Just a Brotha Sippin on Lemonade
Let me begin with a few personal truths.
Firstly, I have never been a Beyonce fan; not because I question her talent, but because I have always felt that she has produced beneath her potential. This is partly why I was intrigued by Lemonade, as it might be a real glimpse at the potential that I always believed was there.
Secondly, I have always believed that the union of Beyonce and Jay-Z was one of the biggest business mergers of recent times. That being said, I am going to depart from the Beyonce supporters, and suggest that this is not a narcissistic glimpse in to her personal life, but instead, a stab at addressing a much bigger cultural phenomenon, affecting Black women, men, and families for generations. Let us not forget that Beyonce and Jay-Z are who they are because they are masters of manipulation.
Finally, I wondered who had an hour to spend watching Beyonce, however, upon seeing the beginning of Lemonade, I felt it necessary to blow the dust off of my mass communications degree, and carve out some space for something that could be very enlightening.
Pray You Catch Me
Lemonade begins with haunting visuals. The throwback to slavery, set against the backdrop of words by Warsan Shire, spoken by Beyonce, prove to be extremely powerful. The theme of intuition is one that is not new to women, especially when dealing with infidelity, and the men in their lives.
The mentioning of her father, and alluding to her husband, and their ability to live in two places at the same time, speaks to a reality known by many women, who intuitively feel it in their gut, when something isn’t right. The juxtaposition of men from her past and present, forced me to reflect on my own life; the women I’ve supported through these issues, and those whom I sent in to this whirlwind through my own actions and shortcomings.
We are often oblivious to the impact of infidelity on the women who love us, and the things that women do to maintain their mental health, when their hearts have been broken and torn apart by betrayal.
“I tried to be quieter, less awake…”
Here, we find Beyonce questioning herself; is it better to be jealous or crazy, over a more up-tempo, reggae inspired groove. With baseball bat in hand, Bey reminds her man, that the others will never love him like she does, in between smashing car windows for added emphasis.
The theme of the Hold Up visuals is doubt, which is a common feeling for anyone who has ever been cheated on; was I not enough? When you give all of yourself to be the woman that he needs, and it still isn’t enough, how do you not take that personally, even though the issue is with him and not you?
Don’t Hurt Yourself
The mix of the words and haunting visuals, have you feeling as though you are living inside of the head of a woman scorned, suffering from the psychosis and anger born out of infidelity.
Here, we find Beyonce still trying to understand the demise of her parents marriage, comparing relationships to trees growing to and away from each other, before bringing the narrative back to her.
A well-placed Malcolm X sample, reminds us that the most disrespected and neglected person in America, is the Black woman. I don’t think that much has changed since Malcolm spoke those words. Despite this reality, Beyonce takes the time to affirm herself, over a rock inspired groove. Given the narrative of the project thus far, one must ask if the affirmation is heartfelt, or rather a coping mechanism to convert hurt in to something positive.
Be prepared, this summer, you will see “Ashes to ashes, dust to side chicks” on t-shirts! This is one of those lines that will excite the Beyhive.
The theme of Sorry is apathy, and at this point, you start to feel as though you are moving through the stages of recovery, from heartbreak and betrayal.
“What are you going to say at my funeral, now that you’ve killed me?”
Serena Williams makes a very sexy cameo appearance, which seems a bit out of place. Her modern look and movement is juxtaposed against the African visuals, also sharing space in Sorry.
At this point, you want to feel that this is just an anti-man project, but if you’re able to get over yourself (as a man), you can realize that it’s much more. I know many women who have gone through these phases, and I think that Beyonce’s treatment of them, offers up vulnerability that many can relate too.
6 Inch did very little for me, and felt more like filler, somewhat out of place with the rest of the narrative. Her comparison of men to wolves, made me think of a poem by Paulina O’Kieffe, where men are compared to hyenas, preying on, and tearing apart the existence of their female prey.
Daddy Lessons brings us back in to Beyonce’s head, as she questions her mother about her relationships with men in her life. Again, we see the cyclical, generational nature of the issues being dealt with.
Here we find more African imagery and clothing, as Beyonce speaks of her father, warning her about men like ‘you’. Ironically, her father was a man, similar to the ones he warned her about
Love Drought brings up questions that stem from the beginnings of the Black presence in America, when the family structure was torn apart, and our humanity became a commodity.
“Why do you deny yourself heaven? Why do you consider yourself undeserving? Why are you afraid of love? You think it’s not possible for someone like you, but you are the love of my life”.
This passage was huge for me. Doing the work that I have done over the years, I have met many men who struggle with love and feelings of worthiness. Despite my many achievements, I too have suffered from this psychosis, and have built walls where they didn’t need to be. Growing up, not seeing love, or hearing about love, does a number on your psyche, which is why I currently work as hard as I do to make sure that my daughter hears love often, even when it feels foreign falling from my lips.
At this point in the project, I started thinking that this is a piece of work that would be very difficult for people to understand, if they are not well versed in the Black experience, and our current, yet generational realities.
Before the stripped down production of Beyonce singing to a keyboard, there is a well-placed ode to Nina Simone, whose repertoire tackled many of these same issues.
This is the first time that you hear and feel the pain and vulnerability in Beyonce’s voice, while also serving as the firs time Jay-Z appears in the piece. Ironically, Jay-Z wears a wedding band, while Beyonce doesn’t.
The theme here is reconciliation, and is well played by Jay-Z and Beyonce through their interactions.
“Show me your scars, and I won’t walk away,” is probably the line that sticks out to me the most, as it speaks to the harsh realities faced by Black men, the scars and emasculation that are often hidden from the ones who love us the most, but released in other ways, bringing back the idea of the magician, living in two worlds at the same time; trying to love the one that he is with, and trying to preserve his sanity and sense of manhood.
While the world watches Lemonade and debates what’s been going on in Beyonce’s relationship, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Lemonade is more inspired by her relationship with her daughter than with her husband.
For many of us, becoming a parent creates a huge shift in the art that we create. We move from the egotistical, self-serving material, to looking at a bigger picture, and wondering about the world that our children will inherit.
Here we see the mother’s of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Eric Garner, holding on to the pictures of their sons, which is all that they have left, when justice is elusive depending on the colour of your skin.
“How do we lead our children in to the future? With love.”
Freedom continues the reflections on birth, daughters, and generations. The visuals are hauntingly beautiful like in the beginning of the piece.
“I’m gonna keep running because a quitter doesn’t quit on themselves,” reminds me of Black resilience. Despite the trauma we have lived through and continue to endure, we continue to push forward towards a freedom, a promised land, that we believe will come at some point.
Is it possible to move forward in to the future, when living with, and surrounded by so much pain? Will the cycles explored in Lemonade ever change?
With All Night, the focus stays on generations, and the wisdom that our grandmother’s held. “Grandmother, you spun gold out of this hard life; found healing where it did not live. (You) Broke the curse with your own two hands. You passed the instructions down to your daughter, who then passed it down to her daughter…”
As the final piece of Lemonade, Beyonce brings it all together; “with every tear, came redemption, and my torturer became my remedy”. As men, we aren’t always conscious of the depth of the hurt that we have caused, and we are usually less aware of the role we can play in mending spirits broken by our actions. Throughout my adult life, I have searched for ways to be a remedy; the solutions haven’t always been easy or attainable. There haven’t always been solution.
Jay-Z makes his second appearance here, as we are brought in to private parts of their life; playing with their daughter, wedding footage, pregnancy footage.
All Night is an ode to couples of all kinds, and the power of love to resurrect the broken. It serves as a reminder that nothing that has broken us has conquered us. Even in the depths of our pain, there is hope.
For much of Lemonade, I questioned the relevance of Beyonce’s African garb, and the throwbacks to Africa and times of slavery, but as a complete piece of work, I believe that those elements serve to show that these issues are not new, but have been faced by Black women since they were stripped from Africa, traumatized on plantations, and still find themselves fighting for space and legitimacy in 2016.
Lemonade is a beautifully, thought provoking piece of art, that speaks to realities and hardships that I have grown up around, witnessed, and caused. If there is a hole in the project, I would suggest that part of the narrative is missing. Rarely is anyone a passive passenger in their life, allowing things to just happen to them. More often that not, we are active participants, whose actions and decisions, often play a role in shaping our experiences. This part of the story is missing, and would have made for an even richer experience. That being said, Lemonade is a much-needed glimpse in to the experiences of diasporic Black women. It isn’t for everyone, and not everyone will get it, or like it, but it’s a very important piece of work from an unlikely, yet important artist.