So for those of you who don’t keep up with mainstream media, last Saturday, Beyoncé put out LEMONADE through HBO. A special that was about an hour and change long, and, in the style of other iconic stars like Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson and others, was a feature-length music video type affair, where spectacle is put to song.
If you haven’t seen it yet, and you want to read this piece, go watch it, and come back. You can find it in its entirety for free on TIDAL, a music-streaming platform. And you can free-trial TIDAL. So go take a look. It’s okay, I’ll still be here.
Let’s get this part out of the way right now:
It is strongly alluded to in LEMONADE that Jay-Z may have cheated on Beyoncé. Queen Bey wasn’t too happy about that. But it seems to have been smoothed over for now.
I’m not going to be talking about any of that here.
That’s going to be done to death in a bunch of places, and that’s not why LEMONADE is interesting to me. There are hundreds of things that are actually interesting in this to do enough of a longform ‘ramble’ of sorts about why I feel so strongly attuned to everything about this.
First of all–I am a Black woman. Yes, my biological father DID leave the house when I was about 6. My mom made very, very sure that I wouldn’t be a child that had to wait and hope and sit by the mailbox or the doorstep and wait to get picked up by someone who clearly A) Wasn’t coming and B) Wasn’t interested. He touched into my life briefly (around age 16 or so) and bounced out before I graduated from High School.
So… there was a lot for me to take in on the screen.
The most captivating thing for me was the duplicity of the Black Woman (including Beyoncé), The duplicity of father and husband, and her journey to where she is now. This post is going to be broken up into a few parts, mostly because this is going to be kind of exhaustive, but I want to show you why I think this made such a big impact on me, personally. So I’m going to try to break up the imagery how Beyoncé breaks it up in the work, and go from there.
Intuition — Pray you Catch Me
The Actor Unmasked
In this segment, Beyoncé first appears on stage, her hair covered and wearing black. The curtains are closed, and the lights are off. Similar to how her Beyoncé album started out with Pretty Hurts, she sets herself up on the stage. Just as that album started out with Beyoncé providing us with a look at a part of herself she hasn’t shared before, this is the first whiff of smoke that provided a clue to what this work was to be about. She is the consummate performer, having been entertaining since 1993. As any performer she understands the need for presentation, but in this small clip she has laid herself bare behind the stage, allowing us entry to know that everything coming from after this point is not just the mask of the actor, but also the face beneath the mask. The naked vulnerability that this begins with is immediate and indisputable, and sets us well in the tone for the rest of the work.
My Father, a Magician
The spoken word expertly crafted by Warsan Shire is used to a tee here. There has been debate on both sides of the field about the concept of the Black father being absent from the home. While some articles relate that the myth of the absent Black Father is exactly that, a myth, others say that this is still a problem that must be addressed by the community (I like, statistics, so I’ll go straight to the source. Link to the CDC report here http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr071.pdf )
Regardless of whether this myth is related to the larger culture, it is clearly something that Beyoncé has personally struggled with. Between “Pray you Catch Me” and “Hold Up,” we hear the words: You remind me of my father, a magician, able to exist to exist in two places at once. In the tradition of men and my blood you come home at 3am and lie to me. This speaks to her issues with the duplicity of both her husband and her father.
The men she is referring to have both acted as two pieces of her picture of the Black Man. Relating back to the concept of the actor, the traditional greek drama is bisected from tragedy and comedy (The greek version isn’t necessarily ‘funny’ but does have a happy ending, more information here: http://crossref-it.info/articles/237/tragedy-comedy-and-the-unities). Considering some of the other songs that have purportedly been about her relationship with Jay-Z, it appeared at first that During Pray you Catch Me, it seems as if her relationship, which, for most of the 8 years they’d been together seemed to be disguised under the mask of comedy, it seems to have reflected the other side of the coin.
I feel as if she is addressing the fractured state of both the Black man and the Black woman who are clashing here. She goes further in-depth to this issue in the words overlaid throughout “Hold Up”
Death and Rebirth Imagery
This is the other constant that goes throughout her work. Going back to the duplicity aspect, there is a heavy overlay of black and white throughout LEMONADE. Within this segment of the video, Beyoncé is seen walking through an overgrown grain field, probably wheat, wearing a black hoodie. This immediately to me likened back to the Southern Gothic and, well plain-old Gothic traditions. While I don’t believe she is, as some articles have seen ‘suicidal’ or depressed, I do feel she is taking a reflective pose as she contemplates when she asks, obliquely What are you hiding?
As this line is spoken, we see a woman sitting on a porch, with palm fronds obscuring her full face. In medieval culture (and probably pretty clear to people through Game of Thrones, now [Thanks, HBO!]) the face, and, specifically, the eyes were obscured after death. This was to assuage the superstition that a corpse could threaten you and your family if you looked into its eyes (link here: http://www.history.co.uk/study-topics/history-of-death/death-rituals-and-superstitions ). While Beyoncé is reminiscing on the degradation of her relationship, is it that she worries for what happens if it comes to light?
That’s all for now. Next Wednesday, I’ll be covering Denial (Hold Up) and Anger (Don’t Hurt Yourself).