Can We Still Talk About Lemonade?
A LAST CALL RESPONSE TO LEMONADE
More articles were written in the week following LEMONADE’s release than there are gluten-free options in a Whole Foods. I’m writing about this album and its visual counterpart because like most people with ear-holes, I enjoyed it and am always impressed by Queen B’s ability to remain relevant to her audience. And like the rest of the world I too shamelessly downloaded Tidal for a month just to end my subscription before the payment was due. Rejoicing in the free streaming for as long as I could, I listened to this album relentlessly, repeatedly, religiously for the entire month of May. I’ll admit to being extremely out of the loop lately, with little knowledge of other album drops from May, such as Chance The Rapper’s Coloring Book or James Blake’s The Colour In Anything. Perhaps this little lapse in music media-updates was necessary. In an attempt to appreciate a moment in music history and FULLY listen to an album beginning to end, I was reintroduced to the album as narrative and the power of film as cultural artifact.
It's fair to say Beyoncé has been relevant to my generation from her beginnings as the consistently strong vocalist in Destiny’s Child to this most recent political, personal, artistic album and film, LEMONADE. If possible, her entry lyrically into music regarding racial and social injustice, specifically directed at black women, has propelled her into a new realm of topical artistry. Clearly Bey’s intentions with the simultaneous surprise drop of LEMONADE and Ivy Park was to break the internet and make the beyhive lose their damn minds. What surprised me most about this album was the striking duality between the two narratives: Beyonce’s own personal grief and betrayals and our nation’s greater negligence and mistreatment of black people. There has been large debate in the weeks following the release as to the level of authenticity of her story as well as an earnest desire to determine the album’s cultural significance. The notable and well respected author bell hooks wrote a response to the body of work primarily focused on its commodification of black bodies. Whether you agree or disagree with bell’s interpretation of feminism, the article is filled with her life-time of insight, and despite its highly critical nature, is very thought provoking.
Beyoncé took gradual steps to claim her feminist values with early songs in Destiny’s Child such as “Independent Woman” and “Survivor.” Coming from an all-black, all-female trio, these songs empowered young girls of all backgrounds and colors. Years later, much of her self titled 2013 album was fearless and unapologetic in its feminist candor with a small sample of author, Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech on women’s rights in the song “Flawless.” And let's not forget the lights blazing with the word FEMINIST over the 2014 VMA stage, a word most celebrities of the early oughts’ refused to be associated with. And finally the sprinkling of powerful symbolism and metaphor in this visual album serves both as a heavy reminder of the imperialist, patriarchal culture we live in, as well as offers a powerful female allegiance to social justice and resolve towards a better future.
Beautifully put by author Joan Morgan in her review of Lemonade, “When Bey coos achingly in the film Why can’t you see me? Why can’t you see me?, the mirror requires we acknowledge that she’s talking about more than her husband, racism, and sexism. She’s also talking to us.” It’s this level of raw self truth and emotion that brings upon self reflection. Again, I believe Beyoncé is a wizard at balancing the intimate and personal with the ambiguous and relatable. But of course she has help. It’s truly unfair and rude to underestimate Warsan Shire’s work by suggesting that Beyoncé put her in the spotlight, when in actuality, her own success as a writer did that. Rather, I’d say that Beyoncé did her wonderful Beyoncé-thing by bringing together the best artists from every corner of the world to bring their work into the crazy world of pop culture. Because that is what she does! And it’s amazing! Warsan’s poems tie into the story beautifully and seem to effortlessly highlight the important aspects of each stage of it’s evolution.
A part of me wishes that rather than having to mindlessly scroll through photos of models on the runway in clothes that I adore, I could just wait for a music video to be released featuring the entire new Gucci line. OK, Beyoncé didn’t wear all things Gucci in the “Formation” video. Though, she did manage to get her hands on 69 US denim: one of my favorite art-meets-fashion brands that’s quirky and fun and made to fit all body types. A primary area of interest for myself and my textile friends is the antebellum dress closely resembling work by Yinka Shonibare, British-Nigerian artist known for his mix of Victorian era garments made out of a Dutch cloth in bold ‘African prints’ with the primary goal of questioning identity and origins. How perfect for a visual album commenting on black identity and history. In an interview for Vogue with stylist, Marni Senofonte, she terms the look “futuristic Victorian.” She continues to say, “It was kind of weird how everything started to look the same, like, “Oh! Is this Victorian? Yes, it is!” Every print I saw I was like, “Oh this is really African, but it’s just camouflage!” I find it interesting that Senofonte regardless of how intentional it was, was blurring the lines between “authentic” representation of pattern and it’s perceived meaning.
It goes without saying the list of contributing artists on this album keeps it quite interesting. While I don’t fully understand why Ibeyi wasn’t in on the musical action, I loved seeing the twins steal the show in the film. While the song “Forward,” featuring James Blake is a restrained, short song, it is so well fitting in the film and in the album’s narrative progression and left me wanting more from the artist (when little did I know James Blake had just released a new 17 track-album that I was completely unaware of -__- )
Lastly I’d like to suggest you watch Beyonce’s acceptance speech at the CFDA awards and quote once more Joan Morgan’s article in review of the album: