Beyoncé in America
On a seemingly normal Saturday afternoon, Beyoncé used one of her signature “world, stop” moments, and released her most critically acclaimed album to date. From there lemonade is both interpreted and broadens by the visuals that move with it. The interludes between the songs are also aided by the compelling poetry from the Somali-British writer Warsan Shire, which pulls the songs together to further illustrate their meanings. The film itself is filled with images of female solidarity using both Southern/African roots, and women of all ages to showcase their roles between the many different eras.
The images and short clips switching from Beyonce being joined by African-American women in white clothes to Beyonce in multiple different African-based hairstyles and fashions helps defines who she made the album for. Setting social media ablaze, gathering over a million tweets within the hour, and filling up the trending page with different synonyms of what was happening; Beyonce had the entire world talking. In fact, “since the release of “Formation” in February and the title song in April, no artist, male or female, has garnered more buzz this year than Bey” (Thompson). Then again, no one is surprised, if anyone could stop the world twice, it would be Beyonce.
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Proving to be an ode to black women in America, Lemonade possessed the message of both self and black love through the many intersections of womanhood and Afrocentrism. While serving its purpose as a means for Beyonce to honor the past, present, and future; Lemonade simultaneously challenged the spaces of a white male-dominated industry.
The inclusion of several characteristics of black feminist thought: “A black women’s insistence on self-definition, self-evaluation, and the necessity for a black female-center analysis” (Washington) enabled Beyonce to highlight and represent her personal views, without speaking on it directly. Lemonade offers a counter-narrative to the representations that are currently available in contemporary popular culture, by aiding the building blocks for a rich and intellectually stimulating learning experiences about African-American women’s history, culture, and tradition.
Beyonce and her collaborations succeed in developing a impassioned tone that clearly expresses the feminist insistence that the personal is political. The first reminder of Black roots is found in the opening sequence titled Intuition which includes a scene of an abandoned plantation home. As the camera sweeps across the plantation house, Beyoncé recites one of Shire’s poems in the background that discusses the merging of the past and present. Within the poem, Knowles states, “the past and the future merge to meet us here. What luck, what a fucking curse” (Washington).
Although brief, Shire’s mention of the past and present merging hints at the meeting of multiple generations of Black women. This conforms to the idea that Lemonade is was made to showcase her experience dealing with something close to her, and how she’ll like others to follow. This passage suggests that the meeting of these generations is important and represents a cursed renewal of the same obstacles keeping marginalized communities from thriving regardless of time.
The albums unfolding replicates the work of Stephen King through its despair and frustration. Malcolm X’s soundbite plays as Beyonce enters the empty garage, stylized with an appearance of a hard edge. Dressed in Kanye’s Yeezy athletic clothing, a fur drape, large jewelry (an ankh necklace and earrings), and cornrows; this song is “perhaps the rawest intersection of Blackness and womanhood as it relies on physical action, masculine tropes, and black traditions to tell the story”(Washington). Although each piece has its own core values and meanings, outsiders to the community often see it as very aggressive in nature.
Beyonce, herself, representing and wearing certain material found within basic black culture allows her racially diverse audience to open their eyes on these topics. Everything from the way she’s dressed to the gangster movements and gestures she makes has been rejected by non-Black communities, as they are material performances of blackness. Thus, through her wardrobe, “Beyoncé uses her agency to express a rejected version of blackness and masculinity in order to aesthetically represent its culture”(Cheryl). Don’t Hurt Yourself represents Beyonce’s ability to take her anger and mold it into something useful within society. While the songs take a huge hit at her husband, underneath is a double entendre that also hits mainstream media.
With the first two tenets of her representation previously discussed, another characteristic must be explored in order to fully officiate Lemonade’s role as a woman-centered film. That characteristic is intergenerational, which is examined mostly through the song Freedom. Although Black feminism is a joint process to achieve a common goal of equality through both race and gender, “there is [also] an intergenerational aspect of Black feminism that is crucial to its existence” (Cheryl).
This focus on intergenerational support is often displayed through the passing of knowledge, stories, and traditions from past generations to those of the present. Along with these secrets, there are strategies for survival that Black women have also accumulated over time that have helped their communities survive under their oppressors.
Within Lemonade, Beyoncé also incorporates the demand for humanity in the song Formation. Formation offers a political version of Black rage that is vocalized by a woman’s demand for her right to humanity. During the song, Beyoncé sings “okay ladies, now let’s get in formation, prove to me you’ve got some coordination,” (Washington) asking her fellow Black women to come together so they can work on the bigger picture at hand and join her efforts for freedom.
The song serves as a form of protest to shed some light on the injustice her people are facing across America. As for the celebration of her identity as a Black woman, Beyoncé’s lyrics suggest her love for Blackness. Even with the police threatening to no longer support her, Beyonce had to put her values first and speak on what she believes is right. Through these lyrics, Beyoncé unapologetically declares her Blackness, creating a space for other Black individuals to do the same.
Beyonce is Beyonce. For that reason, everything she does is critiqued. Every outing, every performance, every album, and every interview. Everything she does is debated, there’s even a popular notion that because she stays in the spotlight, and even gains attention for being pregnant, she’s over-saturated in pop culture. As quoted by Lasha, she’s both ” iconic and problematic”. With that being said, one of her most notable critics as of late has been Bell Hooks.
Bell Hooks isn’t a random twitter troll, she’s an established legend in the feminist community. As a black woman who has spent her entire career focused on the insecurities of oppression, “Dr. Hooks is most certainly qualified to critique how the superstar’s art affects women” (Lasha). Given these points, it’s clear Hooks has hypocritical contempt that reduces what should be thought-provoking evaluations to social media fodder and anecdotal evidence of women’s propensity for spite.
This isn’t the first time Hooks as relayed her criticism on Beyonce either. In fact, in 2014 on a panel discussion, Hooks labeled Mrs. Knowles influence as an “on not only “anti-feminist,” but “assaulting” and “terrorist”. So it’s not surprising she deconstructed Lemonade as a means for Beyonce to “positively exploit images of black female bodies” (Lasha). For further reference, she believes “this album is Beyoncé’s own lemonade stand, where she serves up the perfect glass, fused with the precise amount of sweet and sour, pain and pleasure, heartbreak and happy ending ? and for a price, of course”(Lasha).
All things considered, however, she isn’t wrong. Lemonade was made for black women in mind, to target black women market specifically. However, this doesn’t make purpose behind album any less meaningful. It doesn’t suddenly disintegrate all the significant, impact, and good the album is meant to do. Hooks trying to argue that Lemonade’s sole purpose is for Beyonce to exploit black literature, culture, and feminism for profit is, for lack of better term, ignorant. While the capitalistic exchange of black feminism and literature jointed with Afrocentrism ideals is subtlety profitable nowadays, Beyoncé using her body ? “the voice that flows from it, the thighs that shake, the eyes that glare” (Lasha) to elicit such responses is neither immoral nor undesirable.
Bell’s also makes a that because Lemonade has an overarching theme of infidelity, it “[concludes] this narrative of hurt and betrayal with caring images of family and home [that] do not serve as adequate ways to reconcile and heal trauma” (Lasha). Which, again, does not make any sense considering it does the opposite. I think Bell’s forgets that prior to Lemonade, Beyonce and Jay-Z represented “a new class of celebrity super-marriage, rooted in the business and art of memoir-making through rap, and pop music” (Kornhaber).
Then Lemonade presented a broken Beyonce: a rich, beautiful, talented, and revered icon who despite all these things was completely torn apart by cheating. It shows how, in the end, we’re all human and are capable of feeling both powerless and defenseless. If anything Lemonade is a story about healing, focusing on the theme of infidelity causing one to miss many of the important meaning the film presents throughout it.
The many ways in which Lemonade celebrates womanhood and the community of mothers, daughters, sisters, etc offers a critically important representation for black women to understand. From visuals to poetry, “the exploration of family, infidelity and the black female body” (Hess) is essential for the new generation to understand and explore. This new representation is also presented in a way that doesn’t sacri?¬?ce or marginalize the social and historical realities of Black people. Lemonade proves to be a valuable addition to modern society through its voice behind black feminism, underlying iconography, and African aesthetics.