After giving fans just one week’s notice, Beyoncé dropped her new album LEMONADE as well as a visual album that aired as an HBO special of the same title on Saturday April 23. Beyoncé had a lot to say on this album, and it’s safe to say that she didn’t hold back.
Some common threads that Beyoncé wove throughout LEMONADE include betrayal, racism, empowerment and forgiveness. Using her art and a revolutionary platform that the music industry hasn’t seen before, Beyoncé spoke her mind on these heavy topics not only through her lyrics, but also through spoken word, images and videos on her visual album.
With LEMONADE, Beyoncé effectively channels her anger toward her husband—rapper Jay Z—into her art in order to help black women worldwide move past their own emotional pain. In addition, Beyoncé incorporates instances of racism to specifically acknowledge black women’s struggles throughout history—struggles that remain relevant today.
According to The New York Times, “Marital strife smolders, explodes and uneasily subsides on ‘Lemonade.’” Admittedly, I was shocked by how explicitly Beyoncé calls out Jay Z for cheating. But she does more than just express her anger—she acknowledges the ridiculous backlash that women often receive after expressing this anger when they discover their significant other has been cheating, which I think is admirable of her.
Amidst the cheating that Beyoncé fearlessly brings up throughout LEMONADE, she also discusses racism. In the middle of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” on her visual album, there is a pause in the song that cuts to videos of various black women as Malcolm X intones, “The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected woman in America is the black woman. The most neglected woman in America is the black woman.”
While some people may recall Malcolm X as an advocator of violence, I think that the point Beyoncé is trying to make is that Malcolm X’s words remain true today. Incorporating this quote from Malcolm X links black women’s pain—both historically and contemporarily—to the pain that Beyoncé experiences throughout her life as an African American woman.
Huffington Post notes, “‘Freedom’ is also filled with stirring, soulful lyrics and powerful images of black women who have lost black men in their lives, including Gwen Carr, Sybrina Fulton and Lezley McSpadden, the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, respectively.” Showing these women emphasizes Beyoncé’s point in that black women today continue to suffer and lack the respect they deserve from society because of their race.
Beyoncé may be a wealthy, popular vocal artist who’s known around the world, but as a black woman she’s still unprotected, disrespected and neglected. Due to the placement of the Malcolm X segment in the middle of an angry track that targets Jay Z’s lack of loyalty, I would argue that Beyoncé is calling out her husband for making her feel unprotected, disrespected and neglected. It took a lot of courage for Beyoncé to stand up to Jay Z in a public manner, but through this she shows women—especially black women—that they deserve to be protected, respected and cherished.
Time suggests that “in black women’s music, trifling men have long been metonyms for a patriarchy that never affords black women the love and life they deserve,” so perhaps Beyoncé used cheating as a metaphor for black women’s experiences in society ruled by men. Therefore, it’s possible that through the creation of LEMONADE, Beyoncé sought to empower and to support black women using a social construct with which women are familiar.
While this album feels quite personal, Beyoncé reaches out to black women in solidarity, showing the world that African American women still lack the respect they deserve because of their gender and the color of their skin. Beyoncé recognizes that silence isn’t the answer to these social problems—generating conversation is the only way to enact change—and Beyoncé is effectively using her music to foster the changes that we need to see in the world.