“You can taste the dishonesty it’s all over your breath,” Beyoncé said in her melodic voice as she introduces her surprise visual album entitled Lemonade. The screen opens to a series of visually stunning images, the most poignant being Beyoncé sitting center stage alone singing, “I pray you catch me listening.” It’s raw, emotional and powerful, curating the mood for the entire hour-long HBO special.
Lemonade is split into 12 parts, the first being “Intuition”. It opens with many powerful images that focus on the history of black women in the U.S. The images are combined with the provocative words of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, “I tried to make a home out of you but doors lead to trap doors a stairway leads to nothing.” Beyoncé reads Shire’s poetry as the screen goes black and reopens with her standing on the top of a building about to jump.
Not only is Lemonade audibly wonderful, it’s also filled with visual nuances and the stories of generations of struggles for black women. Beyoncé is joined on screen by many powerful and influential black women, including singer Zendaya Coleman, actress Quevzanhne Wallis, actress and activist Amandla Stenberg and professional tennis player Serena Williams. We not only see the hurt and angst of one woman, but of generations of women.
As “Intuition” left us unsure of what would happen next, the chapters which follow, “Denial” and “Anger” further the intesity Beyoncé feels, while questioning the trust of those around her, specifically her husband, rapper Jay-Z.
The anger is palpable and the emotions and visuals on screen are tainted with this deep hurt and fury. Although the tune of her second song of the album “Hold Up” sounds cheerful, it is juxtaposed against the visual scene: Beyoncé emerging almost biblically from water and fire, looking vengeful. She walks around swinging a baseball bat with a don’t-mess-with-me attitude. It is cinematic moments like these where I’m grateful to have Beyoncé as a powerful female voice in the music industry. It’s only two songs into Lemonade and I already feel more empowered than when I started listeing.
Beyoncé’s choice of words aren’t light and listening to them made me feel uncomfortable, “I can wear her skin over mine. Her hair, over mine,” Beyoncé whispers “We can pose for a photograph, all three of us.” It didn’t take long for me to realize that Beyoncé purposefully uses this language to get, what I assumed was, her point across: Jay Z’s supposed infidelity has impacted her greatly, however she will not be victimized. Not only are her words effective, they are contrasted to the very polished “pop star” image most of us picture and think of when we hear Beyoncé’s name, showing me that there is far more to her than meets the eye.
At first glance, we assume that all Lemonade is about is Jay-Z’s assumed infidelity. However, the visual album focuses more on the struggles of race and womanhood in modern-day America, and Beyoncé confronts these topics head on with an excerpt from Malcolm X’s 1962 speech Who Taught You to Hate Yourself, “The most disrespected woman 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,” Malcolm X said in “Anger,” chapter three of Lemonade. Beyoncé’s use of Malcolm X’s speech emphasizes the need for reform in America, specifically, how women of all skin colors are viewed.
Beyoncé has never been one to shy away from impactful performances, as exemplified with her 2016 Super Bowl Black Panther tribute, and Lemonade was no different. I was in awe of Beyoncé ability to tackle the issues of race and womanhood for all of Lemonade, however, one chapter had the most impact on me. The Black Lives Matter movement is prevalent throughout the entire film, though in “Resurrection” it is undoubtedly strongest. The mothers of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner hold up images of their deceased sons, set to the song “Forward,” featuring James Blake. It was a heartbreaking scene, but it also made me angry and disappointed at the current state of racial equality in America and around the world.
The most amazing thing about Lemonade is that Beyoncé has used it as a vehicle for change. Here is a woman scorned, someone who has supposedly been cheated on by her husband, but rather than letting others use this to define her, she’s using Lemonade as an opportunity to tell the world what happened and how she feels. Not only is she taking charge of her own situation, Beyoncé is using Lemonade to tackle issues that are considered “taboo,” in a provocative and artistic way. Her encouragement to take charge and share personal stories is more than I could have hoped for in a role model as a woman in today’s society, and I hope to be seeing more of this side of Beyoncé.