She knew we needed more. And she used her darkest hour to give it to us.
On May 12, 2014, a gaping crack in the perceived perfection of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s marriage hit the web. In just 36 seconds, the Carters’ pristine, billion-dollar union was turned on its ear as Solange was captured in grainy security footage outright assaulting her brother-in-law in a fit of rage. As the clip made its rounds and inspired an onslaught of memes, viewers noted one thing in particular: Beyoncé was calm. Strangely calm. Calm like this was not the first time something of this nature occurred. And that provided new fuel to burning questions about Hov’s infidelity, inquiries Beyoncé seems to deliver blaring answers to on her new album, LEMONADE.
Is Shawn Corey Carter really dumb enough to cheat on Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter? Could her experience be even remotely close to ours? Is it possible that Beyoncé — Beyoncé! — could also be made to feel like she was not enough?
According to LEMONADE, yes. Opening the 12-track exposé with “Pray You Catch Me,” Mrs. Carter spends a brief moment feeling sorry for herself. Though she “can taste the dishonesty” on her sneaky lover’s breath, she softly awaits a re-entry into his affections. The first of her stages of grief, Beyoncé gets off to a subtle start, before abandoning composure completely with broken bad b***h proclamations on “Hold Up,” “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “Sorry” and “6 Inch.” The five-song run highlights the true complexities of heartbreak and the singer’s masterful orchestration of her emotional roller coaster. There’s James Blake for any remnants of tenderness left. Jack White for all-out fury. Diplo and Ezra Koenig for whimsical lunacy. Wynter Gordon and MeLo-X for vengefulness. The-Dream, boots and The Weekend for overcompensation. Though she exclaims, “I am not broken, I'm not crying, I'm not crying,” Beyoncé is undone — as undone as we all have been.
In case it wasn’t apparent, Beyoncé makes clear-as-day references to her husband: “Let's imagine for a moment that you never made a name for yourself / Or mastered wealth, they had you labeled as a king,” “Today I regret the night I put that ring on,” “You ain't married to no average b***h, boy,” “Big homie better grow up.” But Jay Z isn’t the only source of heartbreak; her father Mathew Knowles must also own up to his sins. Backed by hand claps, New Orleans-inspired brass and Texas country guitar stylings, Beyoncé balances adoration and resentment, weaving her father’s wisdom into his shortcomings: “When trouble comes to town / And men like me come around / Oh, my daddy said shoot.” Laid bear for us to witness are her scars, complete with the paternal problems etched into many of our stories.
But this is not just any woman’s cross to bear. Littered with colloquialisms tailor-made for colored girls, LEMONADE zeroes in on their strifes and their strengths, reminding the world of the often-disregarded fragility of its “strong Black woman.” With “Formation” as an early marker for where she stands, another question loomed: Is blackness to Beyoncé just hot sauce and Red Lobster? “Freedom” serves as another reply over Just Blaze’s ever-revolutionary production, as she exclaims, “Freedom! Where are you?/ 'Cause I need freedom, too!” A more public nod to the movement than her private donations, Mrs. Carter also calls on Kendrick Lamar for a few extra black fist emojis.
Beyoncé’s beautiful mess of emotions reaches its zenith through redemption and unwavering loyalty as faith in love returns to bookend her calculated revelation. Snatching up Mike Dean for the uncertain certainty of the first step to healing, “Love Drought” begins to mend LEMONADE’s earlier fallen pieces. To the tune of piano chords in thirds, she pulls her love — and herself — back together on "Sandcastles," showcasing our fierce jellybean makeup: hard for the world, soft for all who depend on us. By "All Night," she is celebrating her exit from the tunnel and embracing the road ahead; it's the real-life "it gets better" reminder we usually have to give ourselves.
A rare look at Beyoncé’s humanity, LEMONADE is also a loving embrace of Black womanhood. Though the first of her album covers to feature her head down and face covered, it is her proudest, most revealing work yet.
(Photo: Parkwood Entertainment, Columbia Records)