[image courtesy of hypebeast.com]
By: Liam McGurl @Liiiammm1996
Fans might think Beyoncé effortlessly handles life’s curveballs because, well, she’s Beyoncé. But her new, highly secretive album Lemonade is visual and sonic proof that’s not the case. Even further, her latest artistic effort shatters the typical boundaries of pop music—utilizing striking visuals to accentuate an already powerful message.
Opening with the prophetic words, “The past and the present merge to meet us here…What am I doing my love,” Lemonade’s official trailer left fans unexplainably disturbed, intrigued and downright confused. The promotional video itself didn’t include an excess of Bey-focused shots; rather, it put the attention on art—with starkly contrasted visuals of peace and tranquility, juxtaposed to utter chaos and destruction.
Still, though, among darkening thunderstorms and ghostly resemblances, everyone was left guessing if the Houston native was dropping an album, initiating a campaign or releasing a series of music videos. After all, she’s Beyoncé and her reputation is synonymous with limitless innovation.
The visual album’s April 23, HBO release was yet another A-lister move to protect content, as Queen B released both the visual and track-only albums via Tidal—an online, streaming website most recently used as the platform for Rihanna’s Anti and Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. Regardless of its limited visibility, the visual album exudes a brilliantly shining message of darkened hours.
Lemonade’s an astoundingly personal work, one that’ll likely redefine the public’s expectations of entertainers. From the video’s summation to its closing, explanatory visuals, spoken word and music collide in the name of telling an unforeseen story of Yonce’s marriage.
The work’s overall message: Beyoncé, and her marriage, have been tried by infidelity.
While the 34-year-old singer could have settled for a subpar video and sappy tune to match, she took her marriage’s “lemons” and created what could respectfully be called “artistic lemonade.” She lays her heart out on the screen and, quite obviously, in the studio, too.
Lemonade works through the stages of acknowledging, dealing with and accepting disloyalty—with each phase serving as a turning point in the video’s sounds and visuals.
As Beyoncé tells she “prays to catch [her lover] whispering” in the primary, “Intuition” stage, viewers see the singer’s face shrouded by a plush, fur coat. From urban backdrops to southern fields, Beyoncé provides a pained, conversational poem focused on her marital doubt
This set up remains consistent as the work progresses; each step in her acceptance process flows to the next, beginning with a verbal commentary, followed by a fitting track off the album and met with magnificent visuals throughout.
While some tracks off the visual-free album, such as “Sorry,” have more expected matching graphics, others, such as “Hold Up,” intentionally offset the track’s sounds with opposing video.
“Hold Up,” with a beachy, island feel seems reminiscent of “Dancing On The Sun,” and unexpectedly serves as the supporting track to the visuals of the “Denial” stage. Beyoncé, destroying an entire city with a smile on her face, loots, shatters and generally destroys anything in sight. The overall takeaway is a relatively clear one, all because of this contrasted pairing: Beyoncé’s suppressed denial of dishonesty quickly transitioned into uncontrollable anger, upon her acceptance of her husband’s cheating.
“Sorry,” supporting the “Apathy” stage, provides a light, club-like feel. Fitting to the song’s aesthetic, the video centers on Serena Williams confidently club dancing affront Beyoncé, split between shots of Yonce alongside a bus full of tribal-painted dancers.
While Williams hung up her racket for the video, she’s not the only guest appearance in the film. Jay Z, Yonce’s disloyal husband, and America’s Next Top Model winner Winnie Harlow make cameos in the video, too. As for the solely album-based collaborations, Queen B and The White Stripes lead singer Jack White teamed up for “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a cocky track proclaiming Beyoncé’s independence. The Weeknd served up a similarly eerie sound for “6 Inch,” a fluctuating upbeat and lethargic tune bleeding similar sounds to that of a James Bond intro.
For the album’s more emotionally heavy efforts, “Forward” and “Freedom,” Beyoncé called upon English electronic music producer James Blake and rapper Kendrick Lamar. “Forward,” featuring feathery, praise-like sounds, is carried entirely by Blake’s soulful voice, while “Freedom—a prideful, empowering tune—comes across forcefully self-assured, supported by both Beyoncé’s deep belts and Lamar’s fast-paced bars.
As the “Intuition” stage concludes—with Beyoncé jumping off a city skyscraper, insinuating her inescapable pain—pavement turns to the ocean’s vastness. Beyoncé floats through a bedroom—above a depressed mirror image of herself—and tells of her attempts to become “less awake.”
“[I] fasted for 60 days, wore white, abstained from mirrors, abstained from sex, slowly did not speak another word,” she confesses. “In that time, my hair, I grew past my ankles. I slept on a mat on a floor, I swallowed a sword. I levitated…confessed my sins and was baptized in a river.”
Despite Beyoncé’s tender confessions of attempts to suppress the reality-altering question looming overhead, she tells, “…Still inside me, coiled deep, was the need to know, ‘Are you cheating on me?’”
As Beyoncé finally verbalizes the pain within, she opens the brassy front doors of her home, releasing a tidal wave from within. Finally, she faces her marital stumbling block head-on, with a baseball bat in hand and anger inside.
The overarching metaphor: the pain she felt was only dealt with through honesty with herself and her husband, rapper Jay Z. Through verbalizing her suspicions, she begins to accept the injustices she faces—working her way through “Anger,” “Apathy,” “Emptiness, “Accountability,” “Reformation,” “Forgiveness,” “Resurrection,” “Hope” and “Redemption.”
Each new stage brings viewers, and listeners, along Beyoncé’s journey to “Redemption,” and, strangely enough, the journey’s just as powerful whether experienced in visuals or track-by-track.
In essence, Lemonade’s a monumental moment in both Bey’s career and the industry as a whole—as the visual album isn’t dependent on its cinematography or it’s sounds; rather, the two aid in a greater, overarching tool for entertainer-listener connection: Beyoncé’s lyrics.
Here, Beyoncé’s award-winning voice and visual artistry fall second to her storytelling; her occasional riffs, breaks and breathy sounds simply give life to her telling of internal torment.
While we’ve seen visual albums before—Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Kanye West’s Runaway—there’s a certain caliber to Yonce’s addition to the visual album archives, unmatched by prior efforts. As for the visual-free album, it’s the most diverse, widely appealing and dynamic we’ve seen from her, too—a sort of big sister to Anti.
Through channeling agony into artistry, Beyoncé’s created a shockingly accurate memoir of suffering—and not in the name of self promotion. Each piece of video, strung together with intent, paints an effectively dramatized depiction of the human experience—inducing occasional tears, smiles and nods of agreement.