“Take one pint of water, add a half pound of sugar, the juice of eight lemons, the zest of half a lemon. Pour the water from one jug then into the other several times. Strain through a clean napkin,” Beyonce says in the last phase (Redemption) of her twelve part visual, which aired on HBO last Saturday. That, is her grandmother’s recipe for lemonade. But what is hers?
Take your heart and put it on your sleeve, add a half pound of truth, the twelve stages of grieving, the zest you muster to overcome it all. Pour your tears out several times, until you strain through the rumors and the doubt to arrive, once again, at love.
The amazing poetry laced throughout the visual release is one of the first things credited at the end of the film. Belonging to Warsan Shire, who delicately and boldly gave voice to the entrance of each new track.
My favorite line Beyonce says in the course of the film, the one that hits me every time I watch it (4 to be exact) is; “I don’t know when love became elusive. What I know is: no one I know has it.” This is a passage taken from Warsan’s, “The Unbearable Weight of Staying,” which you can listen to below and I strongly suggest you do.
It took me a while to write this piece. Mainly because I was waiting for the “Becky with the good hair” hype to die down and for people to realize the deeper depths of this all-telling album. The album, let alone the visual component, features insane and intense cameos, designs and symbolisms that not only allow you to feel Beyonce’s vulnerability, but experience your own.
For all of the technical elements of the album and the tracks, this is a great article to reference. But I want to talk about my take on Lemonade; I like to think of myself as a strong female, but I don’t consider myself a feminist. I don’t exist under the confine that bearing your heart to a man, or being invested in a relationship makes you weak or a poor role model for younger generations. Not like Beyonce needs my help, but I want to share how I understood her diary-on-tape and try to silence the rumors that she’s making younger generations feel like it’s okay to be weak and exist only for love. On the contrary, I think existing for love is the best thing we can do. Beyonce accurately describes the feelings your heart goes through as a woman when you’re fighting for your relationship and I think that’s both brave and selfless.
“Pray You Catch Me”
This song is simplistic, yet complex. It starts out with sounds the mimic shortness of breath. The sort of feeling you get when you get anxious and there’s a knot in your stomach. As a woman, one of the best things we have is a knack for intuition. For trusting our gut, almost to a fault. She’s vulnerable here. Waiting for just a whisper of the truth and saying that she’ll still listen, no matter what that may be.
In any relationship there comes a point where things slow down. It’s not good or bad, it’s just life. If you feel out of touch with the love of your life, it doesn’t mean the love is lost. This song is about getting to the root of that and asking questions that can be hard to hear the answer to. She’s praying for communication. Praying that he not only will realize she’s listening, but will also catch her when she falls again like he did when they first fell in love.
“Nothing else ever seems to hurt like the smile on your face when it’s only in my memory, it don’t hit me quite the same, baby it’s a cause for concern…”
There’s only so much you can cry before the flood gates open and you realize it’s time to dance in the stream. Emerging from the sad depths of the intro, this track holds reggae roots and a brand new perspective. There’s a moment that comes to every woman where she realizes her greatness. She realizes all she’s done, all she’s capable of doing and how much she has to offer. As a woman I can say, when we start reflecting on things, it’s dangerous. Maybe not as dangerous as Bey tearing up the city streets with a baseball bat, but enough to realize; “I know I kept it sexy, I know I kept it fun, there’s something that I’m missing – maybe my head for one.” This is yet another stage we, as an audience, get to walk through with her.
“Hold up they don’t love you like I love you, slow down they don’t love you like I love you, back up they don’t love you like I love you, step down they don’t love you like I love you. Can’t you see there’s no other man above you? What a wicked way, to treat the girl that loves you”
Why can’t you see me? Why can’t you see me? Why can’t you see me? Everyone else can.
“Don’t Hurt Yourself”
After the sadness, the questioning and the self-realization passes, comes anger. Screaming her way through this track with somehow still angelic vocals, she wants her man to know she’s still her. That as hard as it may be to say, she has options and if she’s forced to leave, she won’t be alone for long. At the same time, she suggests that the two of them are so interconnected that whatever he does to her will ultimately effect him. This track powerfully ends with a line that brings clarity to everything before it. “This is your final warning, you know I give you life. If you try this shit again, you gone lose your wife.” It makes way for the rest of the tracks with an understanding that she knows what he’s done, she’s pissed as all hell, but trying to cope with it so they can heal together.
“When you hurt me, you hurt yourself
Don’t hurt yourself
When you diss me, you diss yourself
Don’t hurt yourself
When you hurt me, you hurt yourself
Don’t hurt yourself, don’t hurt yourself
When you love me, you love yourself
Love God herself”
With the tables turned, or more like flipped, Bey uses “Sorry” to say it’s her turn to forget everything, at least for a night, and contradicting to the title, she’s non-apologetic about it. After nights of waiting around and praying on a long past to reach another beautiful peak, she’s embracing her rebellious side. As far as I’m concerned, this song is as feministic as you can get and one of my favorite’s off of the album. She’s surrounded by her girls, supporting her decision to forget about things for a little while and remember who she is. She ironically repeats, “I ain’t thinkin’ bout you,” which obviously means she is thinking about him, but trying hard to have fun and smile through it. She says she’s escaping, even if it’s just for a little while, but the difference is when she’s leaving, she’s not going to somebody else [“But I ain’t f*ckin’ with nobody”]. I actually think the least important part of this song is the literal meaning of the line everyone stresses; ‘Becky with the good hair.’ I think that line means so much more than calling out another woman. Becky is all women who challenge a strong relationship. When two people watch each other’s dreams grow and help them flourish, any other threat seems superficial; nothing but a head of good hair.
“Looking at my watch, he shoulda been home
Today I regret the night I put that ring on
He always got them fucking excuses
I pray to the Lord you reveal what his truth is
I left a note in the hallway
By the time you read it, I’ll be far away
I’m far away
But I ain’t fucking with nobody”
“6 Inch Heels” ft. The Weekend
Bey keeps the theme going with this next song. A brief, raspy intro is followed by The Weekend’s smooth vocals and if it doesn’t make you want to strut around, well wherever you are, you probably don’t have the volume up high enough. You can be super literal about the lyrics behind this song, but I see a woman saying she fights through her sleepless nights of worry and continues to grind because she’s independent and focused on making money and staying dedicated above all else. This doesn’t mean she’s not a family woman or not focused on fixing things at home, it means that she can only control her own actions, so in the midst of craziness, instead of losing it all, she stays focused (and looks so badass while doing it).
“She works for the money, she work for the money
From the start to the finish
And she worth every dollar, she worth every dollar
And she worth every minute”
This is when Lemonade comes full circle and we realize that Beyonce is not only reflecting on her relationship with Jay-Z, but also the relationship between her mother and her father. While she still has a relationship with her dad to this day, she watched her mother hurt and she wants to make it clear that history won’t repeat itself for the sake of her daughter.
“When trouble comes to town
And men like me come around
Oh, my daddy said shoot
Oh, my daddy said shoot”
We start to feel resolution with this track. We realize that she is feeling inner peace, which in turn reflects on the situation. Like all women, there is a point after the denial, confusion, hurt and anger where our compassion steps in. Beyonce is on a pedestal of sorts and I won’t speak for all women, but the idea that she expresses her own insecurities and confusion makes me feel pretty damn normal. It’s hard to choose a phrase of lyrics to highlight below because the entire song is the inner voice of any girl going through a loss. “You’re caught up in your permanent emotions, all the loving I’ve been giving goes un-noticed.” “Nine times out of ten I’m in my feelings, but ten times out of nine I’m only human, tell me what did I do wrong?” After it all comes the question of where to go from here and as Bey says, “the only way to go is up.”
“But you’re my lifeline think you’re trying to kill me.”
I briefly remember a moment last year when Beyonce released a video clip of Jay filming her at the piano singing a small bit of a ballad and I think that is what has resurfaced with “Sandcastles.” Through the waterfall of tears flooding my eyes watching this song unfold as a testament to forgiveness, I could not only see, but feel, the reconnection of this dynamic duo after the storm they openly endured. With just Beyonce’s vocals and a soft piano melody, you feel the emotion in your heart and you just want to call anyone that’s ever hurt you and say you forgive them. Sometimes the hardest part of moving on is realizing you can’t move on at all. That your love is stronger than any problems you may have and that not even pride can get in the way.
“And your heart is broken cause I walked away
Show me your scars and I won’t walk away
And I know I promised that I couldn’t stay, baby
Every promise don’t work out that way”
“Forward” ft. James Blake
When I heard James Blake was featured on this project I was almost as happy as when I heard Kendrick Lamar was. Blake’s part on this piece is brief, but powerful. His vocal are subtle, but intense. It’s a beautiful way to pause the story of Bey & Jay. To say that they are moving forward and to briefly allow the rest of the album to turn the page onto another issue close to Bey’s heart; her background.
I love you more than this job, please don’t work for me
Go back to your sleep in your favorite spot just next to me”
“Freedom” ft. Kendrick Lamar
This song is beyond powerful. With a drumming march underneath the all-telling lyrics, saying “freedom” in itself is actually the one thing holding our country back because only certain people feel as though they’re entitled to it. The series of women holding images of men they’ve lost is heart-aching, but encompasses the strength of a woman, especially a black woman, fighting against all odds because “a winner don’t quit on themselves.” Just a portion of Kendrick’s verse tells it all:
“But mama, don’t cry for me, ride for me
Try for me, live for me
Breathe for me, sing for me
Honestly guidin’ me
I could be more than I gotta be
Stole from me, lied to me, nation hypocrisy
Code on me, drive on me
Wicked, my spirit inspired me”
“Our love was stronger than your pride, beyond your darkness, I’m your light.” There’s a clean slate with this song. Beyonce is admitting to her own insecurities realizing that no matter what, especially existing in the society we’re confined to, people are going to be “in the way,” but life is easy when you stop looking for the next best thing and in the words of J.Cole, “Love Yourz.” I think it’s beautiful that she’s telling her man, once she gains that trust back, she can’t wait to be with him… “all night long” (we’ll keep it PG-13). It’s also a stand against everyone who’s had their opinions in other’s relationships. Sometimes it takes a struggle to bring two people even closer than before, because it’s the moment you don’t have someone, that you usually realize you need them the most.
“Give you some time to prove that I can trust you again
I’m gonna kiss up and rub up and feel up
Kiss up and rub up and feel up on you”
We’ve all heard about “Formation” and the significant impact it had when it was performed at this year’s Superbowl. But the song did not have such a significant role in the making and construction of Lemonade. The instrumental briefly playing at the end of the visual component and through the credits.
This project takes us on a journey; intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, loss, accountability, reformation, forgiveness, resurrection, hope and redemption.
It’s a sad, but beautiful story. Especially dark at times. There’s moments of hope. Moments of fear. It’s a true depiction of life and the cycle of it. And you know what they say? When life gives you lemons…