It’s important that I preface this with the fact that I’m not a Beyoncé stan. I’m new here. The Beyhive has graciously welcomed me and the snacks are phenomenal. That being said, Beyoncé bestowed upon us an amazing gift when she released Lemonade. Her greatest work yet, Lemonade is an at-times uncomfortably raw and authentic look into pain and paranoia. It is also important that I provide the disclaimer that this is not a DECODED: Lemonade post. That would be both foolish to attempt and impossible to execute in such ephemeral a space.
Lemonade is a visual album, yes, but it’s so much more than that. It isn’t just a stream of music videos; it’s a complete body of art. Open to interpretation in some areas while being crystal clear on other topics, Lemonade strikes everyone differently. Black male friends told me it helped them see their own faults in past relationships. White male writers seemed to, as a unit, spontaneously combust at the realization that their opinion on this album was neither necessary nor wanted.
But most importantly, Lemonade is for Black women. It is by a Black woman. Somehow even more than that, it is about Black womanhood. Lemonade is about the pain that comes from being a Black woman. The pleasure that comes from being a Black woman. The work that goes into being a Black woman. The thanklessness of being a Black woman. And the absurdity of going through all that Black women do, just to have the love you chose, choose something or someone else. And how even that, while deeply painful and traumatic, isn’t the end of our story. From the explicit struggle of dealing with infidelity to the bigger question of “what now?” Beyoncé takes us on an extremely emotional journey. It’s a shame many chose instead to focus on the banal “is this real or fiction” part of this complex, multidimensional work.
Near the beginning of the film we see Beyoncé on a roof: messy hair, eyes red and still wet from crying. She looks into the camera, almost apologetically, then surrenders herself to gravity. Just before what we fear will be a horrific display of her body meeting the ground at high impact, she submerges into water – baptized in her sacrifice. Immediately we hear the poignant adapted words of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire’s For Women Who Are Difficult To Love.
I tried to change. Closed my mouth more. Tried to be softer. Prettier. Less awake… I swallowed a sword. I levitated. Got on my knees and said Amen. I bathed in bleach and plugged my menses with pages from the Holy Book but still inside me was the need to know: Are you cheating on me?
Beyoncé (and Black women alike) have tried it all to become this Perfect Person.
I tried to change. Closed my mouth more.
We tried to bend our spines and will of mind to sacrifice our original selves in an effort to become this Perfect Person that maybe He wanted or She wanted or They wanted us to be. Maybe we did it successfully, too. We didn’t speak up as much. We tried to be prettier and more tolerable. After all, nobody wants to be challenging and unpredictable.
Tried to be softer. Prettier. Less awake.
We damn near perform #BlackGirlMagic:
I swallowed a sword. I levitated.
We prayed about our union. We tried our hardest to defy our very being maybe in some sadistic form of worship wherein we find our inferiority drilled in us from the days of our youth in the church.
Got on my knees and said Amen. I bathed in bleach and plugged my menses with pages from the Holy Book. But still inside me was the need to know: Are you cheating on me?
And for who? For what?
Perfection is the disease of a nation, sure. But for all intents and purposes, Beyoncé is perfect. You’ve seen the memes. You’ve heard the hopefully joking Beysus nickname. You know the crew – #Beyhive. She dropped a single and performed it at the Super Bowl the next day. She releases albums in the middle of the night. She’s savvy. She’s BEAUTIFUL. She’s the best in her field. As little as we know of Beyoncé, we know she’s accomplishing major goals. She married the man she’s loved for years, they made a beautiful child, and now sit atop the throne as the second most powerful couple in the world – right after Uncle Barry and Auntie ‘Chelle. But that’s not the end of the story. Happily ever after just does not exist. Because there is always more. Lemonade has a lot to say and one of the strongest messages it sends is: Love is work.
Every woman is the Beyoncé of her own world. That nagging question of Why can’t you see me? Everyone else can. is a killer. From the most wedding-planned-since-birth of women to the most savage of us, Rihanna said it best: I’ll let you in on a dirty secret, I just want to be loved. It’s how we want to be loved that is the question. In this regard, thematically and at times sonically, Rihanna and Beyoncé are doing something extremely similar with ANTI and Lemonade.
There is a Black Feminist Coup happening and Rihanna and Beyoncé are providing the soundtrack. The top two artists in the genre are both explicitly controlling and twisting the narrative. They’re flipping the false virgin-whore dichotomy (Ayesha Curry vs Cardi B, if you let twitter tell it) and affirming that they are much more complex than that. On ANTI’s “Needed Me” Rihanna sings:
I was good on my own, that’s the way it was. You was good on the low for a faded fuck. On some faded love. Shit, what the fuck you complaining for? But baby, don’t get it twisted. You was just another nigga on the hit list. Tryna fix your inner issues with a bad bitch. Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage? Fuck ya white horse and a carriage.
Oh boy! Fuck a horse and carriage, indeed! This ain’t the usual fairytale where boy meets girl, boy saves girl. Isn’t Rihanna supposed to be enthralled with a man and in agony that she’s not being loved right? Not up in here. We start the story with Rihanna already being a complete autonomous individual. And it ends with “Never told you you could have it”, so wait they don’t even end up together happily ever after?! Rihanna ruins our childhood and says fuck that princess story while Beyoncé touches on a similar sentiment with “Don’t Hurt Yourself”:
Who the FUCK do you think I is? You ain’t married to no average bitch, boy. You can watch my fat ass twist, boy. As I bounce to the next dick, boy! And keep your money. I got my own. Keep a bigger smile on my face being alone. Bad motherfucker. God complex. Motivate your ass. Call me Malcolm X. Your operator, or innovator. Fuck you hater, you can’t recreate her, no. You’ll never recreate her, no.
This is dope. This is incredible. This is Black Feminism. This is why representation matters. This is why our perspectives and voices matter. Beyonce and Rihanna present us with examples of the women we can become, regardless of our struggle: A self-realized married mother who has discovered her husband’s infidelity, or a young and carefree Black woman rising above her very public domestic assault. Those situations do not have to define us. This is groundbreaking because Shame is the ultimate enemy of progress. And Shame is always looming.
With both albums, Beyonce and Rihanna risked Shame. For Beyoncé to publicly invite us into her marriage and show that even Perfect To Us Beyoncé has to ask herself What’s worse: looking jealous or crazy? is incredibly brave. Here’s a woman who lives in a society that scrutinizes the woman when a relationship falters or fails, showing us how she took the lemons life gave her and is making lemonade. Her response is basically a 2016 version of Toni Braxton’s “He Wasn’t Man Enough For Me”. No, world, it’s not Her, it’s Him. She admitted to the entire world I’m not too perfect to ever feel this worthless. And in talking about her shame in the public eye, it liberates us all.
Were Lemonade to end there, it would still be a great album – to watch Beyoncé artistically channel Black womanhood, pain, forgiveness, trust, and wanting to be loved. But instead, it goes further, into the realm of redemption. What happens once you react? After you bust the windows out his car? She has plenty of valid options: She can leave, as she sings on “Sorry”:
Me and my baby, we gon be alright. We gon live a good life.
She can take him for what he’s worth. She can slander his name. She can ask some tough questions about how leaving him will impact their child. This is not a treatise. It’s not a Stay With Your Man anthem. She does, after all, clearly state Try this shit again and you gon lose your wife. But it’s Beyonce’s truth. Or the avenue in which she chooses to relay this message. She took us through a range of emotions.
How did it come down to this? Scrolling through your call lists. I don’t wanna lose my pride but I’ma fuck me up a bitch.
She blamed him.
Tonight I’m fuckin up all yo shit boy!
She blamed herself.
Tell me what did I do wrong? Oh I already asked that. My bad.
Then she got back to working on her marriage. This ain’t one size fits all advice but the sentiment reverberates deeply. Seeing this example of a relationship low up close is important. Cheating, infidelity, and other “deal breakers” just aren’t as simple, when you’re married with a child. It’s a little more complicated than just Ring The Alarm and show the cheating bastard that he’s not Irreplaceable. What good would that do the independent and wildly successful woman who never committed to anyone else as deeply as her vows chained her to a man she felt was faithful?
The LEMONADE film begins to end with Beyoncé saying So we’re gonna heal. We’re gonna start again. Beyoncé says this while curly afro-haired Black girls pick fresh vegetables from the garden. And with this, for me, the masterpiece is capped. Beyoncé seems to have just established Lemonade Island: an oasis for Black women, but maybe this is just what sisterhood is supposed to be. This is encouragement. Again, Beyoncé is showing us what is incredibly possible. I want a place at that table. I want to grind harder than ever because I want to be in this sisterhood. I want to add to our #BlackGirlMagic.