I typically avoid engaging in thought pieces and intense discourse around Beyonce. A lot of the reason is because every time Beyonce comes out with a new song, a new clothing line, video, instagram picture or quote, overwhelming fan responses make it difficult for me to establish my own impressions. It has always seemed like those responses subconsciously push us to conformity as opposed to well thought out subjective opinion.
After taking time to witness and muse on Beyonce’s latest work “Lemonade,” it is clear to me that this is more than just another album or flashy music video displaying her evident talents. This is multilayered art. It is cathartic art. It is womanist art. It should be appreciated like any other great piece that stands alone and unable to be categorized. As usual, responses from the general public have been overwhelming and diverse. On the one hand, Melissa Harris Perry is praising Beyonce’s display of pain and courage. Ava Duvernay tweeted “roses and raised fists” to the work. The Beyhive is on attack against anyone who would speak out against the piece. On the other hand Piers Morgan is offended by her “shameless exploitation.” Christians are on Facebook debating her sinfulness. Men are upset by the vulgarity and lash out rebellion displayed in the videos. Beyonce is seemingly on everyone’s lips and Lemonade is on everyone’s Twitter logs and Group me messages.
This particular time, in my mind, it is all warranted. Art that is controversial and debated, causing people to turn to their blogs, podcasts, journals etc, is pièce de résistance.
pièce de résistance
/pjɛs də rezistɑ̃s/
noun 1. the principal or most outstanding item in a series or creative artist’s work
The music is good, the lyrics are good, but those alongside the visuals make this one superior piece of art. The visuals alone are masterful. I honestly believe she has tapped into the music video genius of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, yet at a level suitable for 2016. At the same time, the content is what distinguishes it. There is just too to unpack in a single article. I do see some apparent themes within the album that distinguish this pièce de résistance and define why it’s an important work.
Anger channeled through art is rarely misplaced.
Lemonade appears to be divided into stages of hurt that begin with anger subsequently moving on to forgiveness, healing and moving on. There are a number of people that have a problem with the anger part. To those who cannot handle the truth of anger and pain, I would say to just wait a minute. This stage is messy, complicated, chaotic and filled with rage. She will get to the healing and forgiveness part, but you cannot skip this important stage.
She visually captures the emotions of relational hurt and pain, smiling in her lemonade colored dress carrying a bat and smashing windows. In the video for “Sorry”, Beyonce stares at the camera “Middle fingers up, put them hands high. Wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye.” She is enraged, vulgar, sad and unapologetic. For women who culturally (in and out of the church) are encouraged to shield their pain and behave modestly even in the midst of it all, this is revolutionary behavior. However, it’s authentic and true no matter how distressing to see. I’m not condoning violence or destruction, but displaying these stages of her emotions honestly through art is freeing for many women who have often been told to hide their pain.
Displaying these stages of her emotions honestly through art is freeing for many women who have often been told to hide their pain.
Scripturally, honest displays of emotion can be seen through the laments of Job, Jeremiah and throughout the Psalms. These are important stages and as human beings there is no proper way to emote them. I do not liken myself to Beyonce, but I am a woman and I do know pain. I’m no stranger to channeling pain through art. It’s not only cathartic, but also healing. From wine and painting classes to adult coloring books to adult dance classes, it’s clear that many in society understand that too. Art is healing. Regardless the pain is coming from a real place and though we can speculate from the content, no one can definitively say from where exactly.
It’s sort of dark and twisted.
This entire body of work visually and musically has an unavoidable darkness. This is another critiqued aspect of Lemonade. Albeit, we shouldn’t stray away from the uncomfortable, void, darkness of life.
“God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”
― Juan de la Cruz “Dark Night of the Soul”
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” – Genesis 1
This darkness doesn’t necessarily have to be attributed with evil or sin. It’s a place where transformation can take place. God is not afraid of the darkness so why should we? Lemonade is saturated with darkness and as listeners we are called to sit in that darkness and bear witness to it knowing that within it there will come renewal.
Mammy, Sapphire & Jezebel are put to the test.
Lemonade places Black women at the center. It’s filled with afros, braids, long flowing hair, little girls in flowing dresses standing confidently, faces in African paint, moving bodies twerking & plie’ing. Her use of this explicit imagery both embraces & contests widely depicted images of Black women in the media and society.
- The images of the subordinate, nurturing and self-sacrificing, Mammy.
- The sexually promiscuous and immoral, Jezebel.
- The aggressive and masculinized, Sapphire.
These unfortunate caricatures are consistently associated with Black women within our culture. She embraces the imagery while provoking it. A challenge to these depictions can be taken from a video in which she uses quote from a Malcolm X speech where he says, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.” Of course, within the context she can also be talking about the disrespect overall through the cheating storyline.
On the other side, there is healing and redemption.
“There is a curse that will be broken.”- Sandcastles
As one progresses into the album the themes of healing and moving forward permeate. “The scar heals into a smile. The man I love pulls the stiches out with his fingernails.” “A flower blossoming out of the hole in my face.” There are many redemptive moments. She declares freedom and the breaking of chains. This isn’t just freedom from a bad relationship, this is freedom all around. In one video a woman is recorded saying, “When your back gets against the wall and the wall against your back who you call? Who you call? You gotta call on Jesus.” This is why I believe in the importance of not skipping the important stages of anger and rage. Many times it’s through that darkness that the most beautiful healing and redemption can take place. Beyonce says, “With every tear came redemption. My torturer became my remedy.”
We don’t need to spiritualize Lemonade or Beyonce into something she’s not nor ever pretended to be. Like any other art it is not without it’s imperfections. However, I think that’s what makes this work stand out among others. She has truly turned lemons into lemonade, the bitter into the sweet. I’ve tasted it and it’s good.