It took me until this album to properly love Beyoncé. Which is not to say I haven’t liked her music before, or haven’t appreciated her talent. I just haven’t felt immediately invested in anything she’s put out until now, but I was super intrigued once I found out that she had made a visual album.
Assuming what she sings is true – and to be honest, who would release an album like this if it wasn’t? – what a way to ensure she’s in control of her own media narrative. No one will be able to talk about her personal life without also discussing her art. It’s all there, the juiciest bits, her most vulnerable emotions, laid bare for the world to see and do as they wish with, leaving Beyoncé in a place of power within the narrative rather than painting her as a jilted lover. Personally I don’t care about what Actually Happened, but I love that she used whatever it was as inspiration to make this. Also, I kind of love how open she is about it, how Jay Z actually appears in the visual album despite the fact that she spends large parts of the album seemingly ripping him to shreds. It makes it sound like he’s actually really sorry, but more importantly it enhances the sense of forgiveness and redemption that ends the album.
As for its social impact, I neither can nor should talk about the importance this album has on black culture. I will say, though, that I love that someone as universally known and appreciated as Beyoncé choses to do that. And I’ve definitely learned things by reading a lot of think pieces about the album as a whole over the past week. Also, I think the title Lemonade, and the fact that she added home video footage of the quotation «I was given lemons, and I made lemonade», perfectly captures both her struggles within her relationship and how it inspired this, and the larger political stance she takes on this album.
I’m going to go through the album track by track and attempt to make sense.
Pray You Catch Me
This is a really quiet introduction to the hurt that the album works through, and I love that it opens like this. It’s a nice little intro before the anger and frustration of the next few songs. It paints a picture of uncertainty and betrayal. I love that it starts with her sitting alone on a stage, singing. It’s incredibly pretty, and has some of my favourite lyrics on the whole album.
You can taste the dishonesty
It’s all over your breath as you pass it off so cavalier
But even that’s a test
Constantly aware of it all
My lonely ear
Pressed against the walls of your world
I didn’t immediately like this song, to be honest. Which is a shame, because I feel like people love it. I liked the video more than the song, how she just walks around looking super happy while smashing things to pieces. I also kind of love that the bat she’s swinging around is named Hot Sauce, after that line in Formation. The part at the halfway point in the song, where she speak-sings, is my favourite bit. And I do like the thematic contemplation of whether it’s better to be perceived as ‘jealous or crazy’ or as someone who’ll let people treat them badly. It’s pretty unapologetic, which I can appreciate.
Let’s imagine for a moment that you never made a name for yourself
Or mastered wealth, they had you labelled as a king
Never made it out the cage, still out there movin’ in them streets
Never had the baddest woman in the game up in your sheets
Don’t Hurt Yourself (ft. Jack White)
I saw a gif of this and decided I liked it before even listening to it. It’s partially the aesthetic of the song. The way her hair is done, how she’s dressed, how she moves as she sings. But also what she sings. It’s so angry, and you’re just left thinking that you really shouldn’t mess with Beyoncé. It doesn’t bleed into the parts of Beyoncé’s image that I don’t like (which I’m not going to get into here), just works effortlessly at showing that she can do pretty much everything. I would never have expected her to collaborate with Jack White, but somehow their styles blend together in a way I really like.
Who the fuck do you think I is?
You ain’t married to no average bitch boy
You can watch my fat ass twist boy
As I bounce to the next dick boy
(She’s not pulling any punches, is she?)
When you hurt me, you hurt yourself
Don’t hurt yourself
This is definitely a contender for favourite song, and it’s very much because of the video. I love how it was put together, everything from the scenes on the bus to the incredibly cool looking dancing in front of the car. My favourite bit is the second half, and I love how the song is not uniform in its style throughout.
Looking at my watch, he shoulda been home
Today I regret the night I put that ring on
He always got them fucking excuses
I pray to the Lord you reveal what his truth is
6 Inch (ft. The Weekend)
This is one of my least favourites on the album. I like how her voice blends with The Weekend’s, but I’m not a big fan of the slow way they sing the chorus, or the overall sound of it. It was the part of the video that I kind of zoned out during.
Lyrical highlight: If I’m being honest, I don’t have one.
This is so different from anything I can remember hearing from Beyoncé before, but I like it. It’s nice to hear that the album has variation. It’s certainly not necessary in order to make a good album, but it’s refreshing and interesting. The lyrics are pretty evocative with its talk about needing to fight even when it’s not always right, and needing to grow up tough to protect yourself and your family. It also calls back to a parallel she made earlier on the visual album about how the ‘you’ she’s addressing reminds her of her father, and here she sings about her father warning her off men like him.
Came into this world
Daddy’s little girl
And daddy made a soldier out of me
In all honesty, I haven’t really listened to this at all since I watched the visual album. I did now before writing this, and I don’t hate it but I don’t really see myself listening to it much in the future. It’s visually very pretty.
Ten times out of nine, I know you’re lying
But nine times outta ten, I know you’re trying
Excluding Formation, this was the first song I listened to when it popped up on my Tumblr feed before I was able to watch the full HBO special. Without the context of the album it was pretty, but it really hits the emotional punches when you listen to it as a part of the whole. My favourite bit is when she starts singing about scratching out his name, his face. She sounds so raw, there’s so much anger and pain in her voice. It gives me chills, to be honest. I also quite like how honest it is, talking about a broken promise when the promise was to leave. It subverts the understanding of a broken promise as a bad thing. Here, her promise is to leave, to end things, but as she breaks it she stays and manages to work towards forgiveness, even if that’s not what she thought she wanted. I love that, and I love that Jay Z is in this video, standing there and holding her as she sings about intending to leave but not being able to.
Pictures snatched out the frame
Bitch, I scratched out your name and your face
What is it about you that I can’t erase, baby?
Visual highlight: Jay Z kissing her feet as they lie on the bed. I think it’s so fascinating and powerful that he, a man so powerful and famous in his own right, appears on these tracks and lays himself at her mercy, literally at her feet, so publically. To quote a friend: he really must be sorry.
Forward (ft. James Blake)
This sounds so beautiful. It easily could have been longer, but it’s maybe better for being so short. I like that it marks a turning point, a point where they can finally move forwards from all the pain and anger of before.
Best foot first just in case
When we made our way ’til now
It’s time to listen, it’s time to fight
Freedom (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
This is the catchiest song off the album, I think. It’s been stuck in my head ever since watching the HBO special. I love that she did the beginning a cappella in the video; it’s probably one of the visuals that I can best recall. I’ve never really listened much to Kendrick Lamar, but I really liked his performance at the Grammys, and I like the idea of these two artists who both advocate strongly for black rights coming together to create this song.
I break chains all by myself
Won’t let my freedom rot in hell
Hey! I’ma keep running
Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves
This one is probably my favourite on the whole album. It’s pretty, for one. I loved how it blended home video footage with on-the-street footage of happy couples of all races and sexualities. It’s also nice in terms of its meaning on the album, speaking about forgiveness and redemption, about giving things time until trust has been rebuilt and happiness can be found again. Mostly it just sounds pretty, though. And I love how it ends with a spoken and emphatic ‘I’ve missed you love’.
I’ll trade your broken wings for mine
As previously stated, I was not a fan of Formation when it was first released. I liked it more after reading about it and understanding it better, but musically it didn’t really appeal to me until after listening to the full album. That said I did like the Super Bowl performance. Now I actually find that I really like the sound of it, and I really love the music video. The shot of Beyoncé with her hat tipped down and her middle fingers up is one of my new favourite things.
I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag
(It’s really fun to sing)