’d have thought Serena Williams would have a bit part in the dancing video, or that one video song would feature the mothers of black children who have been shot and killed by the police?
You’re probably not convinced. That’s OK. But, in a post-Trump world, when we all need to step out of our comfort zones and experience other worlds, in a few years, when people look back on this album as an iconic industry changer, don’t say you weren’t told.