When Beyonce releases a new album, the world sits up and takes notice. But when the album is accompanied by an HBO conceptual film, allusions to affairs, and is entirely a surprise, people tend to notice a little more.
On a Saturday night in April, the world-renowned singer and artist released “Lemonade,” an album which has since been discussed incessantly. Billboard reported Lemonade’s status as No. 1 with over 485,000 sales just a week after its release. At first, the album was solely available on Tidal, but has finally made its way to iTunes and Apple Music. The hype, however, was not merely because Beyonce created new music. It was the cultural connotations and the sentiment behind said music which caused the phenomenon.
What were the issues addressed? From race to extramarital affairs to the marginalization of women, Beyonce managed to discuss it all.
Much of the music and the video that Beyonce made had the idea of black women and their power as a central theme. Many critics have argued that this album was intended for this audience specifically, while others say that it is a method of empowerment for all women, regardless of color.
“‘Lemonade’ is not simply a love story but a multi-layered portrait of all that the black woman experiences, all the pain that she endures,” writes Morgan Jenkins for Elle Magazine. In an announcement by Tidal, the company states that “Lemonade” is “based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing.”
The depiction of black women – and the inclusion of many who Beyonce considers friends and fellow artists – was consistent and clear. For example, the singer adapted Somali poet Warsan Shire’s striking words into lyrics. Almost every woman in the video is wearing African adornments. What made it even more concrete was when Beyonce addressed Malcolm X’s infamous quote on black women, and how they are among the most disrespected in America.
Senior Mehr Aziz said, “I think music has always been, at its best, a way to counter culture and is a reaction to cultural oppression. Beyonce is in line with that, kind of like the Blues movement was a few decades ago.”
This culminated with the presence of three mothers – all of whom have sons who were killed in acts of violence and discrimination. Beyonce contacted the Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner’s mothers to appear in her film. It was a powerful, if haunting, message, of the people left behind.
Music has long been a medium for expression, as is any form of art, really. But consumers and artists alike have forgotten the power of pop-culture to drive a narrative. Beyonce reminded the world that pop and atypically “mainstream” music can accomplish the sending of a message, perhaps better than other forms of art can.
The narrative she told, of racial tension, motherhood, relationships, and love – all of it was deeply and overtly personal. Of course, allegations of Jay-Z’s affair spurred the tabloids, perhaps making the album even more sensational. Ideas such as jealousy and forgiveness are the core of at least five of the album’s songs.
“The story of Jay-Z was a way for Beyonce to hook her viewers in,” said senior Craig Dudsak. “It caused people to really pay attention to her music.”
The convention of pop has long been to attract attention, but arguably this is for the glamor and glitter that accompanies fame. Beyonce has had fame for much of her career and is now using it to transcend the boundaries of pop. As the New York Times acknowledged, the singer is now “thinking about herself.” In many ways, the album was an emotional release, for Beyonce herself and for those who get to indulge in her music.
A universal strife, combined with visual beauty, elevated “Lemonade” to more than the music associated with a top Billboard artist. By addressing the issues she has faced, Beyonce gave women everywhere the strength to do so too.