Album Review: LEMONADE by Beyoncé
In 2014, rumors of a possible Jay-Z affair reached a fever pitch when he was caught on camera fighting off Solange during the MET Gala. None of the musicians ever substantiated any claims of marital strife and Beyoncé only referred to it once. LEMONADE, Beyoncé’s latest visual album, blows that night up into a charged recollection of infidelity and injustice, spanning generations.
The frank and discordant music relay themes of marital strife, independence, and reconciliation. The production is a built by a hodgepodge of musicians from James Blake to Jack White. It takes cues from her previous electro-R&B self-titled record but is fittingly more fearless. There’s the trap&B “She Works Hard for the Money”-update titled “6 INCH”; the country-blues “DADDY LESSONS”; the subtle electronic piano opener “PRAY YOU CATCH ME”; and the ragga-lite “HOLD UP”.
It’s a gripping record. One with challenging pop songs that bounce between the boundlessness and tenuousness of love. It tackles power dynamics by claiming power for itself. Ultimately, though, LEMONADE transcends pop by weaving a political context into the personal narrative. Malcolm X himself becomes a recurring figure. At one point, one of his voiceovers interrupts to deliver LEMONADE’s thesis: “the most disrespected person in America is the black woman.”
“FREEDOM” is the most obvious rallying cry. It features Kendrick Lamar and is musically similar to his work; jazz-blues melodies with lyrics evoking strife and racial tension. “FORMATION”, equally provocative, speaks for itself at this point. But, the most evocative track is “FORWARD”, one of two James Blake-assisted tracks. Built on minor and fragmented piano melodies, it’s a political and personal crosswords for the record.
LEMONADE is, of course, named for the idiom. But, the title and “FORWARD” function synonymously. They both plead with listeners to progress, whether that is political, socially, romantically or economically (the album makes a point to say these are not mutually exclusive ideas). Beyoncé has always been a fairly private celebrity. So, it’s disarming to watch her conflate her personal life with the current sociopolitical climate. But, it’s an artistic risk that paid off and puts her on the leading edge of pop’s greatest.