Before it came out on Tidal and iTunes, before HBO gave it an online slot, and even before it was announced, it was destined to be the next big thing, and we all knew it.
It is the album “Lemonade,” and it is incredible.
I say this not only as a fan of Beyoncé, but also as a fan of what she stands for and as a member of the demographic “Lemonade” was arguably created for: black women.
“Lemonade” was a scripted artistic performance but — and possibly more importantly — it was also a performance in which Beyoncé shared herself and her identity with her fans. And that is what makes “Lemonade” truly monumental.
“Queen Bey.” “Ruler of the Beyhive.” “God is a black woman.” Chances are you have either heard or used these phrases to describe Beyoncé’s rise to superstardom. For years, Beyoncé has been an untouchable figure in pop culture and held to the highest of standards. The recognition for Beyoncé, her music and what it has accomplished is incredible because it shows that America has carved out a pedestal for a black woman artist to be able to not only shine, but run the entire game, if not the world.
The Beyoncé America loved in the early 2000s and 2010s is not the same Beyoncé we are seeing now. The early Beyoncé made very careful and deliberate moves to be accepted by the general public. She was a Beyoncé who kept away from rap, which connotes negative stereotypes when viewed from outside the black community. She was a Beyoncé who cranked out timeless dance-floor jams palatable to everyone, regardless of race or gender. That Beyoncé was performing a role that allowed her to rise to the levels of fame and attention she has today: the role of the agreeable black woman artist, whose most frequent digs probably came from concerned mothers who found her music too sexy or her outfits too skimpy.
Today’s Beyoncé puts on skintight bodysuits and growls about limousine hookups. She surrounds herself with black actors in music videos. She creates art geared toward the community most people seem to forget or ignore that she is a part of: the black community. Today’s Beyoncé has wrapped herself up in powerful, confident sexuality and is using her voice and power to draw the world’s attention to long-standing issues: police brutality, race issues, gender issues and the intersection thereof. She is still performing, yes, but she is putting on a performance that reflects her true self.
“Lemonade” is a spiritual, emotional and musical journey through the experience of infidelity from the viewpoint of someone who was cheated on. The album starts with the denial and anger she feels over how she has been wronged, her journey toward forgiveness and her efforts to grapple with complex issues of race, empowerment and gender. By making “Lemonade,” Beyoncé made herself vulnerable. She created a work of art centered around her husband’s cheating — something that, in misogynistic fashion, is usually ignored or blamed on a wife’s inadequacies — knowing well it would be seen by millions of people. She laid her soul bare on each track and with each poem.
Beyoncé told the world about her despair, rage, sadness and emptiness. The desperation, confusion and love she still had for the man who cheated on her — who, although unnamed in the album is implied to be her husband Jay-Z — even after the hell he put her through is incredible. Then, after inspiring all her listeners to dump their boyfriends, Beyoncé came back with a message of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.
“Lemonade” is not only Beyoncé’s story. It is a raw, true and beautiful example of a black woman displaying her feelings, a poignant, prominent and realistic portrayal of the range and depth of emotions black women are usually told to tone down or not show at all. The work is presented with pride, for you to take or leave as you will. Beyoncé gives us each of these things and more in a bold, in-your-face way, saying “This is who I am, and I will not apologize.”
To see Beyoncé — super-superstar, hailed as “queen of everything,” one of the most successful people in the world — going through the exact same experiences as have countless women, myself among them, is everything. Comforting, empowering, validating — you name it — Lemonade” and Beyoncé have made me feel it. This is, in my eyes, one of Beyoncé’s ultimate achievements: expressing herself and giving others an outlet to express themselves as well.
This is a new era of Beyoncé, but this is not a whole new Beyoncé — it is just the Beyoncé that has been waiting to shine through all along.
Femi Sobowale is a senior in the College. This is the final installment of Pop Politics.