Beyonce reigns supreme on surprise release ‘Lemonade’

Parkwood Entertainment/Courtesy
Courtesy / Parkwood Entertainment

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Lemonade is Beyonce’s most introspective, personal and revealing album to date. Sure, her 2013 eponymous album delved into more mature and social themes, but Lemonade takes these ideas to a completely new level, weaving two distinct threads through the album about her private struggles and her identity as a black woman. The album as a whole calls for racial and gender equality, as much as it verbalizes her internal and personal challenges. What is impressive is that Beyonce balances these elements well, creating an album that symbolizes a revelation of spirit more than anything else.

In many ways, describing Lemonade solely as an album doesn’t do her project justice. Each track is accompanied by a video, to immerse the audience both aurally and visually in a film that encompasses Beyonce’s creative ambitions. Even beyond this, Lemonade acts as a product for her audience as much as it serves as Beyonce’s outlet for her experiences, thoughts and feelings. This is the most accessible Beyonce has ever been — even Queen Bey struggles with love, betrayal and her identity, just like everyone else. And after almost two decades as a solo artist, this is the most raw, unfiltered work we’ve seen from Beyonce. It does her well.

Above all else, Beyonce works to promote her perspective. Her private marital struggles set the tone for the first half of the album. “Pray You Catch Me” opens the album with a somber, personal ballad, in which Beyonce sings wistfully as she expresses the hurt and isolation she feels without any support. But “Hold Up” is where she lets go of her composure, breaking down her barriers. The track brings a groove to the album and reveals Beyonce’s insecurities as an independent woman and as a wife.

Beyonce escalates through feelings of frustration, anger, skepticism and exasperation to arrive at the most aggressively personal song of Lemonade, “Sorry.” With angry and accusatory lyrics painting the picture of a wronged woman, this track unleashes the wrath of Beyonce in full force.

Post-“Sorry,” Beyonce processes her anguish as a powerful woman who is still subjected to pain with stream-of-consciousness that’s as calculated as it is vulnerable. “Daddy Lessons” is the most surprising song on the album, a fusion of New Orleans-style horn riffs and country twang. Somehow, it works — but probably because it’s Beyonce and she knows just how much country she can get away with in a pop album without going overboard. The vocal control of “Daddy Lessons” builds to its peak in “Sandcastles,” the most beautiful ballad Beyonce has put forth to date. The vocals are raw and sparse with few background embellishments, and they perfectly combine with a simple piano accompaniment.

Interestingly, Lemonade particularly shines on two socially charged tracks. “6 Inch,” with a heavy beat and low synth, drives home the idea that a woman can work a full work week and slay on the weekend. This dismantling of damaging tropes about women by challenging the idea that a woman exists in a social binary in which she chooses either work or her personal life comes across strikingly. Plus, Beyonce uses her collaboration with the Weeknd to her advantage by melding his smooth vocals with her own pop stylings to create the most dynamic song on the album.

But “Freedom” is genuinely the best track on Lemonade, combining a criticism of racial politics with a wild vocal and instrumental accompaniment and Kendrick Lamar’s signature style. Fierce, brave and unflinching, “Freedom” is a revolution. “Hey! I’ma keep running / ‘Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves” rings out at the end of the chorus, the defining moment of Lemonade where Beyonce rediscovers and establishes her power. It’s transformative not just for the album, but for Beyonce as an individual as well.

The album finishes so strongly in a positive, redemptive place building up to “All Night” that anything after feels extraneous. Yet the album finishes with “Formation,” the last-minute tag to the end of a completed thought. “Formation” works as a fun, sonically innovative single, but it works best standing alone.

Lemonade is daring and risky because of Beyonce’s visibility as a pop superstar. It is refreshing to see a mainstream, supremely popular artist using her platform as an opportunity to enlighten, inform and draw attention to social and political inequalities and injustices when it can be a potentially dangerous career move. But more than anything, Lemonade serves as a cathartic retribution of all sorts — personally, politically and socially.

Contact Paige Petrashko at [email protected].