How 'Lemonade' Shifted Beyoncé’s Art And Career
For Black women, both the pain and pride presented on Beyoncé’s sixth studio LP was all-too familiar. Lemonade captured the emotions we are conditioned to hide and put forth a vulnerable, yet powerful image of Black womanhood that painted a contemporary portrait of the experiences Black women have with each other, our romantic partners, and the world.
Lemonade is a reminder that Black women’s blues will not be overshadowed by “Becky with the good hair.”
In alignment with her self-titled digital drop that stopped the world in 2014, Lemonade was released in video format as well as audio. The short film featured the singer delivering stanzas from British-Somali poet Warsan Shire, and celebrity cameos from the likes of Zendaya and Serena Williams. Women such as Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton and Michael Brown’s mother Gwen Carr also took part in the then-secret project.
The sacred sisterhood shared between Black women through generational trauma and triumph as well as Black femininity was celebrated through aesthetics highlighting multiple women from different walks of life. Together, Black women take on the burden of battling misogynoir, racism, and sexism advocating for ourselves against a world conditioned to grant us less permissions and privileges than others.
“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Powerful words spoken by Malcolm X used by Beyoncé on the rage-filled “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” featuring Jack White. Anger, an emotion we are often forced to hide out of fear of being stereotyped as “angry Black women,” was on full display in this visual.
She showcased Black women as resilient without stripping us of our delicate, yet powerful humanity. The vibrant choreography and lush costuming in one scene is juxtaposed by the stillness and bareness of the next. Each chapter of the film is named for a different emotion: intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, reformation, forgiveness, resurrection, hope, and redemption, and at every layer, another element is unpacked.
Arguably, the biggest theme of Lemonade is the complicated manner in which Black women experience romance due to generational curses, dating back to times of enslavement. Melina Matsoukas, director of the “Formation” video revealed Beyoncé’s goal “to show the historical impact of slavery on Black love, and what it has done to the Black family.”
She continued “It’s an unfair struggle that only Black women can understand and relate to.
In a 2018 editorial penned for Vogue, the singer herself wrote “I come from a lineage of broken male-female relationships, abuse of power, and mistrust. Only when I saw that clearly was I able to resolve those conflicts in my own relationship. Connecting to the past and knowing our history makes us both bruised and beautiful.”
Every shot fired at her cheating husband, (allegations confirmed by Jay-Z’s admissions of infidelity on the apologetic yet heralded 4:44 album), was also directed at the Black men who benefit from a patriarchal society, challenging them to question their own faults as she expressed what she and countless women before her, including her own mother Tina Knowles-Lawson endured.
Lemonade added to the canon of art created for Black women pushed to the limit. The cathartic release shown by Beyoncé smashing a car with a baseball bat now stands alongside Angela Bassett’s character in Waiting To Exhale lighting her cheating husband’s belongings on fire or Whoopi Goldberg’s character Celie in The Color Purple finally standing up to her unfaithful abuser, promising he would not see peace without atonement.
With heavy messaging and sheer talent, the 12-track album exists as Queen Bey’s most acclaimed. Lemonade earned a Peabody Award in entertainment, three BET awards in 2016 and five in 2017 for the same project. It was certified platinum by June 2016, and reached triple platinum status the same month, three years later. It has been cited in academia and used in college courses on feminism and pop culture.
The album went on to be nominated for nine Grammy-awards, only winning two to the disapproval of many, including Adele, who won the night’s top prize. During the “Chasing Pavements” singer’s acceptance speech for album of the year, she emotionally declined to proudly take the award.
“I can’t possibly accept this award, and I’m very humbled, and I’m very grateful and gracious, but the artist of my life is Beyoncé,” she said. “You are our light, and the way that you make me and my friends feel—the way that you make my Black friends feel—is empowering, and you make them stand up for themselves. And I love you, I always have, and I always will.”
The concept album featured Country, Hip-Hop, R&B, Rock and Roll, Funk and gospel, forever releasing the singer from being held to one sound. Lemonade changed the trajectory of Beyoncé’s career by cementing her status as a social disruptor and voice for change. Throughout her career Beyonce has used her music to speak out against double standards, body shaming, Hollywood woes, and more however Lemonade elevated her budding activism through art to new heights.
“Formation,” released ahead of the album and film, was performed at the Super Bowl and led conservatives and police forces across the country to launch a movement to ban Beyoncé for her message against racism and police brutality. Having the mothers of the movement in her film, boasting lyrically of her “negro nose,” reclaiming former plantations, and demanding “Freedom” with Kendrick Lamar amplified Beyoncé’s dedication to artistry with purpose.
The infamous blonde braids (now affectionately called lemonade braids in the Black community) and fur coat will forever signify the moment in time when Beyoncé shifted from global pop icon to legend.
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