Turning Lemons Into ‘Lemonade': A Reflection on Beyonce’s Visual Album
We had a week to prepare ourselves, with Beyonce making the announcement that something called Lemonade would be premiering on HBO on Saturday April 23. But how could we really prepare? No one knew for sure what the project would be: An hour-long music video? A new album? An autobiographical documentary? Turns out, it was all of that, and maybe something more.
Lemonade: The Visual Album aired tonight, and like a religious sermon, it delivered. Broken down into eleven poignant acts — intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, reformation, forgiveness, resurrection, hope, and redemption — the poetic audio-film follows the narrative of a woman struggling in the wake of finding out her lover has cheated. It’s an age-old tale, of course, yet nevertheless harrowing. And through a journey of introspection and self-reflection, she — Beyonce — is ultimately able to heal and move forward.
Along with the underlying narrative, each act’s theme is highlighted by a corresponding song and music video — hence where the new album, which dropped exclusively tonight on Tidal, comes into play.
Lemonade begins with a forbidding voiceover from Beyonce. “I tried to make a home out of you but doors lead to trap doors. A stairway leads to nothing,” she warns, poised in front of a crimson curtain. The first song begins, “Pray You Catch Me,” an emotive R&B ballad with ethereal, layered vocals: “Nothing else seems to hurt like the smile on your face.” She knows something is wrong; she drowns in her fear, suspended in a room filled with water.
The stages of grief begin, and Beyonce enters into a near-euphoric state of denial, emerging onto the city streets in a yellow gown — the color of happiness — as she lashes out manically. “Oh, love! They don’t love you like I love you,” she sings on the reggae-tinged “Hold Up.” The artist smashes a car window, destroys a fire hydrant with a baseball bat: “What’s worse? Looking jealous or crazy?” The clip fades to black and white and she rolls out in a black monster truck, a music box tune twinkling softly.
Now she’s angry. An aggressive funk track starts to play — “Don’t Hurt Yourself” featuring Jack White — while a marching band charges forward in a Southern suburb and a soundbyte of Malcom X declares, “The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman.” Elsewhere, Beyonce prowls a parking garage, growling, “I f—ed with you, until I realized I’m just too much for you.” With rages comes its relief: apathy. “So what are you gonna say at my funeral now that you’ve killed me?” she asks in the next clip, a black and white video that features Serena Williams strutting around a mansion and Bey riding a disco party bus. The video is for “Sorry,” an upbeat trap-pop song with a bouncy beat and unbothered lyrics: “Middle fingers up / Tell ’em boy bye, boy bye, boy bye!”
Indifference turns to emptiness, and the clip begins with the iconic songstress in a decadent red gown as she sits, surrounded by a ring of fire. The lights turn red, and a dark, throbbing beat pulsates along with ominous, swirling synths. The Weeknd croons alongside Beyonce on “6 Inch,” a trip-hop/R&B jam that samples Hooverphonic. It’s hypnotic, and isolating.
“Daddy Lessons” follows, exemplifying the theme of accountability as she retreats to a bayou manor in the South. “Did he convince you he was a god? Did you get on your knees, daily?…Am I talking about your husband? Or your father?” the singer muses before a jazzy bop begins. As grainy VHS footage of young Beyonce hanging out on the couch with her father plays, she reminisces, “Came into this world daddy’s little girl / Daddy made a soldier out of me.”
And then, a familiar environment: The camera sweeps over an empty football stadium, and Beyonce is seen laying on the lush, grassy green turf, tears rolling down her face. “I ask him to look me in the eye when I come… home. Why do you deny yourself heaven? Why do you consider yourself undeserving? Why are you afraid of love?” she asks herself, earnestly. A dark, mid-tempo R&B track called “Love Drought” plays, the artist withdrawing to lake, the visuals spooky and spiritual.
“Baptize me, now that reconciliation is possible. If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious,” she murmurs, entering the stage of forgiveness. The most deeply personal track/clip, “Sandcastles” is a sweeping piano ballad that showcases Beyonce’s pained, yet heartfelt vocals which sound both full and raw all at once. As the song plays, Jay Z makes an emotional cameo, cuddling with and gazing at his wife. Somehow, the lyrics sound so much more intimate: “Dishes smashed on my counter / From our last encounter / Pictures snatched out the frame.”
Absolution achieved, she is reborn. Beautiful black girls lounge in extravagant gowns on the steps of a mansion, Amandla Stenberg one of the Southern belles. The mood becomes uplifting, joyful, as James Blake croons on “Forward,” an R&B piano ballad. Later, a funky soul tune plays — celebration, and hope. Beyonce begins to sing a cappella, the music suddenly crashing into a brash, soulful power anthem about being free. The blues-rock song is called “Freedom,” and it is triumphant.
Finally, there is the redemption, the ultimate healing. A video of a birthday party plays; it’s Hattie White, Jay Z’s grandmother celebrating her 90th birthday. “I was served lemons, but I made lemonade,” she says, reflecting on her prolific life. It is here we finally understand the meaning of the album’s title: When life knocks you down, you get back up again; with the darkness comes the light… It’s a message Beyonce is desperately trying to share.
“True love brought salvation back into me… My torturer became my remedy,” Bey utters in voiceover. Surfy guitars kick in, and as grainy clips of various couples and families play onscreen, she sings to her lover on “All Night”: “Your love was stronger than your pride / Beyond your darkness I’m your light.”
As the credits roll, a remix of “Formation” plays. We are moved, and feel empowered — ready to turn our lemons into lemonade, too.
Beyoncé, From Her Debut Album to Today: