A little more than two years after Beyoncé changed the music industry with her self-titled magnum opus, she has once again set the world ablaze. “Lemonade,” in yet another world-stopping moment, was released on Tidal late Saturday night after an HBO special with the same title premiered. A powerful, ambitious work, “Lemonade” pushes Beyoncé to further artistic heights. And causes the Internet to meltdown along the way.
While we might have lost another music icon in Prince this past week, we still have the successor to the giants that were Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna (who is still alive and kicking it). And her name is Beyoncé Knowles. At this point, she has surpassed her contemporaries commercially, critically and artistically.
“Lemonade” is an important work of feminist and black pride, but since I’m a white gay, I’m gonna stay in my lane and keep it light. Especially since people like Les Fabian Brathwaite, Miriam Bale and Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley can talk about the racial and feminist significance of “Lemonade” about a million times better than I ever could.
On top of its cultural significance, “Lemonade” is an interesting album to listen to. Sonically, it’s similar to 2013’s “BEYONCÉ” but without the joy and love found on “Drunk in Love” or “Blow.” Because Beyoncé is angry on “Lemonade” and has no qualms about letting everyone know. In a way, “Lemonade” is the yin to “BEYONCÉ’s” yang.
“Lemonade” is about marital breakdown and the path from rage and pain to forgiveness and reconciliation. The album starts mid-scene, as Bey has just discovered Jay Z is cheating on her. This is no happy album — the opening lyrics are “You can taste the dishonesty / It’s all over your breath as you pass it off so cavalier.”
She moves from disbelief on “Pray You Catch Me” to anger on “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” which has some of the most vicious lyrics I have ever heard. “Hey baby, who the f— do you think I is?” she snarls during the song’s climax. “I smell that fragrance on your Louis V, boy / Just give my fat ass a kiss, boy / Tonight I’m f—ing up your s—, boy.”
Angry Beyoncé is terrifying.
She channels that anger into revenge on “6 Inch” with The Weeknd. Sadness and despair soon set in on the devastating “Sandcastles.” Just when you think Beyoncé is about to serve Jay Z the divorce, the album moves to a happy ending. The triumphant “Freedom” is the emotional climax of the album, which closes with “Formation.”
Just like “BEYONCÉ,” “Lemonade” incorporates a variety of genres. She moves into country and blues territory with “Daddy Lessons,” gospel on “Sandcastles” and R&B on “Freedom.” It shouldn’t work, but it does. And because Beyoncé no longer needs big radio songs to fuel her success, there’s no Big Pop Song like “Crazy in Love” or “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” of albums past.
After the emotional rollercoaster that is “Lemonade,” everyone is left wondering: Did Jay Z really cheat on Beyoncé? For almost a decade, they have been music’s premier power couple. Years of divorce rumors, which picked up after the iconic 2014 elevator incident with Bey’s sister, Solange, did little to tarnish their image. But “Lemonade,” if what Beyoncé is singing is about is true, suggests that the tabloid rumors were true.
While there are conspiracy theories that Bey did this all for press, there is way too much personal stuff on “Lemonade” for it all to be an act. For years, Beyoncé seemed disconnected from the lyrical content on her albums, hiding her emotion behind overwhelming confidence. On “Lemonade,” the emotion is palpable, the “come back” she begs at the end of “6 Inch” is heartbreaking.
What really set the Internet into a downward spiral is the identity of Becky. On “Sorry,” Beyoncé closes the song with “He only want me when I’m not there / He better call Becky with the good hair.”
Internet sleuths immediately set to work figuring out the identity of “Becky with the good hair,” Jay’s presumed mistress. Everything blew up when fashion designer Rachel Roy posted a photo on Instagram the morning after “Lemonade” with a caption about her “good hair.” Rachel Roy had already been connected to Jay and Bey in 2014 after the elevator incident, so either she outed herself as the mistress or was thirsty for attention. Either way, it was not a good look on her part. She immediately got so much social media vitriol that she had to make her Instagram account private and issue a statement denying her involvement. And poor Rachael Ray got caught in the crossfire.
So who really is this Becky, and is she actually a real person? I first was inclined to point at Taylor Swift, who I tend to blame for everything, because she’s had a Tumblr-joke association with the name “Becky” for years. But Beyoncé explicitly states that Becky has good hair, and we all know that isn’t true in regard to Taylor Swift.
Regardless of the identity of Becky with the good hair — it’s Poot Lovato — “Lemonade” is another victory in Beyoncé’s ascent to pop superstardom. Captivating and ambitious, the album succeeds in every category and has given social media comedy fodder for about two years. What else can we ask from a legend like Bey?