Writer: Sara Amare
Image attribution: Beyoncé performing at her Formation World Tour ©2016 Rocbeyonce, courtesy of Wikimedia.
On the forefront, Lemonade is a personal journey that captures the phases in a relationship after it’s been stained by infidelity; however, beneath that is a body of work dedicated to the emotional liberation of black women. The album opens with the soft and delicate Pray You Catch Me, a ballad that encaptures a lover’s yearning for her partner to recognise that she’s hurt and that most importantly she’s aware of his discrepancies. It’s a heart wrenching opener that sees Beyoncé silently plea for her lover to address the issues in their relationship before she has to. A subtle, yet powerful beginning to the album, Pray You Catch Me sets the tone for the rest of the album as we follow Beyoncé through the betrayal and eventual reconciliation of her relationship.
Pray You Catch Me seamlessly transitions to Hold Up, a song where Beyoncé reminds her partner that her love is inimitable as she insists ‘they don’t love you like I love you‘. The upbeat melody of the song juxtaposes the serene demeanor of Beyoncé as she prances through the streets while destroying everything in her path. Beyoncé then questions her sanity and the appropriate reaction to her partner’s betrayal when she asks, ‘what’s worse? looking jealous or crazy’ coming to the eventual conclusion that she’d ‘rather be crazy’. Beyoncé’s complete embracing of her anger and despair, and broadcasting it to the whole world is a sentiment that has hit home. Black women have been told from their inception to package and filter our emotions in order to fulfil the stifling standards of a ‘strong independent black woman”. Being conditioned to be strong at all times prevents black women from experiencing the type of authentic self-expression and intimacy that are necessary for optimal social and emotional health’ (Chanequa Walker Barnes, Too Heavy a Yoke: Black Women and the Burden of Strength.) Through her expression of vulnerability and anger, Beyoncé dismantles this narrative in a way that’s both unconventional and inconvenient, just as it should be.
The destruction in Hold Up is really just the beginning; Beyoncé then adds complexity and character in the following track Don’t Hurt Yourself. She establishes her own power and strength when she reminds her partner, ‘you’re not married to no average bitch, boy’. Her swagger and her tone are completely unapologetic and performed without fear of being pigeonholed as the Angry Black Woman. She is as fearless in her delivery as she is in her presentation, dressed in a fur coat and cornrows in contrast with her soft waves and flowy dress in Hold Up. Don’t Hurt Yourself is a warning as much as it is a demonstration of unadulterated rage. An ode to the Prince quote, Beyoncé lets us know ‘When you play me, you play yourself’.
Don’t Hurt Yourself is followed by the obligatory club banger Sorry, another track that is symbolic of a shift in the phase of the relationship. Beyoncé is now at a stage where she no longer cares and evidently, she’s not sorry about at it. It’s a carefree anthem that is about self-love and self-care. Beyoncé balances the vulnerability displayed in earlier tracks with a strength that is reminiscent of her earlier works like Survivor from Destiny’s Child. Her versatility is unparalleled and provides young Black women the avenue to be just as multifaceted.
Lemonade is a celebration of Black culture and a reminder of Black history. It’s a body of work that references the enslavement of African Americans and its consequences in the present day throughout its entirety. These themes are particularly potent in Freedom, a song that encourages and celebrates the political involvement of women in civil rights. The music video begins with the striking imagery of the mothers of black men killed by police. It’s also a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement established by three Black Queer Women.
Beyoncé’s Lemonade is a body of work that is so completely and utterly devoted to the liberation of black women. Beyoncé also initiates a conversation on forgiveness but she does so delicately. Though she evidently reconciles her relationship with the unofficial album closer All Night, she first exposes all her inner turmoil and then takes us on a twelve track marathon through her grieving, healing and the eventual rebuilding of her relationship. Lemonade is a body of work that places love and value on emotional freedom, physical freedom and romantic freedom. It’s a permanent reminder that Beyoncé loves my blackness, and yours.
Sara Amare is an Arts student at Monash University that can be found at twitter.com/sara_amare.