When most people have marital troubles, they may confess them to friends or go to counseling. When Beyoncé has marital troubles, she makes a concept album.
Yes, an R&B concept album. It's a format we're more used to seeing from the likes of rockers Green Day, My Chemical Romance and Muse as they pump out pseudo sci-fi sagas of totalitarian regimes run amok. You know, angry political stuff. Not transparent personal stuff.
And if nothing else, Lemonade—as in the old saw, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade"—is immensely, enormously personal. Beyoncé unpacks in pining, agonizing, raging, profane detail what certainly seems to be the sustained accusation that her husband, rapper Jay Z, has been unfaithful—an insinuation that's further reinforced by the hour-long video montage (initially aired on HBO) that accompanies the album.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Beyoncé wastes no time giving the album's thesis statement in the first two lines of the first song, "Pray You Catch Me." She sings, "You can taste the dishonesty/It's all over your breath as you pass it off so cavalier." And what follows on Lemonade is an emotional slog through the process of dealing with her deep relational suspicion (be it autobiographical or an elaborate piece of performance art) that her husband has cheated on her. It's a journey of shock and anger that ends with Beyoncé's resolve to forgive her unfaithful man and make the most of the love she insists is still present.
Surprised? It's true. Beyoncé moves from hurt and rage toward reconciliation, exuding a strong desire to make her marriage work. "Forward" imagines a return to a better normal ("Go back to sleep in your favorite spot just next to me"). "All Night" promises, "All I want, ain't no other/We together, I remember." Bey also tells her man, "Found the truth beneath your lies/And true love never has to hide/ … Our love was stronger than your pride/Beyond your darkness, I'm your light."
But before all that, "Pray You Catch Me" finds Beyoncé wanting her husband to know that she knows ("I'm prayin' you catch me listening"). It's one of many tracks that digs into the minute ways his actions do deep damage ("Nothing else seems to hurt like the smile on your face/ … What are you doing, my love?"). "Hold Up" insists that there's no love more faithful than a wife's ("Step down, they don't love you like I love you/Can't you see there's no other man above you?/What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you"). She also details the insecurities that her suspicion stirs up in her heart ("I look in the mirror, say, 'What's up?'").
As wounded as she is, though, Beyoncé doesn't surrender her self-respect. On "Don't Hurt Yourself," she insists, "I am the dragon breathing fire/Beautiful mane, I'm the lion/Beautiful man, I know you're lyin'/I'm not broken, I'm not cryin'." She's willing to grant him one more chance, but no more than that: "This is your final warning/You know I give you life/If you try this s--- again/You gon lose your wife." "Sorry" says, "Looking at my watch, he shoulda been home/Today I regret the night I put that ring on/ … I pray to the Lord you reveal what His truth is."
"Daddy Lessons" delves into Beyoncé's relationship with her father. He made her a "tough girl," a "fighter," and he warned her to watch out for men who are "trouble." He also charged her with caring for the family after he was gone. Album closer "Formation" celebrates Beyoncé's familial and racial heritage. And on "Freedom," Jay Z's 90-year-old grandmother, Hattie White, says, "I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade."
Beyoncé pairs her rage with harsh profanity and threats of violence. "Hold Up" erupts with volcanic fury as she looks for evidence of an affair on her man's phone ("Going through your call list/I don't wanna lose my pride, but Ima f--- me up a b--ch"). "Don't Hurt Yourself" roars, "Who the f--- do you think I is?/You ain't married to no average b--ch, boy/ … Tonight I'm f---ing up all your s---, boy." Then she suggestively implies that maybe she'll have an affair too, to even the score ("You can watch my fat a-- twist, boy/As I bounce to the next d--k, boy"). She labels herself a "bad m-----f---er" with a "god complex," before saying cryptically, "When you love me, you love yourself/Love god herself."
There are more insinuations that Beyoncé might be cheating, too, on "Sorry," as Beyoncé spits, "Now you gotta see me wilding/Now I'm the one that's lying/And I don't feel bad about it/It's exactly what you get/Stop interrupting my grinding/I ain't thinkin' 'bout you." (Later, however, she suggests that such talk is just a bluff, insisting, "I ain't f---ing anybody.") "6 Inch" finds Beyoncé at a strip club, where she praises an exotic dancer for working "hard for the money/ … She grinds day and night/ … Six-inch heels, she walked in the club like nobody's business/G--d--n, she murdered everybody, and I was her witness." "All Night" offers suggestive details about a married couple's makeup sex. "Hold Up" alludes to the ways Beyoncé tried to please her man sexually, including oral sex and making love in a car. "Slay" brags, "I came to slay, b--ch," then offers an unlikely pairing between sex and Red Lobster ("When he f--- me good, I take his a-- to Red Lobster, 'cause I slay").
"6 Inch" casually mentions alcohol and Ecstasy.
Lemonade delivers a shockingly raw depiction of one woman's bruising experience with her husband's infidelity. And the movie-like video accompaniment adds a visual exclamation mark. There's more of everything onscreen: more rage (Queen Bey takes a baseball bat to cars while walking down a street), more sensuality (we see myriad revealing outfits and sexy dance moves, and the camera spies nude women from behind), more dignity (women form a sort of sisterhood where they find strength in one another when their men cheat on them), more pain (via frequent voiceovers about Beyoncé's emotional journey), more sex (through graphically explicit verbal references), and more faith (with many specific references made to Jesus).
It's a dizzying artistic tour de force plumbing the chaotic depths of agony, abandonment, betrayal, resurgence and forgiveness. There's much to laud: Beyoncé's self-assurance and honesty, her refusal to let her man's cheating define her identity or shove her into lasting bitterness, as well as her recognition of the importance of marriage and determination to fight for it.
There's much to critique, too, though. Many of the ways Beyoncé verbally, visually and explicitly unleashes her fighting spirit has a way of turning sweet into sour.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Top 5 iTunes album set for the biggest debut of 2016 with more than half-a-million units sold and streamed.
Parkwood Entertainment, Columbia, Sony
April 23, 2016