28 Apr Beyonce’s Lemonade: A Musical Experience Through Sight
“I was served lemons, but I made lemonade”
Wise words from a wise woman. When Beyoncé shocked us all last weekend with the release of her sixth solo studio album, Lemonade, many of us thought: what. the. fuck? A cultural phenomenon rocked social media and had many people wondering about the pop star’s marriage to her rap star husband, Jay-Z. But the album, along with the visual accompaniment is so much more than just a “music business story”. It’s an album beyond any autobiographical accounts — it’s art in a digital age where it’s foundation is built upon self worth, infidelity, love, feminism and reconciliation.
Can I appreciate the storytelling and the art? Yes. Do I love the album? No, and I’ll tell you why.
I truly believe as compelling, modern and abstract Lemonade is, it’s track-list is tailored to the visual — not the other way around. Is it musically avant-garde? Not so much. The funk, gospel, rock, country blues compilations are reincarnations of things we’ve heard before (just listen to Don’t Hurt Yourself and you’ll hear Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks). While there’s nothing wrong with playing around with songs and beats of the past it’s just not as exciting coming from Beyoncé. But then again it’s probably because my expectations are too high and after her self-titled album it’s almost hard to compete. The strongest tracks on this album are the ones that incorporate the featured artists, in my opinion. From the rock-funk beats of Don’t Hurt Yourself where Beyoncé boasts a signature Jack White-style of rhythm to the euphoric, R&B styles a la The Weekend in 6 Inch, they’re heavy hitters with strong lyrical presence. When it comes to storytelling in the rest of the album, the strength of each song is glorified solely by the visuals and Beyoncé’s poetic storytelling (thanks to the writings of Warsan Shire). Her artistic approach to segway into the various tracks allows viewers to listen, watch and experience the story, past and present, of the black female legacy and overall black womanhood. The one hour film allow us to trigger our inner emotions, our struggles and pushes us to understand the strength it takes to reclaim ourselves — no matter our race, religion or creed. I truly believe Lemonade is made for us to open our eyes about what it’s like to be black and female around the world but, particularly, in America. Beyoncé plays with the ideas of black women being seen as crazy but loyal, strong but silenced, caring to the careless, angry by right yet scorned by society, made up to be foolish and meek — and she won’t stand for it. However, while these visual tropes allow us to enter this realm of thinking, the music on its own is somewhat lacklustre.
The artistic aspect of Lemonade deems it more of a politically charged racial and gender protest than anything that can be classified as musically heightening. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I don’t believe the music will make it anymore enlightening than the visuals already have. But, perhaps that’s where Beyonce hopes to shift the gears in today’s digital age. Perhaps this is more of a short film that just happens to have a full-track album tied to it. Perhaps this is her way of sending a ground breaking message through her powerful presence — and it works. But then I question myself on where the state of music is headed? Are we living in a world where we are forced to experience sound through seeing? Is sound no longer enough to send forth a message? Is this a greater depiction of our generation today? Because, sadly, I truly feel this album would have very little impact if it weren’t for the visuals. Then part of me thinks that the visuals are designed to enhance the music but then I try to remember how I felt when I first listened to the album without having watched the film and then how I felt after watching it — two completely different experiences. The songs become more colourful, the stories more powerful, the lessons more believable. At times I felt confused, uplifted, empowered, saddened, heartbroken and then I was transcended into an alter-reality that was solemn and dark, edgy and raw — I, for a moment, felt what I imagined Bey to have felt. I will say that at times the film is almost too black and white to the point where I hate it — but then, it suddenly feels like my own life in that black and white seems so simplistic and linear yet, it exemplifies the disheartenment we’ve all been subjected to. I started to realize that beneath the layers of grey that it’s story was one all too familiar. I journeyed through each chapter with my own thoughts and struggles of denial, apathy and emptiness only to discover that if I questioned less and did more that perhaps, just maybe, I could resolve life’s tortures. My sights became clearer and it became more than just a racially charged work of art, it transformed into an awakening and appreciation of female solidarity and its influence in the absence of men (whom we rarely see depicted).
So long are the days of listening to music and imagining your own reality. This second time around Beyoncé delivers a piece of film art that paints herself less superstar and more bona fide and raw as ever. She’s a wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend and black woman living in America. She’s telling a story about love, infidelity, sisterhood and motherhood through her cries and rants. Above all she’s letting her viewers explore her personal struggles (both indirect and directly) by presenting a solution, hopefully, for oppression: remaining aware, forgiving and moving ahead.
Will the wholeheartedness of Beyoncé’s Lemonade fabricate itself into some of the best music we’ve seen from Beyoncé? Probably not. Lemonade will however, culturally impact it’s viewers — It’s already resonated with the masses and has caused a stream of female empowerment and artistic appreciation. It’s been years since we can turn on our televisions and watch music videos but instead today, through endless subscription service, we can get musical thrills when sight and sound come together cinematically. Just like Michael Jackson awed his audience in 1983 when he released his 14-minute Thriller video, Beyoncé has done the same today, albeit more powerfully and message-driven, with Lemonade.
Now we can all singalong to snappy lines that connect with emotions we all, too familiarly, know so well.