Unless you literally live under a rock – there’s a good chance that those who live in caves are up on game, MetroPCS is out here winning – you are either aware, have seen, or have had at least two lengthy conversations about Beyonce’s visual album, Lemonade, that debuted on HBO on Saturday night, complete with the release of her sixth studio album of the same name on Tidal during the special. Since Saturday night, social media has been ablaze with tweets, IG posts, and commentary about Yoncé and the latest addition to her catalog.
I had some thoughts. And because sharing is caring, I will share them, though all of these are less specific to Lemonade and more about everything surrounding Lemonade. I guess I’m a white journalist.
1. I was one of those people who ‘pacifically did not get Tidal. On purpose. I was already paying for Spotify and because of that there’s almost no reason to get Tidal, even for those artists who exclusively release music via Tidal. I have all of Jay, Kanye, and Beyonce’s albums. I managed to download The Life of Pablo without subscribing to Tidal so I was ahead of the game. And let’s be real, none of these people are stupid; limiting your musical output to one single streaming service shortchanges a money stream. They are all business people on top of being musicians. Well, this shit all changed on April 21. Prince died. I shed a few purple tears. And then I started reading about how none of his music was available anywhere ELSE but Tidal. Prince was all about being an artist who controlled his art, so any service that purports to be artist-centric in terms of paying artists, well, The Purple One was about that life. If he says Tidal only, he means Tidal only.
So on Friday, April 22, I got Tidal. I own several Prince albums on compact disc. If you’ll remember, I have yet to open up my boxes of compact discs since moving into my home. I wasn’t about to wade in those waters (children wade) so I put on my big girl panties and accepted that this is how big of a deal Prince is: he made me get Tidal.
This is getting long – and yes Virginia, that’s what she said – but this is how much of a great person Prince is, even in death. Because I had to get Tidal to listen to Purple Rain, that means that when Lemonade dropped on Tidal, I was ready to go and devoured it without having to deal with the “dammit I have to get Tidal for this!” mental machinations. See, because I love Prince, I wasn’t even mad I had to cop it to listen, Prince said he’d die for me (or u); the least I could do was up Tidal to listen. On Saturday night? Totally worth it.
All this to say, thank you, Prince.
2. Part of the fun of artistic consumption these days is the social engagement of it all: we’re all watching and listening to these things together. This is both a gift and a curse. It’s a gift because the internet is FULL of the most hilarious and comedic minds ever. It’s a curse because groupthink is real: folks take one story and run like Michael Johnson in 1996. Those of us who were watching were all (yes all) like, is Beyonce about to end this bitch with a sign that says “Jay and I are done”??? It’s definitely her most personal output to date, by far. But I had to re-center myself half way through. It took them motherfuckers YEARS to even acknowledge they were married publicly, all of a sudden Beyonce is gonna put ALL their business out on front street? I don’t care how pissed she is (or has been) at Jay, that’s a tall order for a couple of the most famous and powerful people in the entertainment industry and world who enjoyed years playing coy.
3. The visuals for Lemonade are absolutely amazing. Stunning, even. Once I finally figured out what the hell was happening, and yes it took me a second, I was able to step back and truly appreciate the art being presented. Shit was beautiful. The weaving of the songs into the poems by Warsan Shire, who I’d never heard of before Saturday night (similar to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie before “Flawless” – thank you Beyonce), was super well done. Queen Bey and her team put their foots all up and through this short film. And even though Deep Beyonce is a hard sell, it still worked beautifully.
4. With that being said, listening to the the album as part of the visual presentation is better than when listening to it without them. This is NOT to say that the album isn’t good. It’s a super personal, concept album and I enjoy it a lot. Listen to it all the times. Just Blaze murked “Freedom” and her vocals, in the parlance of those who slay, slayed. I’ve given it multiple listens at this point so I could put some respeck on Beyonce’s name and because before I go speaking about something, I like to have at least SOME idea of what I’m talking about. Plus it’s Yonce. Ain’t no way I wasn’t about to delve into it. Watching the film adds so many layers that aren’t necessarily there when listening. I found myself skipping some tracks. For instance, “Sorry” just doesn’t play the same way without watching Serena Williams put some stank on it.
5. Which gets to a point about the film, got damn! There was so much symbolism and so many easter eggs for which I’m not well enough versed to discuss. But scrolling through Facebook and seeing article upon article about this fact or that facet of the film lets me know that Beyonce had one mission with this film: whatever the next level is, Beyonce said, I want that level. She probably wrote the words “change the game” on the white board before strategizing and if somebody had an idea that wasn’t part of that mentality, they were fired.
6. Speaking of Facebook, it is AMAZING how many articles were produced between 10pm Saturday night and noon Sunday. It’s almost as if all of us who write (myself included, but I wanted to listen to the album several times first) immediately went into our thought-boxes to figure out how we were going to write about it. Be clear, I don’t care how many articles already exist, I’d wager that nearly every single person who writes about music and or culture will share their opinions, no matter how grand or small, somewhere. This again, is a gift and a curse. I saw a lot of people talking about who should or shouldn’t and who can or can’t write about Lemonade. And I think that’s unfair. This site included. No shots fired at Dame because I get the point being made and we talked about it. No Becky with the good hair issues around here.
But you don’t put your product out – and let’s be clear, no matter what the intent, it’s art – for public consumption on motherfucking HBO intending for EVERYBODY and their mama to watch it and then believe that only a segment of the population has a true protective right to speak on it. It ain’t like it ran on PBS after Sesame Street. I realize that it’s probably not Beyonce’s intent, but seeing so many people on Facebook expressing that effectively white people needed to sit this one out is pure bullshit. While some people – myself included – can’t speak articulately about much of the symbolism in the visual, what I CAN do is use my eyes to look at what I see. I can tell you if something is stunning even if I don’t know what it represents.
I can tell you if music is great or sucks, even if I don’t know the context behind certain lyrics. Until Sunday, I had no idea that Rachel Roy was an alleged sidepiece to Jay. Hell, I forgot she existed. I always thought that the thorn in their side was Rihanna. I do understand that everybody doesn’t have the nuance to speak with authority on all pieces of art. But I also know that people like Beyonce create art to be consumed by all. I understand the need to protect our art. But I also think that Beyonce created this and pushed it to the masses because she wanted EVERYBODY to see where her artistic head space is. Some folks would get it. Others wouldn’t. But sometimes the folks that don’t need to get dragged across the coals and exposed as frauds who don’t HAVE the context or wherewithal to get some in order to critique art in the event they refuse to learn. A lot of learning can happen from taking the time to write about what you saw.
7. This is Beyonce’s sixth studio album. She is now at the point where I think we’re required to start ranking her albums. Here’s my order: Beyoncé, 4, Lemonade, B’Day, Dangerously In Love, and I Am…Sasha Fierce, which was just awful, save for a few songs. I remember when 4 came out, I didn’t think it was awesome. Revisiting that album has taught me (years ago) that I’m an idiot. I was also wrong about Kanye West’s Late Registration, Common’s Be, and Teedra Moses’ Complex Simplicity.
8. Let’s talk about the Jay angle for a moment. I’m sure Jay heard this album a long time ago. I’m sure they had all the conversations about it while it was being created. I’m sure they’ve gone through and mended all of the fences. At least those that existed before Saturday. And I’m sure when Jay gets asked for the umpteenth time about it, he’ll say, “Beyonce is an artist and one of the greatest to have ever done it. I won’t stop her from creating her art and I stand 100 percent behind her ability to do so.” I also know that when Kanye dropped “Big Brother” on Graduation, Jay said that was Kanye’s version of events and his truth, but shed some light on his side.
My boy and I were talking about this and he was like, if EVER Jay needed some motivation to drop a concept album, this is it. Point is, if Jay drops Lemons next month, I won’t be surprised.
9. I love everything Beyonce has done in the past 3+ years. From the moment she dropped “Bow Down/I Been On” back in like March of 2013 she’s been on this tear that has caused folks to say, “what in the world is Bey doing?” She’s been on full art status and it’s all been worth it. She’s been putting her money where her mouth is and taking stands and showing her personality and giving us the best that she’s got.
10. One last thing, “Formation” doesn’t fit this album. Oh, and Beyoncé has the greatest team of all time when it comes to shutting the fuck up.