Released while her hour long visual album aired on HBO, Lemonade appeared exclusively on Tidal. The twelve track masterpiece is deeply personal, but also touches on important conversations started when ‘Formation’ dropped in the middle of Black History Month. It is difficult to discuss the audio album without taking into account the visual album, as the video puts each song into context, narrating the story of Jay-Z’s alleged affair through an extended take on the Kübler-Ross stages of grief. Quoting several poems by Warsan Shire, the video tells the tale of Beyoncé’s personal struggles as well as making powerful statements about the current situation of black women in society. The video is set in the south, with dramatic scenes of NoLa, the bayou and giant poplar trees reminding the audience of her environment growing up.
With co-writers including Kevin Garrett, James Blake, Abel ‘The Weeknd’ Tesfaye, Father John Misty, and Kendrick Lamar, each track is a unique piece of work, full of meaning and emotion. Beyoncé shows a progression from her last album, with a bigger emotional range and far more complex messages behind her lyrics.
‘Pray You Catch Me’ introduces the concept of the album through both lyrics and the general vibe of the track. This is her first stage of grief – labelled Intuition in the video. It is contemplative and melancholy and is the perfect set up for her next stage – Denial. Between repeating “they don’t love you like I love you”, she shoots off question after question “what’s worse, being jealous or crazy?” trying to understand how she could be jilted so. The visual aesthetic of this song is already blowing up the internet with gifs of Beyoncé taking a bat to car windows and eventually driving a monster truck over a row of cars.
Beyoncé shows a progression from her last album , with a bigger emotional range and far more complex messages.
In the second most powerful collaboration on the album, ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself’ samples Malcom X’s poem – ‘Who Taught You to Hate Yourself?’ entering the next stage of grief – Anger. Featuring Jack White, the track is the epitome of rage and Beyoncé isn’t holding anything back.
Containing the most talked about lyric, mentioning “Becky with the good hair”, ‘Sorry’ signals Beyoncé’s progression to Apathy. The video features the tennis great Serena Williams twerking next to Beyoncé and the track is bound to become a dance-floor hit once a remix is released.
Immediately recognizable in ‘6 Inch’ is The Weeknd touch of sultry vibes. Labelled Emptiness in the video, Beyoncé is almost oblivious to her husband’s misstep, she could even be confused for a single lady in the red-hued scene.
Transitioning to a country-swinging tune, Beyoncé recounts her father’s influence on her relationships with men in ‘Daddy Lessons’, the Accountability stage. Her estranged dad clearly complicated her view of the opposite sex and juxtaposed with videos of baby Beyoncé with her father as well as of Blue Ivy with him, the track shows the layers of their complex relationship.
Probably the least exciting track on the album is ‘Love Drought’, a bizarre combination of beats, confusing melody and uneven tempo. The Reformation stage is the palate cleanser of the track list, moving on to probably the most emotional song – ‘Sandcastles’. A personal favourite, it’s mellow, soulful and deep. The only time Jay-Z is actually present in the video, Beyoncé has reached the Forgiveness stage and begins to accept him back in her life.
A smooth transition to Resurrection features James Blake in ‘Forward’, a beautiful memorial for black men lost in the past. The video features the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown among others, making a loud statement about the community and the history behind all of the references made in the album.
A beautiful memorial for black men lost in the past, the video features the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
Continuing on the story from ‘Forward’, ‘Freedom’ is all about the power of the black woman and the community upon which she relies. Cameos from other powerful black women like Quvenzhané Wallis, Amandla Stenberg and the music duo Ibeyi sat next to the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown define the solidarity within the black women’s community. Featuring the great lyricist Kendrick Lamar, Freedom is a celebration of life and a declaration of power and motivation. “I break chains all by myself, won’t let my freedom rot in hell, imma keep running cause a winner doesn’t quit on themselves”.
The last track on the album ‘All Night’ brings the work full circle, starting with Beyoncé’s grandmother Hattie’s lemonade recipe explaining the album’s title and a home-video of Hattie saying she “was served lemons but made lemonade”. It completes the story of growth over time – for both Beyoncé’s relationships and the enfranchisement of the black woman in today’s society. Beyoncé has reached Redemption, understanding that something worth so much cannot be broken easily. She has come to forgive her wayward husband, praise the beauty of life, including its hardship.
In order to fully appreciate the album, I urge you to watch the visual version before downloading the audio album, because the songs don’t flow without Warsan Shire’s words. The visual half of the video adds so much more meaning and given the album was first released as more than just an auditory experience, the songs on their own cannot paint the full picture. A few questions remain: how did she tell Jay-Z the topic of her album, did he actually cheat on her, and how in the world did she keep the album a secret!?