beyoncé surprises the world with her most powerful album yet
Lemonade is a rich, layered and thought-provoking audio-visual extravaganza.
It's here! Following last night's HBO special, Beyoncé has dropped her sixth album Lemonade. It's available to stream exclusively on TIDAL, either as an hour-long visual album (which is what HBO premiered last night) or a 45-minute audio playlist consisting of 12 tracks. If you were hoping to be swamped with new Beyoncé, you won't be disappointed. TIDAL says the album is "based on every woman's journey of self-knowledge and healing," but Lemonade's narrative actually feels more specific than this as Bey spins a story of infidelity, despair and ultimately reconciliation. On a standout track called Sorry, Bey sings: "He only want me when I'm not there / He better call Becky with the good hair." It's a lyric that's destined to become one of the memes of 2016 as gossip sites tie themselves in knots trying to analyse whether Bey is telling us Jay-Z cheated on her.
But as Formation (which closes the album) had suggested, Lemonade also feels thrillingly political and overtly feminist. The visual album features an except from a 1962 speech by Malcolm X in which the civil rights leader states: "The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman." It's surely no coincidence that Bey's co-stars throughout the visual album are mainly black and female, with Serena Williams, Zendaya, Amandla Stenberg, Chloe and Halle, Ibeyi and Quvenzhané Wallis all making guest appearances. The wonder of motherhood is also a recurring theme, with Bey telling us at one point: "Your mother is a woman and women like her cannot be contained."
Musically, the album contains Bey's most ambitious, varied and distinctive work yet. The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, James Blake and The White Stripes' Jack White all feature, and there are samples from tracks as diverse as Led Zeppelin's When the Levee Breaks, Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Maps and Soulja Boy Tell'em's Turn My Swag On. The remarkable Daddy Lessons is Bey's first country song and Sandcastles is a stunning stripped-down ballad, while other tracks ricochet from gospel to rock, R&B to reggae. It's catchy too: Hold Up and Sorry especially already sound like radio hits.
Lemonade will take days to dissect properly because the music is so rich and the visual album contains an endless array of arresting images: Bey smashing up cars with a baseball bat, a braided Bey riding a horse, Bey on the floor playing an electric piano, Bey watching on as Serena Williams shows off her twerking skills. Look out too for some incredibly candid home video footage and a subtle endorsement of same-sex relationships towards the end. Bey also shows us where the album's title presumably came from by including a brief scene from the 90th birthday party of Hattie White, Jay-Z's grandmother. "I was served lemons but I made lemonade," White tells her friends and family. With Lemonade, Beyoncé has made her most powerful artistic statement yet, one that cements her status as one of the all-time great pop stars.
Text Nick Levine