Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade dropped over the weekend, and proceeded to pretty much slay all of our lives.
The concept album addresses years of rumors of marital strife with Jay-Z head on, mixing deeply personal and experimental lyrics with flashes of the uniquely badass King B we all know and love.
As with all things Beyonce, Lemonade is ripe for interpretation, analysis, and discussion…so here’s ours:
The first drop of Lemonade is still the tastiest.
You cannot separate “Formation” from the video, the moment that it dropped, and the spectacle that was her super bowl performance. You know, the performance where she completely overshadowed other superstars on the stage (Coldwhat? Bruno who?) to make the most overtly political statement of a not-very-political career.
Her hair was wild and messy, her backup dancers dressed in costumes inspired by the black panther movement, and her dancers formed an X (as in Malcolm) on the field. There’s something very subversive about the fact that a woman whose fair complexion lends her a flexibility with depictions of her blackness (via the endless array of blonde wigs, the black and white visual motif of the I Am era, etc.) would release the most one of the most unapologetic celebrations of it ever made.
“Formation” is meandering and relatively hookless, but sonically and politically, it goes harder than any other track on the album. Stay woke, Beyonce.
2. “Love Drought”
“Love Drought” is one of two moody and sparse songs on Lemonade, and is far more successful than the other, “Six Inch.” ‘Yonce and her man are not having sex, and it’s up to them to stop the drought and, um… get things wet again.
It’s thematically similar to the last half of Frank Ocean’s 10-minute Channel Orange opus “Pyramids,” and his influence is all over the cut. “Love Drought” isn’t the flashiest song on the album, nor is it likely to be the one that garners the most attention, but it’s the one we can’t get out of our heads.
3. “Don’t Hurt Yourself”
Kelis was the first girl to scream on a track, but when Beyonce does it, the world pays attention. King Bey has been experimenting with a hard rock edge since “Ring The Alarm.” If you’ve heard the “If I Were a Boy/You Oughta Know“ mashup from the I Am World Tour album or “I Care“ from 4, you know she’s been itching to unleash a rocker-chick side on some of her more aggressive kiss-offs.
With “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” Jack White helps her finally hit the bullseye after years of near-misses. The full-throated, hard rock f*ck you to a cheating lover is the song we can’t wait to see her perform live, and the video is Bey at her swagged-out peak of bad-bitchness.
4. “Hold Up”
The sun-kissed, reggae tinged “Hold Up” is deceptively simple enough to make it a strong candidate for song of the summer. “Hold Up” is an anthem to anyone who has ever had a partner stray, gotten fed up with putting long hours in the gym for nothing, and who has ever had to get their man together and let him know exactly what time it is. Not that we have, or anything.
So, What’s The Problem?
For all of the brilliance of the visual album and its instantly iconic moments, for all of the reasons why it’s her strongest body of work yet, there’s still a sense that it’s time for Beyonce to breakthrough her pattern of releasing album after album about relationships.
What makes “Formation” so striking is that it is such a rarity: a Beyonce song that isn’t about relationships or cheating or boyfriends and girlfriends or husbands and wives: it’s about self love and identifying what she loves about herself, from her “negro nose” to her “Jackson 5 nostrils” and everything in between.
After six (solo) albums and 20 years in the game, Beyonce has yet to produce her cohesive artistic statement that pushes her past her comfort zone of singing about love and relationships. Lemonade is not her Rhythm Nation and it certainly isn’t her Purple Rain.
When given the opportunity to make a bold statement about the world we all live in, she chooses instead to bring us deeper into hers. She doesn’t use the music to get us talking about the world, she uses it to keep us talking about Beyonce.
Lemonade is a fitting coda to that discussion. However, if Beyonce’s listening, we’re ready for a different conversation.
Rob Smith is a multimedia journalist and author of Closets, Combat and Coming Out: Coming of Age as a Gay Man in the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Army. Follow him on Twitter , Instagram and Facebook @robsmithonline.