She changed the game “Beyoncé,” then she did it “Beytwicé.” For the second time since her eponymous album, “Beyoncé,” Beyoncé Knowles has self-released her new album, “Lemonade,” immediately after her HBO special; the feature-length film that served as a visual accompaniment to her album on April 23.
The title was inspired by her grandmother, Agnéz Deréon, who made lemonade out of both lemons and life. A recording of Jay Z‘s grandmother, Hattie White’s saying “I was served lemons, but I made lemonade” was featured on the album.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Bey doesn’t require an introduction; everyone knows about the chart-topping musician and her signature vocals and dance moves. Her success and popularity has reached such lengths that she no longer gives TV interviews, and releases albums on her own terms.
It is important not to divorce the film from the music, as the “visual” album was meant to be an immersive and engaging experience.
“I see music. It’s more than just what I hear. When I’m connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion, a memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams or my fantasies,” Beyoncé said in a video announcing the release of her first surprise album, which also featured accompanying full-length music videos on her Facebook page, dubbed “Self-Titled, Part 1.”
The music crosses the boundaries of genre, dipping into country, pop, R&B, funk, rock, and New Orleans jazz, some genres in which African-Americans’ contributions have gone overlooked, as reported by NPR. The film also pushes artistic boundaries, showcasing the richness of African-American culture through a plethora of hairstyles, clothing, customs, and individuals featured on film.
Memorable vignettes include: Bey in a flamboyant yellow dress, smashing cars and windows with her baseball bat, fondly named Hot Sauce; her in a Southern Belle gown remade with African textiles, singing along to a guitar player under a tunnel; her in a flowing white gown, sitting on the branches of an angel oak tree with the rest of her #squad. Settings switch between the past and present, flitting between Beyoncé’s present home as well as a sugarcane plantation and its accompanying mansion, among other locations.
The project was the combined effort of around 100 collaborators, including the likes of Jack White, The Weeknd, James Blake, Diplo, Nicki Minaj, Amandla Stenberg, Serena Williams, Zendaya and Kendrick Lamar. The mothers of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin were included in the film, a statement on the progress that has yet to be made by police agencies around the country, as well as a statement on the broader issue of the injustices African-Americans must face daily.
The not-so-subtle political statements made by Beyoncé’s have not sat well with some onlookers.
Azealia Banks called out the artist for capitalizing on other women’s suffering.
A couple of days following the release of Lemonade, Banks tweeted, “She’s purposefully strayed away from political discourse her entire career to make sure she didn’t alienate white ppl.” She pointed out Beyoncé’s “purposefully avoiding ‘blackness’,” only embracing it now that it has become a trending national conversation.
Piers Morgan “felt very uneasy watching [the mothers of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin] being used in this way to sell an album,” because he believed it was merely “shameless exploitation.”
Remembering how she appealed to people of all ages, races, and religions in the time they spent together years ago for an interview, Morgan said that he was concerned by the increasingly political stance Beyoncé had recently began taking in her performances and now Lemonade. The new “born-again-black woman” was needlessly playing the “race card,” in contrast to the one who knew from five years ago, “the one who wanted to be judged on her stupendous talent not her skin color.”
While a source of controversy, the album has naturally been well received by fans and the media alike.
TIME’s Maura Johnston wrote, “Its songs feel fresh yet instantly familiar, over-the-top but intimate, with Beyoncé’s clarion voice serving as the fulcrum for her explorations of sound and the self.”
Elle’s Morgan Jenkins commented on the feminist element, calling the album a “luxurious one-hour-long story that focused solely on black women and their relationship to the earth and to each other.”
On May 1, Billboard announced that Lemonade became Beyoncé’s sixth No. 1 album when it claimed the top spot on the Billboard 200.
The tracklist for the album is as follows:
- Pray You Can’t Catch Me
- Hold Up
- Don’t Hurt Yourself
- 6 Inch
- Daddy Lessons
- Love Drought
- All Night