April 25, 2016 — Day 16: Lemonade
Lemonade from Beyonce came out on Saturday when I was away from home, so I missed the big HBO airing of the visual album. Its a bit odd that I’m as interested in Lemonade as I am as I certainly am not the biggest Beyonce fan out there. I don’t particularly have anything against her (except that maybe she’s yet another crassly commercial pop singer of little substance), but Lemonade definitely opens her up to me in a way she wasn’t before. There are thematic elements of Lemonade that I find interesting enough that I certainly think they should be explored, black womanhood and infidelity among others, but there is also a rotten self-centeredness to Lemonade that I find fascinating as well.
I’ll start with the praise — as I said, the racial and gender themes in Lemonade and the visual album are terrific and certainly deserve to be explored. I give props to Beyonce for tackling difficult subjects through her music, and they are certainly subjects that elicit gross reactions from certain corners of society: http://blackbag.gawker.com/alex-jones-beyonces-lemonade-was-funded-by-the-cia-to-1772977685. Its frightening to see how blackness causes knee-jerk reactions from some parts of conservative America that don’t want their to be a distinct black identity because it is inherently anti-power structure, and therefore threatening (especially because many fail to recognize that the social power structures are bastions of whiteness and not the idealized post-racial objects they are sometimes thought to be).
My first, more salient criticism, is that Beyonce may not be the ideal person to deliver the social critique of white power structure that she sometimes seems to be angling towards in Lemonade. Let’s not forget that she is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and married a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars. I don’t have any problem with black people earning money, but I’m opposed to extreme wealth, just as I am opposed to the accumulation of extreme wealth among just about any persons. The wealthy jet-set community Beyonce and Jay-Z find themselves among are very much part of the capitalist ruling classes, historically bastions of white power. Hobnobbing with bankers, execs, and Hollywood bigwigs might dilute your ability to commiserate with black experience in America just a bit, yes? Beyonce covering herself in a veil of poverty at various points in Lemonade reeks of cultural tourism for artistic purposes, rather than feeling like a genuine statement about her political positions.
My second, less important criticism of Lemonade is that its massively self-centered, especially in the visual album. The visual album has been compared to Terrance Malick films, which certainly puts it in rarefied company for self-centeredness. If you ever wanted to hear a massively whiney treatise about how hard marriage can be from a rich person who’s marriage was rumored to be a business venture, well then this is the album for you. Beyonce may be using her marriage and (real or fake) rumors of marital strife as a marketing ploy here…but in the end of the visual album she wants us to believe that she will reconcile for the sake of her daughter. Who is used like a prop to dredge up sympathy for Beyonce’s ostensibly tough decision to stay with Jay-Z. Again, these two are so massively wealthy and everything in their lives is so perfectly scripted to maximize their marketing hype and earning power that it is awfully hard to feel sympathy for their plight on Lemonade. Its hard not to feel like Beyonce is punking us in order to get our money.
That being said, Lemonade has some super catchy songs and the visual album is certainly beautiful. Whether or not its worth the $18 price tag on iTunes is debatable (an absurd album price for 2016), but if you can get your hands on it definitely give it a listen.