Beyoncé doesn’t simply release albums anymore, she unleashes events.
And so it was, amid deep mourning for a lost icon, music’s queen dropped “Lemonade,” an arresting display of videos and singles, that appeared deeply personal yet is a bold social and political statement as well.
It contains revenge anthems for scorned wives, a requiem for side chicks, a display of #BlackGirlMagic and support of #BlackLivesMatter, and an ode to forgiveness, all wrapped into an hourlong HBO special last Saturday night that would of course land on Tidal, the music streaming service owned by hubby Jay-Z, moments after the special ended.
For the first half of “Lemonade,” it seems that Jay Z’s 100th problem was here and unfixable. While Beyoncé has used rumors of infidelity to fuel her music for years, it seemed as if she was spilling all the tea on her much-scrutinized marriage with “Lemonade.”
On “Hold Up,” a smiling Beyoncé smashes a bat on everything around her while reminding her man that other women “don’t love you like I love you.” Later, on “Sorry,” she shows her man the stupidity of his cheating ways and all he’s lost.
What could come across as desperate instead becomes empowering because of the poetic narrative Beyoncé uses to tie each segment together, as well as the imagery, which is a defiant celebration of the beauty of black women: Dark to light, wooly hair to wavy hair, all looking glorious, with cameos from the likes of Oscar-nominated Quvenzhané Wallis, Zendaya and Amandla Stenberg.
And just as we think it’s time to start to get seriously concerned for Jay-Z’s safety, he appears on “Sandcastles,” which speaks to a troubled union but a love that transcends it.
Like much of her music over the last few years, the music on “Lemonade” is not made for pop radio. Besides the explicit language, it doesn’t fit into neat categories and boxes, ranging from R&B to a bit of reggae to rock and even a country twang. Paired with its visuals, it’s a work of art that has many layers to be dissected.
It all speaks to Beyoncé’s undisputed role as the queen of pop — not of music, but of culture. It’s hard to imagine any other artist who could drop a project in the middle of our national mourning for Prince and still not only get attention for it, but captivate us so.
Toward the end of “Formation,” not included on the HBO special but part of the album, Beyoncé intones: “You know you that b—— when you cause all this conversation.”
With “Lemonade,” she shows us she is King B, once again.