On April 23rd 2016, Beyoncé’s sixth studio album, Lemonade, was released—accompanied by a film of the same title on HBO. It is a sophisticated hour-long film, where against a lush background of the celebration of Black womanhood, Beyoncé maps out the visceral emotions triggered by her husband’s unfaithfulness.
Through an ambitious unification of music, film, poetry and costume design, Lemonade is an avant-garde total work and 7 years later, still remains exceptional amongst other similar pop soundtrack films. While the album is exquisite on its own, through its visual form that it comes alive.
Lemonade is a testament that seeking inspiration from anywhere and everywhere, and collaboration in art-making, just might be the missing link to birthing a masterpiece. Throughout the 12 tracks on the visual album, Beyoncé borrows the riveting words of poet Warshan Shire, and on some tracks, words of other notable figures— like Malcolm X in and Don’t Hurt Yourself, to reinforce the pulse of the album. While Warsan’s words advances the tale of Beyonce’s personal journey—encapsulating the essence of the album, redemption—, the words of the others served as a gateway to an education on black history and identity.
Her choice of featured artists and musical collaborators—some mainstream acts, others in the alternative music scene, artists not just in the United States but all over the world—highlights Beyoncé’s attentiveness. With her finger on the pulse of artists creating interesting and great music, seeking inspiration from different artistic realms, she refuses to be bound by the standards of mainstream pop culture. By gliding seamlessly across an eclectic range of musical genres, Beyoncé is able to explore all of her multitudes without playing into tired tropes, like the ‘strong woman’, ‘the independent woman’ and ‘the angry woman’, that Black woman are famously pigeonholed into. From Hold Up with Reggaeton flavour to Don’t Hurt Yourself where she becomes a dragon breathing fire through rock music to Daddy Lessons "yee-hawing" while wearing a voluminous Antebellum-style dress cut from African wax print to Formation a political statement with rap influences. Yes, the amount of genre-hopping on Lemonade shattered the RnB/Pop singer box that Beyoncé had been previously put into prior to the release of the album. Creatives can learn from Queen B, and keep trying new exciting things with their art.
Reality is fodder for artistic expression. On Freedom, the origin story for the title of the visual album is shown. In the song’s final moments, an older woman’s voice is heard saying: saying: "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." This is the voice of Hattie White, Jay Z's grandmother, taken from a speech she gave at her 90th birthday party. Bey elevates a metaphor by addressing crucial themes—police brutality, spirituality, slavery, motherhood— through a deeply personal lens. Life isn’t always a walk in the park. As creatives, limiting our art to portray only the digestible bits may in turn, possibly be limiting us from creating an incredible artistic and divine body of work that will stand the test of time.
Click here to see where you can stream Lemonade The Visual Album