I like this new Beyoncé as much as I dislike Tidal as a streaming platform. I was never much a fan of Beyoncé before 2013, when her self-titled album came out and she broke some new ground. Before that she was too poppy, too clean. Case in point of how I felt about her as an artist, ‘Single Ladies’ remains a trash song to me. Fast forward to now, post ‘Beyoncé’ and feel genuine excitement to see the artist surprise drop yet another album in Lemonade. It certainly helps that the opening track, Pray You Catch Me, is the perfect example of why I consider myself a newfound Beyoncé fan. The grimy darkness of the track – stripped back and bare emotions over an ominous beat, and an honest overtone by she who would be Queen, drives home the fresh authenticity I sense in the new direction Beyoncé has taken with this album and her last. Plus, the track sees her getting a writing credit assist from the uber talented James Blake, so that’s certainly got to help matters, so far as I’m concerned.
Track two, Hold Up, goes a long way again to affirm the appeal of the new direction for Beyoncé, though for an entirely different reason than the track which precedes it. This time it’s a matter of attitude, and innovation, as she rides out over a Diplo production to create something boppy and turn-up-your-lip badass. It’s cool in a new Beyoncé way that I’m sure the old Beyoncé would have been yearning for. Transparently, it’s about Beyoncé and her man, with the Queen taking the time to snarl with the warning “hold up, they don’t love you like I love you”. If the story of the track is to be taken at face value, Jay-Z was unfaithful – and Beyoncé knows. And don’t fuck with the Queen. Special mention has to go to that Soulja Boy sample on the track, because why would Beyoncé ever sample Soulja Boy? (Doesn’t matter, she just did).
Pause for a brief moment, inhale and exhale nice and slow. Ask yourself if you’re prepared to hear Beyoncé team up with Jack White (to quote interns’ own Michelle He “I died when I saw that Jack White featured”) and a Led Zeppelin sample. Yes, a Zeppelin sample. The holiest of holy, the unthinkable sample, and crazier still – it fucking works. It really fucking words. Because the Beyoncé of Destiny’s Child is dead and buried, and instead this Queen isn’t afraid to let out a cry of “just give my fat ass a big kiss boy” as she lets her attitude bleed out over the brave, menacing beat. This is pure rage, and defiance, this is the reminder of who she has and what whoever is lucky enough to have her stands to lose. Or, as Bey says herself, “You can watch my fat ass twist boy, ?as I bounce to the next dick boy”. Lines that that, beats like these, and features like Jack White, wouldn’t belong on a 2008 Beyoncé album. But this isn’t 2008, and this isn’t the same Beyoncé.
This Beyoncé ain’t sorry, either. She’s got those middle fingers up, strutting away from the “fucking excuses” in that white bodysuit you know she owns. This is the soundtrack of the new age woman, unapologetic and defiant. The “sorry, I ain’t sorry” and the sure to go viral line “he better call Becky with the good hair”, this is all set up for the new age, modern attitude of women around the world to fall in behind and sing out as an anthem.
Make way for the album’s highlight. Just like 2013’s ‘Beyoncé’ took advantage of Frank Ocean’s hot hand on highlight track Superpower, Queen Bey utilises 2016’s hot hand in The Weeknd for Six Inch, which pounds with the attitudes of trap, the dark sensuality of contemporary R&B and, a keen ear can hear, influences of circa 1980s underground punk. Oozing with attitude, Beyoncé calls empowered women to line up behind the symbol of six inch heels – power, and pride. In sexuality, in identity, in life – empowerment. Six inch heels, baby!
Daddy Lessons is a pretty badass way to homage your upbringing and your home, Beyoncé leading in the subject matter with whispers of ‘Texas, Texas, Texas’ before kicking off a country song more Carrie Underwood than Destiny’s Child. Given Beyoncé’s relationship with her father Matthew Knowles, and rumoured falling out with him over his unfaithfulness with Bey’s mother Tina, it seems a pretty significant pit stop to make at the sixth notch of Lemonade.
Relying on thick bass, and soaring synths, Beyoncé sings a spacey, heartfelt ode to love lost, and relationship breakdowns, on Love Drought. The rawness of the subject matter and the delivery, both, are extraordinarily disarming. The narrative before this seventh track was one of dealing with betrayal, angered and hurt, but the script is flipped to reveal the vulnerabilities and emotions beneath the anger. Love, so often, makes very little sense. Where elsewhere in life, we all yearn to escape pain – in love, it’s not so simple. Clearly, as Beyoncé discovers over the narrative of Love Drought, sometimes pain is unavoidable and love makes no sense. How can you want, with such vigour, something which hurts you so badly? But that’s love.
As if your emotions weren’t piqued enough, as if the vulnerabilities and the hurt weren’t threatening to wash you away already, Beyoncé opens out her wounds and bares all in a strong, heart wrenching ballad sung over an elegant piano backing. Ultimately Sandcastles carries on the narrative of the track that it follows, love simply isn’t as simple as you want it to be. Going in to a relationship, you can have an idea of who you are and who you want to be – but love has a habit of changing everything. As Bey herself sings “And I know I promised that I couldn’t stay, baby, every promise don’t work out that way”. On a personal level, the message strikes a very raw, emotional place. Having been hurt in love, and subsequently having realised that I couldn’t fall out of it, that it wasn’t so simple as promises kept to myself when love was involved – Beyoncé speaks on something truly transcendent, something largely unspoken. In her wounds, through her hurt, Beyoncé crafts easily her most profound work on Lemonade. Love, sometimes, can compromise you as much as it can enrich you, and as much as it can hurt you. And this is Beyoncé’s journey through love.
I’ve made no secret of my love for James Blake, and clearly Beyoncé understands the same appeal of the electronic/R&B crooner. I’ve never wept so hard as I have whilst hearing James Blake’s voice on some of his songs, speaking to a visceral emotional place within me. Forward with Beyoncé is in much that same vein.
If it was ever in doubt, songs like Freedom featuring Kendrick Lamar prove how truly intelligent an artist Beyoncé is and can be. Crafting an anthem for the African-American people utilising one of its most outspoken artistic voices, in many ways, supersedes expectations on what to expect from Beyoncé. Yes, she’s spoken many times on empowerment (including on this very album), but never with quite the same extent of power and profundity as on Freedom. It certainly helps that Kendrick brings his A-game (as if there was any alternative) with an extraordinarily strong and passionate guest verse here. There’s little better way to describe Freedom than to say that it is a strong and powerful song, with an equally strong and powerful message. Does it seem a peculiar distraction from the overall theme of love and heartache of the rest of Lemonade? Yes. But it’s no less welcome.
All Night returns to the theme of love, offering up another ballad and another genius sample (hello to that Outkast bite). In essence, this song which closes out the emotional journey of Lemonade (though is not the final track of the album) is a brighter, more up tempo offering than anything it follows. Yes, there has been hurt and pain, there has been some betrayal. But love has emerged from the other side, still intact. This journey of maturity and discovery leads Beyoncé to conclude, “With every tear came redemption, and my torturer became a remedy”. Overall, it’s suggestive that forgiveness can be achieved through anything with love – even if it hurts so terribly and so extensively beforehand. With love, Beyoncé suggests, anything is possible.
Formation saw its initial release a couple of months ago and I straight up love this song – in fact, it might be my favourite Beyoncé track of all time. That beat, like a banjo string snapping over and over again between thumps of thick, infectious bass. Utilising New Orleans bounce to, again, empower the Black Lives Matter movement and the African-American community – Beyoncé on Formation is brimming with attitude, simmering with sensuality.
Overall, Lemonade is a dizzyingly powerful and emotional body of work that, for the most part, transcends an album and, instead, becomes an experience. And, in this instance, it’s the Beyoncé experience. Perhaps it appeared, for me personally, at precisely the right time, or perhaps it truly is an immensely fantastic album. I can only, ultimately, speak for myself, and in doing so I’m forced to say – this is the best Beyoncé album. Hands down, no question. All hail Queen Bey.
(James’ Disclaimer: The visual accompaniment to the musical content of this album is, in my opinion, the single greatest and most profound achievement of Beyoncé’s career to date. For me, personally, it struck such a personal place in my heart and in my own life that at times it felt confronting, and at others it felt comforting. Ultimately, any attempt to aptly describe the content of the visual story, much of which is not heard on the album, would fall short of how tremendously visceral and raw it actually is. In short, I was so blown away by the visual accompaniment to Lemonade that I don’t think I could give it any justice and nor would I want to even try. It is an experience that one must take by themselves, and only by themselves. Or at least, that’s what I believe.)