Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' Is Our Most Personal Glimpse of Her Yet

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When Beyoncé speaks, it’s normally not in small statements. Ever since 2013, every step and move she's made has turned into a sweeping artistic stamp; loud, bold, freeing stamps. Words have been replaced by visuals, by art and the expression of said art. 2013’s Beyoncé reveled in feminism, because Beyoncé announced herself as such while also busting out in joy, in happiness, in seduction, and most importantly in freedom. Beyoncé, whether she speaks to the press or not, hears all of the criticisms levied against her. That she’s not black enough, that she doesn’t represent Houston enough, that she is commercial, she doesn’t give enough, et cetera. As a woman, particularly a black woman whose power seems to expand at every breath and moment, Beyoncé has found a way to cultivate the chaos of her celebrity, her scrutiny and even her insecurity into art. As fans, we can only gasp, react and infer what Beyoncé presents us, in song and, as in the case of Saturday, in film.

As I write this, I’m on play number four of Lemonade, Beyoncé’s sixth album and her most unnerving, naked, personal and revealing work yet. As I write this, Lemonade, the visual film that premiered on HBO Saturday night, is starring me back in the face, a quiet, inquisitive hum of poetry from Warsan Shire and Beyoncé peeling shards from her considerably perfect visage. That “perfect," that glow that her fans and her hive have deemed unbreakable, has never seemed more fractured. Or inviting. Beyoncé has conditioned us as fans to notice when she pulls the curtain back and allows us in. When we see her, we get our fix, our intoxications; then she promptly closes it and dares us to draw our own conclusions.

Beyoncé’s Lemonade is a conversation about women: The expression of women. The grace of women. The anger that women may possess when pushed a off a certain axis. It’s a story about men who can be perceived as heroes, the nurturers, the protectors, the men who stand in flesh and bone but appear to be made of light, fire and power. It’s a film and album that is as much about her grandmother as it is her mother; Tina Lawson as it is Beyoncé; about Solangé as much as it is Blue Ivy. It pays homage to Julie Dash’s 1991 film Daughters of the Dust, the first film ever directed by an African-American woman to gain wide theatrical distribution. Lemonade is about our fathers breaking trust, destroying our images of them as superheroes and then watching the same vision occur with our spouses. Beyoncé’s home, the one that felt so warm, and Kennedy-esque with Beyoncé, is an absolute mess by the time we reach the halfway point of Lemonade.

Beyoncé has long chased home, both in the figurative and literal sense. Home for Beyoncé was watching her father Matthew Knowles and mother Tina laugh and play with not only her but her sister Solangé. Home for Beyoncé was looking at Jay Z, her husband, and then looking at her daughter Blue Ivy and seeing comfort and joy. For a large portion of her career, the perception of the men in her life ruled. Matthew was her manager and crafted Beyoncé into this image of a pop princess. When she discovered the flaws of her father, she sought and prayed that her husband wouldn't be the same. Yet, he was just as flawed as well. We've been on this roller coaster of self-discovery with Beyoncé for almost a solid two decades and it hasn't felt as apparent and paramount as it does now. 

2003's "Daddy" from Dangerously In Love is an ode to her father, her initial springboard for power and understanding. Lemonade contains glimpses, peaks into their current relationship and healed wounds. In our long waltz with Beyoncé, we've finally come to a eureka moment. The failures of her perception about Matthew, about Jay Z led her to own her reality and hug closer and tighter to herself, her womanhood, her everything more than ever.

The more Beyoncé discovered her own intuition, the more she ran from Matthew, especially after their messy divorce business wise. She even admitted as such as she began to struggle with self on 2013's Life Is But A Dream, a documentary centered around her life, her self-discovery and ultimately, losing in order to gain a daughter in Blue Ivy. Every step has led us to this point, this point where Beyoncé is on the mountaintop and went through personal hell to get there. Home always has items, figments you grab onto when you want safety and security. Judging by the tone of Lemonade compared to 2013’s Beyoncé, infidelity crushed that. Pain brought us here. When we initially got “Formation” in early February, it felt like a joyous middle finger to all the ideas people thought Beyoncé wasn’t. In the context of Lemonade, it's catharsis. The war is done, home is repaired and the moments that got us there are fading away.

“Formation” allowed us to roll with glee at the literal idea of Beyoncé having a bottle of hot sauce in her purse, something so black and Southern that you couldn’t ignore it. Black people rallied behind the concepts of “Negro nose” and “Jackson 5 nostrils” and Beyoncé championing Tina Lawson’s Creole heritage and Matthew Knowles’s fearlessness from working and growing up in Civil Rights-era Alabama. It figures that in 2011, Shire wrote something strikingly similar to “Foundation”’s mixture of Creole and Negro to get Texas Bama: “I have my mother’s mouth and my father’s eyes/ On my face they are still together.” Shire’s poetry stands like a giant in the film version of Lemonade, which is chaotic, liberating, dark and at times sad.

Sad solely because of how happy we felt with Beyoncé and the idea of her and Jay Z’s marriage. When the 2014 Met Gala happened and Solangé versus Jay Z in the elevator happened, we laughed and found our mouths agape. Not once had we seen them become tabloid fodder, the ultimate of “relationship goals” finally taken down into something we non-celebrities may deal or have dealt with. When Beyoncé stood in that elevator stoic, we heard the results onstage with the changed lyrics of “Resentment” from their On The Run Tour later that year. We thought happiness had been achieved and yet, we weren’t prepared for Lemonade. Not a single minute of it. We weren’t prepared for her to hit the streets of New Orleans in a canary yellow dress swinging a bat named Hot Sauce. We weren’t prepared for Serena Williams smirking and being carefree on “Sorry.” We damn sure weren’t prepared for the visage of the mothers of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner carrying portraits of their sons.

I jokingly prepared a counter of all the times Beyoncé waged war against being non-explicit in her lyrics Saturday night. I counted every time she curled a “fuck” out of her lips and watched my face scrunch up when she wailed alongside Jack White’s guitar on “Don’t Hurt Yourself." Using the Kübler-Ross model, or an extended version of it, Beyoncé channeled all of the emotions she faced from not just her father no longer being the hero she always looked up to but the same of the man who on 2013’s “Flawless” championed for “making her feel so goddamn fine.” Their dual infidelity and the acceptance of both, out of love. No, Lemonade, with its color, iconography, Serena f’n Williams twerking in a “Queens Love Queens” moment, Leah Chase, so-damn-New-Orleans discussions of conjure and personification of water and heels dug so deep into that African diaspora that we cough and breathe share their footprints told us what Beyoncé wanted to tell us. Beyoncé went from being so deep and so happy in love to fighting for her very marriage and sanity. This wasn't the insecurity of loving just herself; it was her loving the very man (or men, rather) who had tormented not just her but her mother as well.

On “Daddy Lessons," a frolicking moment of country honesty, Beyoncé confronts the ideas and creations her father delivered while looking at her husband. “My daddy warned me about men like you/ He said baby girl, he's playing you,” she sings after sitting back, remembering what her dad taught her and, even in the most painful moments of their relationship, to maintain her strength. Still, unpacking and even attempting to truly understand what Lemonade is will take months; even my premature reactionary moments may seem muddled and all the more incorrect as months pass. When the drums and organs from producer Just Blaze kick in on “Freedom,” it's purification of the highest order. Somehow they chase away James Blake’s melancholy “Forward” falsetto as if it were the roaring waves after a supposed calm.

“I’ma keep running because a winner doesn’t quit on themselves,” is a battle cry if anything else, aimed at the women who pick up Ivy Park to fight their own insecurities about health and weight and body image. Or just get to that point wearing whatever. On an album that twists in island rhythms (“Hold Up”) and reimagined dances in the dark to Isaac Hayes’s “Walk On By,” “Freedom” is the most roaring song of importance. Yes, “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is “Ring the Alarm” with more bite, more cutting response. “Sandcastles” is as powerful a ballad of acceptance and resolution as there has been in their catalog and yet “Freedom,” at least upon early listens, has me stuck in a trance of constant repetition.

Beyoncé's "Formation" world tour kicks off in a little less than three days, and pulls into NRG Stadium a week from Saturday. The only forecast I have is this. If the Mrs. Carter World Tour was a mixture of glitz and dances with being a powerhouse, Formation is going to be an emotional swirl of everything we saw on Saturday night and then some.

Prince was right: Albums do matter, and in terms of artists making you think about it all — no one in music, no matter what divider you throw up, is making you think harder and joyously toying with those thoughts than Beyoncé.

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