Maybe the most intriguing thing about Beyonce’s Lemonade album is that in listening to it and seeing it — if only because Beyonce is unequivocally one of the most powerful pop culture icons of modern times — we have to assume her narrative first in unpacking the album, which means that most of the album is spent considering the implication that there’s a very powerful man who’s done a very powerful woman wrong and has minimal chance of proving that he’ll ever be able to completely do right again.
Thus giving Lemonade, moreso than any other pop creation in recent memory, the position of being the best place to begin a conversation about a global need for patriarchy to redefine itself and men in power to both be humble and do right. Otherwise, if we can’t do either of those things, Beyonce’s finally stood up and told men that the time has come for us to be aired out and to bow down even further than before to an era where women are continuing to gain in sociopolitical power and control.
Sure, there’s albums from the likes of Rihanna and Taylor Swift in this recent cycle of top female pop releases that have plenty to say about female empowerment. However, ever since being assaulted by Chris Brown and seemingly not caring about Drake’s fawning adoration, it’s clear that Rihanna’s just in it for the money and could really give a fuck about a man and what he’s thinking. As for Taylor Swift, sure she’s got “Bad Blood,” but she also has promised to “never ever ever ever get back together” with so many guys. Also, she’s goo goo gaga in love with Calvin Harris right now, so she’s sort of out of this conversation, too.
Comparatively, Beyonce’s still very much married to Jay Z and the mother of his child. Therefore, when Lemonade’s lead track “Pray You Catch Me” opens with “You can taste the dishonesty / It’s all over your breath as you pass it off so cavalier,” it’s Jay Hova S. Dot Roc-A-Fella Def Jam Shawn Blue Ivy’s Daddy Carter that you see lying about his possible sexcapade with Rachel Rihanna Rita Ora Roy to one Mrs. Beyonce Knowles-Carter. Look even further into the imagined setting and you see the Warhol painting still sitting slightly askew on the wall from “Drunk In Love,” and you know that somewhere in the back of her mind, Queen Bey knows how to pack a U Haul box and set it off to the left (to the left), because she’s so damned “Irreplaceable.”
Even if there’s no actual marital infidelity to speak between the Carters that Beyonce’s using to base her lyrical slaughter of cheating men everywhere upon, the fact that there was such a palpable visual being played to while seeing the hour-long album-as-video is important. In fact, while everyone’s right to discuss how visually arresting the HBO-premiered video is, it’s the point of intersection in the venn diagram of perception, reality and fantasy that really drives it home. As well, every woman in the world being able to locate themselves as well in said diagram is where men everywhere need to heed the warning it sends to us and get our collective shit together.
It’s not like Jay Z can release an apologetic “Song Cry”-type song to make all of it right, either.
Actually, let’s consider this song for a moment…
“Song Cry” is Jay Z’s magnificent 2001 rap ballad that sees Jay apologizing for three failed past relationships. The failures in “Song Cry” are actually quite epic. Jay admits to cheating on women who helped him lease a car, fund his personal shopping sprees and even conceal his illegal handguns. Of course, we didn’t have public knowledge of those three women, and these relationships occurred before he was a global pop-rap star. When discussing of Jay’s (potential) philandering on Lemonade, there’s sadly been no mention — as there often times is — of these voiceless and faceless women.
Lemonade renders a Jay-representing-all-men as Beyonce-represents-all-women comeback as almost impossible. From Serena’s celebratory twerking to Warsan Shire’s poetry and brilliant lyrical content, this album is maybe the most ultimate victory ever in the face of a man’s less-than-savory ways. We didn’t know the women Jay cheated on during the era he references in “Song Cry,” but we ABSOLUTELY know the woman Jay presumably cheated on and the women he presumably cheated with, all of whom are wrapped up in Lemonade’s furious power. Jay releasing a “Song Cry” retort would actually do nothing more than render him completely secondary, and ultimately entirely powerless. But maybe that’s what’s necessary, and where the *actual* political power of Lemonade becomes apparent.
When Beyonce presaged this album with the release of album single “Formation,” there was a sense that the album would be political in a #BlackLivesMatter sense, possibly bearing a similarity to Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album-as-political-statement To Pimp A Butterfly. However, in reading Beyonce completely ethering her husband as the most tweet and meme-worthy thing related to Lemonade’s release, there’s the notion that the album’s true political strength is in being the ultimate showcase-to-date of not #BlackLivesMatter, but #BlackGirlMagic and general female empowerment for all womankind.
Lemonade is the first time in modern pop culture where a man was universally seen as incredibly wrong in his actions and a woman was both right to and completely able to call him out on his shit in a mind-blowing manner. We live in an era where men in positions of power are doing terrible things like condoning the immoral killing of black people, allowing the Earth to grow warmer and generally living and breathing as Donald Trump.
Sadly, #BlackLivesMatter and #FeelTheBern have underwhelmed in unseating an ill-willed patriarchy. However, when all of us collectively presumed that very powerful rapper-turned-entertainment mogul man Jay Z cheated on his magical black girl wife Beyonce, the space to open the door for undeniable female empowerment was created. In all of us listening to a pop album the same way at the same time and discovering complete contempt for a powerful man, a sociopolitical revolution with women at the front has truly been given the space to finally occur.
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