Release Date: Apr 23, 2016
Record label: Parkwood
Genre(s): Pop, R&B
It’s unlikely there will be many more albums this year that will unite high art and low in the same way as Beyoncé’s jaw-slackening latest. Stealth-released like its predecessor, Beyoncé’s self-titled visual album of 2013, Lemonade was expected to be political, trailed as it was by February’s polemical Formation, and a paradigm-shifting Super Bowl half-time performance with Black Pantherised dancers. Black lives continue to matter on Lemonade – Formation, still startling, is included; Malcolm X is sampled and Trayvon Martin’s mother makes an appearance – but Beyoncé’s political bent takes a back seat to personal matters; these are, though, expansively contextualised.
“You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation.” It was purple lights in the skyline on a cloudy night. Wasn’t something wrong? A ringing emptiness: The sort of massive affect that social media compounds and condenses. Prince was dead. I sat down on the floor and played “Sometimes It Snows In April” on the old stereo my dad had brought up from my Indiana home.
What does it mean for Beyoncé to drop a new surprise album on the world within days of a giant like Prince leaving us? It's a welcome reminder that giants still walk among us. Lemonade is an entire album of emotional discord and marital meltdown, from the world's most famous celebrity; it's also a major personal statement from the most respected and creative artist in the pop game. All over these songs, she rolls through heartbreak and betrayal and infidelity and the hangover that follows "Drunk In Love." Yet despite all the rage and pain in the music, she makes it all seem affirming, just another chapter in the gospel according to Beyoncé: the life-changing magic of making a great big loud bloody mess.
Beyonce is an event. Her projects are black holes, sucking up the space and time around them at a dizzying pace. She’s become the rule and the exception. The one pop star with a capital P that can tote the powerful nexus of feminism, America and America’s great sin in both of her cosmic hands ….
The fear in an album as compelling as Lemonade is that the surface level narrative — Jay Z cheating on Beyoncé — will overshadow the real root of the record. Beyoncé assured audiences that that would not be the case, creating her most complete and striking visual and audio narrative yet. With nods to Voudou and Southern Black gothic storytelling, Lemonade, the visual album, wove chapters of emotional grief into a piece of art about the black woman.
Beyoncé’s fifth album, 2013’s Beyoncé, set a pinnacle for surprise releases but it also saw the singer not only subvert her method of release using the concept of the visual album for the first time but also subvert her entire method of working. It was the sound of a musician making a firm, loud and clear statement that from now on anything goes, and she was going to explore the full realm of an increasingly experimental yet dazzlingly pop tuned musical desire. The result was a triumph, fostering an almost breathless excitement that now welcomes Lemonade, her second successive rush release and visual document.
Like all things Beyoncé, Lemonade is a triumph of marketing and musicality, spectacle and song, vision and collaboration, Borg-like assimilation, and — as of 2013 — the element of surprise. And lest we forget, Bey’s one half of the only celebrity-artist marriage bond that matters to media and civilization today. Curiosity and speculation about her very private life with Jay Z renders that mystery an exploitable readymade — especially for professionally confessional songwriting inspiration and for moving mountains of product.
Narratively, Lemonade is as much a journey through self-reflection and healing as self-discovery, learning about who you are when faced with seemingly insurmountable trauma. Released months after news of her husband's allegedly adulterous dalliance, Lemonade reflects the notion that for all her public visibility, Beyoncé's true life and emotions are not available for public consumption or critique; on Lemonade, it's only Beyoncé who tells the story, who allows access to it by reflecting on the dynamic stages that women — and often here, specifically black women — go through for friendship, love and family. Soft, plaintive coos open the album, but the pain and subdued anger is palpable as Beyoncé sings "You can taste the dishonesty" over the synth-orchestral ballad "Pray You Catch Me," which balloons into the reggae-infused, uptempo "Hold Up," produced by Diplo.
On her sixth solo album, Beyoncé Knowles Carter starts rolling mid-scene: She’s just realized that her husband is cheating on her. The surrounding context is familiar to anyone who follows popular culture. Beyoncé and Jay Z are the most famous musical couple on the planet, and Beyoncé in particular is in a great place. With 2013’s Beyoncé, MJ-level talent met pop-perfectionism in a moment that defined album-cycle disruption; moreover, it was a victory lap Bey took as pop feminism's reigning goddess.
It sounds as if Morgan is saying he wishes Beyoncé wasn’t behaving so “black”. This isn’t to say that Morgan is merely waxing nostalgic here, pining for an era when Beyoncé made her name on Destiny’s Child cuts like “Say My Name” all over again, but there was a time in his mind when Beyoncé was “safe”, when she was “less inflammatory, agitating”. He’s probably thinking about Dangerously in Love-era Beyoncé, pop hit Beyoncé, “Single Ladies” Beyoncé.
From opening to closing lyric, Beyoncé’s sixth album is designed with the clearest purpose. Every last drop of ‘Lemonade’ exists for a reason. And while the current ball-busting talk around the record’s narrative won’t subside, there’s so much more than an enthralling story to draw out of this all-slaying work. Queen Bey takes no prisoners - that much was clear on previous records.
The institution of marriage has long been essential to Beyoncé’s creativity. The pop superstar’s songs are rarely written or sung from the point of view of someone unattached (Single Ladies included), and if her matrimonial standing ever seemed iffy she might turn up in the video wearing a wedding dress to reassure us that, yes, she has her man on lock. Of course, Beyoncé has sent the odd man packing – most joyously in Irreplaceable – but the bitterness of Lemonade is something different.
Everything I own, packed tightly into crates and duffels, sits in the corner of a home that isn't mine. Clothes and memories remain untouched ever since I said goodbye, having left behind the past five years and the one I spent them with, two weeks ago. Half a decade and a partnership unparalleled is now past tense. For my sanity perhaps, it has been business as usual – word docs, blog posts, interviews and emails from sunrise to sunset for the past fourteen days, propelled by dry eyes and productivity.
Dishearteningly billed as “a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self knowledge and healing” – a description that makes it sound like something agonisingly earnest you’d go out of your way to avoid at the Edinburgh Fringe – Beyoncé’s sixth solo album touches on a lot of potent topics. Quite aside from the presence of her much-discussed single Formation, a meditation on race that originally appeared in the middle of Black History Month, there are lyrical references to slavery, rioting and Malcolm X and a ferocious guest appearance by Kendrick Lamar that jabs at Fox News and police brutality and ends with something approaching a call to arms. In an era when pop doesn’t tend to say a great deal, there’s obviously something hugely cheering about an artist of Beyonce’s stature doing this: she increasingly seems to view her success and celebrity as a means to an end rather than something to be maintained at all costs.
Beyoncé's sixth album loomed once "Formation" and its video were issued ahead of the superstar's Super Bowl 50 half-time performance. Two months and a couple weeks later, it appeared as a culturally seismic visual album. Loaded with layers of meaning and references, and experienced en masse through its televised premiere, Lemonade honored black sisterhood with the presence of Warsan Shire, Serena Williams, and the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner.
Most pop stars spend their careers chasing their next big hit or recreating past ones, but Beyoncé, who's unapologetically become more of a meme-generator than a hit-maker in recent years, seems increasingly uninterested, or rather unwilling, to play that game. By dropping surprise albums and eschewing traditional marketing, the singer bypasses the often-crippling pressure to follow-up on previous successes, thus avoiding the whiff of inevitable failure associated with, say, underperforming pre-release singles. Though this approach bears the benefit of sparing Beyoncé any perceived decline in commercial appeal, it's also resulted in reinvigorating the flagging album format.
We’re all too familiar with resilience. 'Move on', 'adapt'… 'when life gives you lemons, make lemonade'. Whether you see it as the ultimate neoliberal lie or a necessary strategy for survival, it doesn’t come as a surprise that when it’s our biggest global pop star using it as the foundation of her new album, we’re ready to dissect every lyric and rumour in order to catch a glimpse of her own fallibility.
In a follow-up essay to his review of The Life of Pablo, Jon Caramanica of The New York Times wrote, of its unfinished nature and Kanye’s constant updates, that the album as a format “is no longer just a snapshot, but an unending data stream.” Beyoncé Knowles begs to differ. Her sixth and, by an order of magnitude, best album Lemonade represents the culmination of exacting thought and utmost care. It stands in stark contrast to the messiness of Pablo.
Nearly a year after the launch of Jay Z’s Tidal, listeners are finally reaping the benefits of its artist-owned premise. The streaming platform is the only place online to binge on Prince’s catalog, and it’s also allowed superstars such as Kanye West, Rihanna, and Beyoncé to untether themselves from a label-driven system and release genre-redefining music. In the case of Beyoncé, that record is Lemonade, a visual album that arrived with a high-profile rollout.
Marital strife smolders, explodes and uneasily subsides on “Lemonade” (Parkwood Entertainment), the album Beyoncé flash-released on Saturday night. “You can taste the dishonesty/It’s all over your breath” are the first words she sings in “Pray You Catch Me,” and that’s just the beginning of an album that probes betrayal, jealousy, revenge and rage before dutifully willing itself toward reconciliation at the end. Many of the accusations are aimed specifically and recognizably at her husband, Shawn Carter, the rapper Jay Z.
Beyonce performs in 2014 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Beyonce performs in 2014 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Leave it to Beyoncé to surprise us even when we suspected she was coming. Two and a half years ago, no one outside the singer’s trusted circle knew what she had in store with “Beyoncé,” the sprawling self-titled album that appeared without warning one night on iTunes and instantly turned the music world upside down.
Dropped Dec. 13, 2013, Beyoncé launched a salvo of imitators releasing albums without notice while the world sleeps. By comparison, a cryptic HBO teaser for the Texan's sixth solo LP, Lemonade, telegraphed its intent like a billboard. An hourlong film followed last month. How then did the singer ….
Beyonce performs in 2014 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Beyonce has made a habit of dropping fully finished albums out of nowhere, and she did it once more this weekend with the arrival of “Lemonade” (Parkwood). It’ll take a while to absorb everything that Beyonce has poured into her sixth studio album — a dozen songs plus a 60-minute movie that is more than just a mere advertisement for the music, but an essential companion that provides context and deepens understanding.
Beyoncé’s latest record is cinematic in scope, with gaudy production and high profile features, but it’s also deeply, and often uncomfortably, personal. It’s Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear but viewed through the all-revealing scope of the Internet Age, and that makes for an engaging and revealing listen. From the first verse of the first song, the tone for Lemonade is abundantly clear.
The political lead single that touched on issues like New Orleans post-Katrina. Its video contained graffiti in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, like ‘stop shooting us’.Key lyrics: “I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils / Earned all this money but they never take the country out me” .