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Most of the music that I review is either local (Twin Ports or in the Reader’s distribution range) or “regional” (Twin Cities or slightly beyond). It’s my job to at least let you know that there is great music happening all around you and if you feel like it, by all means check out these bands that I’m talking about. I probably would have never bothered to listen to Beyonce’s recent concept album titled “Lemonade,” but a friend sincerely requested that I give it a listen and it’s good to have an open mind and switch things up here and there. There are a number of music videos that accompany the songs so this review will mention a few things from the actual album and what I could find on Youtube and Vevo.
My mindset about Beyonce before listening and watching her new material really revolves around her hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” I find that song to be obnoxious. Basically she says that she will use jealousy against someone who has not fully committed (put a ring on it) to a relationship in three years. Ok, just break up with someone if you have doubts about them not being into the relationship after your made up timeline. Messing around with other people at the club is going to result in drama. I don’t care who you are, most likely someone is not going to “take you to infinity and beyond.” I shudder to think about all the failed marriages that the song is responsible for or what senseless bar fights were started over it.
Upon listening to “Lemonade” I found much of it to be a little more meaningful than “Single Ladies.” Remember what I was just saying about “Single Ladies” and how having that mindset is a recipe for disaster? Well, it seems that Beyonce’s relationship with long term boyfriend/husband, Jay Z, turned south after years of well publicized ups and downs. It is so well publicized that I easily found an article from Cosmopolitan giving the year by year break down of the relationship. The closest I usually get to following celebrity relationships is when I’m standing in line at the grocery store. I know break ups suck and I guess this album is in ways Beyonce’s reaction to that very fact; break ups have a way of getting in your head and changing you. Think about how lame music would be if everyone landed a perfect and happy relationship and everyone lived happily ever after. Yeah, I thought Beyonce was kind of an annoying pop/R&B artist, but this album helped me gain some appreciation for her. Beyond her personal post-breakup statements, there is an incredible not-so-underlying messages from her as an African American woman.
I’ll say right off that there are some differences between the music video and album versions of the songs. The track “Sorry” starts with some pretty intense words, “What are you going to say at my funeral now that you’ve killed me?…Dust to side chicks.” Beyonce sits motionless on a bus surrounded by black women in tribal makeup swaying rhythmically and then the actual track kicks in. “Middle fingers up…I ain’t thinking about you,” sings Beyonce in this song that some people might benefit from. The line, “Looking at my watch you should have been home/Today I regret that night I put that ring on,” made me think that Beyonce has realized the fallacy behind “Single Ladies.” Overall, it is a song about women’s independence after dealing with a lackluster relationship. “He better call Becky with the good hair,” is a line that I saw getting brought up before being asked to listen to this album, but it seems evident that the line is personal. The cinematography with these music videos is fantastic and they show a definite reflection of a black feminist woman.
With recent events, people have either been offended or intimidated by Beyonce’s defiant attitude that she expresses in this new material. There was a huge backlash over her Super Bowl performance where some people got pretty worked up that it was a nod to groups like the Black Panthers and activists like Malcolm X. I personally thought the statement on such a large scale was bold and perhaps even needed. Of course, naturally, people became more divided if social media is any indicator. If you disagree with things like Black Lives Matter or feminism, then this album probably isn’t for you — that probably goes without saying. For this reason, I’ve started to change my mind about Beyonce because I never considered her to be edgy.
The track “Formation” delves into references of the deep south. The video for the song opens up with Beyonce crouching on a police car surrounded from flood water. This scene is put into context when a man says, “What happened at the New Orleans?” As many know there was a massive hurricane called Katrina that left the area in shambles. A couple of the videos depict high class southern homesteads, including this one. Beyonce acknowledges her southern roots and race with no shame, although she makes no mistake she is affluent:
“My daddy Alabama, my momma Louisiana
You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama
I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros
I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils
Earned all this money but they never take the country out me
I got a hot sauce in my bag, swag”
My friend who suggested that I give this a listen said that the song “Sandcastles” made her cry a number of times. For me that’s the epitome of what music should be; it triggers an emotional response. I couldn’t find a video for this song, but I’m making a note of it because it is beautiful and bittersweet.
“And your heart is broken
Cause I walked away
Show me your scars
And I won’t walk away
And I know I promised that I couldn’t stay
Every promise don’t work out that way”
Another track that stood out to me that I couldn’t find a video for was “Daddy Lessons.” I enjoyed this song because it hinges on ragtime and country. I get the feeling that this is yet another song where Beyonce goes back to her southern background. I certainly wasn’t expecting material like this from her.
“With his right hand on his rifle
He swore it on the bible
My daddy said shoot
Oh, my daddy said shoot”
There are a few political implications on this album, while I think there is some metaphor here, a line like “Daddy made me fight/It wasn’t always right/But he said girl it’s your second amendment” makes it pretty clear that fighting back is an definitely an option on the table.
Will this album make me want to get into Beyonce’s past material? Probably not. I feel that this album is important and relevant looking at society today. There is a sense of pride in the material and it highlights being a black woman. I’ll have to say that I don’t think as a white male born and raised in the Northland that I’m the target audience here, but I can appreciate how this album ranges from political to genuine emotion. It makes me think how odd it is that black music artists such as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are generally accepted in our society while they rap about some pretty negative things such as killing, exploiting women, and drug use. But when Beyonce sings about embracing being a black woman, suddenly some become defensive. It makes me wonder if some music has shaped people’s views on culture. What am I saying? Of course it has.