Lemonade: Beyoncé’s Black Feminist Domination
Please note: Kathleen’s piece on Beyoncé will follow mine.
Because there’s just so much to unpack. You could write a think-piece on every single frame of Lemonade and it almost still wouldn’t be enough. Lemonade, of course, as you know now, is Beyoncé’s visual album, which premiered on HBO on Saturday night and made immediately available on Tidal afterwards. No glitches. When it’s a Beyoncé release, there are never any glitches. After spending Saturday night and Sunday exclusively on Tidal (which she co-owns, by the way), Lemonade is now available on iTunes. Beyoncé’s Formation world tour will kick off on Wednesday in Miami. Now that we’ve seen the visual album, can you f-cking imagine what this show is going to look like?
But how did it all come together? All of those celebrity appearances, all of that footage, and all of it kept so closely guarded, no one willing to disappoint or, worse yet, offend Beyoncé. Because you know this didn’t happen in a matter of weeks. From last September Beyoncé was already giving us hints about lemons. From the time Solange went postal on Jay Z in the elevator, two MET Galas ago, she was already putting this together, her creative inspiration complemented by her strategy, so that we have arrived here, at a masterpiece. Lemonade is a full-bodied artistic masterpiece – the music, the aesthetic, the emotion, and, yes, the gossip too. Oh the gossip especially.
I mean, you don’t actually think she wouldn’t have expected you to pick up on the gossip, would you? Beyoncé is 100% aware of the assumptions you are making about the lyrics and the message. She is 100% COUNTING on you to make those assumptions. She wants you to believe that this is a story about a woman betrayed by her husband. That SHE is the woman betrayed by her husband. And she knows too that you might wonder where she ends and her mother begins. But, at the same time, she will never, ever confirm your assumption and your question. Beyoncé has stopped giving interviews. Beyoncé has decided that all she has to say is contained in her art –it’s the only vessel from which to understand her.
So there will be no Oprah sit-down explanation to walk us through what it all means and how it all came to be. There will be no profile in Vanity Fair to break it down for us when Jay cheated and what her father did to her mother. Because she’s already given us the course materials. Beyoncé has cast herself as a modern Shakespeare. Just as he’s not around to lecture us through every line of his sonnets, she’s not here to give you all the answers. It’s our job to analyse and study for ourselves.
After all, didn’t she study? Didn’t she meticulously study Warsan Shire’s poetry and weave it into and through her work, delivering a seamless message about love and infidelity, self-love and forgiveness, and empowerment amid misogyny? What’s the point of that kind of thorough effort and consideration and imagination if she’s just going to have to hold your hand and interpret it for you at the same time?
I love that Beyoncé has resisted the urge to explain it to us. I love that she’s gone back to a time when the art was supposed to stand on its own. And I love that she continues to live up to what was expected of her from the very beginning – a girl child given a brand new name, Beyoncé from her mother’s maiden name Beyince, and thereby destined to be singular. There is only Beyoncé. There is one Beyoncé.
Beyoncé is not Becky.
Oh Becky. Who is Becky? There has been a lot of talk about Becky and why she’s Becky. Thing is, and this one’s for Duana, I feel like Beyoncé’s use of the name “Becky” was just a play on names, a play to glorify her own name. What is the opposite of an individual and unique name like Beyoncé? It’s the basic Becky. (Sorry all you Beckys. If it helps, my name, Elaine, is lame – and I dedicated an entire magazine column to how lame it is, click here to read it.)
Many are assuming that Becky is Rachel Roy because she and Solange supposedly had a fight that night at the MET Gala and, well, because Rachel herself decided to be part of the conversation on Saturday night, right after Lemonade aired, when Beyoncé took over Twitter and all of social media, really, Rachel Roy got on Instagram to talk about her “good hair”:
And in the same breath professed to not be a “drama queen”. Ohhhhh kayyyy, Rachel. Needless to say, the BeyHive came for Rachel immediately. She then made her Instagram private and posted a message on Twitter about how she believes in marriage and doesn’t appreciate being bullied.
I respect love, marriages, families and strength. What shouldn't be tolerated by anyone, no matter what, is bullying, of any kind.— Rachel Roy (@Rachel_Roy) April 24, 2016
She should definitely not be bullied. But she also should definitely not be part of this discussion. This discussion is about Beyoncé and Jay and the “wicked way” he “(treated) the girl that loves” him. And the amazing way she publicly flogged him for it. The first half of Lemonade is basically Bey calling Jay out for being a cheating fool. And then! And then!
He shows up!
He has to participate on a song (Sandcastles) where she tells us that she wanted to leave. She tells us that she promised him she couldn’t stay. To his face! Before and after he caresses and kisses her feet. In atonement. Because not only did Beyoncé make him endure her open confirmation of his infidelity, she also required that his contrition be made visible. In doing so, when you consider Lemonade as a whole, and Beyoncé as the representative of a woman’s pain, given her official description of the album as “every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing”, Jay’s atonement not only represents his own “sorry” but a “sorry” offered, hopefully, on behalf all men who have wronged women. And, furthermore, his willingness to atone, first in private and then in the most broadcast way possible, is the true evolution of Man, a statement of real and profound change, and most critically a reversal of the fate that neither she nor her mother could escape…for the sake of one Blue Ivy Carter. And all our daughters.
It’s the only way to address the bleak reality of what Beyoncé has illustrated as the sisterhood’s collective experience. How can you end the cycle? The gift to a new generation can’t just be recognition of what’s happened but the presentation of an alternative, starting with a father confronting his past as sacrifice in exchange for a better experience for his own child. In one hour, Beyoncé handed Jay both his sentence and his pardon.
But not before making herself completely vulnerable. This is Beyoncé. Beyoncé the great. Beyoncé the perfect. Beyoncé the “baddest woman in the game”. But not so great and not so perfect and not so bad to not be cheated on. It’s the revelation that would hurt the most, non? To admit that her power couldn’t protect her from the most common of betrayals?
She would have had to swallow some pride in that too. And this is where we’re meeting Beyoncé today. That could not have been easy. It’s one thing to throw up two middle fingers and swing a bat around. It’s another to address what’s underneath all that anger. To show us that the girl who runs the world, the Queen Slayer, was made to feel like she wasn’t enough in her own home; THIS GIRL in particular, this machine, this efficient supernatural paragon of perfection telling all the ordinary girls that she can actually relate to them? Who is this person?