Beyoncé’s visual album concept (first seen with her 2013 sneak-attack masterpiece, Beyoncé puts a new spin on the musical short films of Michael Jackson and the dramatic rock movies of Prince, a new medium she clearly so far owns.
HBO debuted Lemonade in all its cinematic, poetic splendor Saturday night, with the album (Beyoncé’s sixth) streaming on Tidal a few minutes in. Full of confessional infidelity meditations, baptismal self-love rituals and praisesongs for universal Black womanhood, Lemonade is all zone.
If we’re to believe the album’s meme-quotable lyrics (“You better call Becky with the good hair,” “tell him ‘boy, bye’,” “a winner don’t quit on themselves,” etc.), Lemonade exorcises the demons haunting Beyoncé’s marriage through music. Beyoncé-narrated quotations from Somali-American poet Warsan Shire and the antebellum-plantation Southern imagery of New Orleans texture Lemonade, adding levels of feminism, sociological anthropology and meditative majesty. Diving into a pool of a bedroom, standing regally amidst licking flames of fire, Beyoncé makes beautiful allusions to Yoruban goddesses Yemaya and Oya. The royal mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner all appear, poignantly holding framed photos of their slain sons.
Musically, the mid-tempo reggae-trap song “Hold Up” bathes Beyoncé in occasional air horns as she asks, “What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy?” If anybody cheating on Beyoncé sounds senseless to you, Lemonade makes clear that the concept seems just as outrageous to her. She spits profane fire over the rock-stomp highlight “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” before commanding: “When you love me, you love yourself/Love God herself.” The Weeknd appears on “6 Inch,” another highlight girded by a sample of Isaac Hayes’ “Walk On By.” If Beyoncé had been a double album, all these songs could have fit comfortably.
“Daddy Lessons” sounds distinctly Lemonade, a sonic detour into quasi-country music with N’awlins horns and jangly guitar. And with “Although I promised that I couldn’t stay, baby/Every promise don’t work out that way,” the piano ballad “Sandcastles” brings forgiveness into the space after an album-length reflection on marital infidelity. The aftermath—both the liberation anthem “Freedom” (featuring Kendrick Lamar) and black feminist anthem “Formation”—suggests that after we free ourselves, we free the world.
Lemonade follows in the unapologetically Black path of February’s “Formation,” and the Beyhive can rest easy: it’s easily another classic.
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