[Columbia; 2016]

Rating: 5/5

Styles: lysis, ANTI, Vulnicura, anthem, confessional
Others: Warsan Shire, Kendrick Lamar, James Blake, Jack White, The Weeknd, D∆WN, The-Dream, Janelle Monae, Kanye West, JAY Z, Rihanna, Solange

“You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation.”

It was purple lights in the skyline on a cloudy night. Wasn’t something wrong? A ringing emptiness: The sort of massive affect that social media compounds and condenses. Prince was dead. I sat down on the floor and played “Sometimes It Snows In April” on the old stereo my dad had brought up from my Indiana home. I biked to the lakeshore to listen to more. Prince’s death was a shock; I’d already put out of my head his emergency landing from six days before. The timeline, the world, was a still-life meltdown. We smiled at how many of us showed up to the night shift wearing purple, and then we watched Purple Rain after. We cried under the purple-blue ceiling of the Two Way, drinking in $15 of his best cuts queued up on TouchTunes. All of that grief, so closely felt from afar, was suspended in thin air, dammed to be channeled.

Where could it go? Weren’t we waiting for something?

What else (another small-statured visionary from auteur-space with a tongue of fire and mass appeal) but Beyoncé and the feeling that LEMONADE was a long, long time coming.

A long time coming in its historical reach (antebellum to ANTI), the brimming well of its personal account (elevator fight to IVY PARK), and the deliberate trajectory of its maker’s creative license (“Ring The Alarm” to “DON’T HURT YOURSELF,” “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” to “FORMATION”). This is her second visual album, and LEMONADE is best served with the visuals, a semi-autobiographical film with deft dream-logic, a Purple Rain for the internet age. Its waves wash over the political-commercial-aesthetic limits of BEYONCÉ, which at the time of its release felt a generic/political revelation, but now seems watered-down compared to the bittersweet specificity and holler of LEMONADE. Beyoncé reaches into her interiority, and the mythos that has been projected onto and over it, to emerge with a carefully calculated celebrity narrative and allegory for social uplift.

It’s a revival of the Southern gothic aesthetic of “Deja Vu.” It’s about the possibility of love and resistance (a loving resistance, a resisting love) in a world that betrayed her. A world never designed to serve Black women, the grieving mothers, other-women, surveilled, and brutalized that LEMONADE speaks on behalf of and directly toward. Who the fuck do we think she is as she’s pulling us in? Where does the halo-wearing angel we cry-watch singing in hospitals meet the cloudy chaosmos of the bat-swinging scorned-destroyer? Queen Bey, God Herself, Diva, Soldier, Virgo, crazy in love and dangerously in love and drunk in love and again in love, For Itself, for us (but not for all of us).

This release isn’t memoir; it’s performative manifesto.

“A text, to have a public, must continue to circulate through time, and because this can only be confirmed through an intertextual environment of citation and implication, all publics are intertextual, even intergeneric. […] Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes. Put on a show and see who shows up.”
– Michael Warner, “Publics & Counterpublics”

LEMONADE is probably the most talked about album since To Pimp A Butterfly, which isn’t too surprising given the political landscape of the contemporary US, in an election year no less, where hatemongering gets more attention than the blood shed by the state, where anti-Blackness remains in the fabric of systems of control and is justified by dominant media. This isn’t new news, but this release helps to make it so, knowing our news cycle craves revelation. The album’s epilogue reminds that there’s no uplift without upheaval, no hope without formation.

Its indirect address (mass broadcast/streaming event) holds our gaze to create a social world, a public that can attach its multiplicity to the new high-profile album in all its listenable pop glory. How The Life Of Pablo was experimental as a morphic process-album, LEMONADE is stunning in its unified commercial vision. It creates the illusion of circulation, of a one-time Event (and therefore, historic) that becomes an intergeneric counter/publicity tour. The imagination of a public generality becomes troubled as more and more writing and reaction is kicked up by Beyoncé’s imagery that this is addressing “not just anybody.” In the idyllic American kaleidoscope-expanse of genre coiled up in LEMONADE, a cloudy potion for the massively mediated stranger sociality that makes up music writing, online living; a recipe resonating already into resistance.

LEMONADE is no doubt designed to stir up the (overwhelmingly positive, anti-misogynoir) writing that has flooded our feeds for the past week. The occasion of a new Beyoncé album with especially these thematic focuses has created space for a Black women-led virtual takeover of the content machine, and to doubt the intentionality of this dedication is to imagine a world where whatever Beyoncé put out wouldn’t have generated just as much reaction or revenue. Hot takes and long takes, filmic perspectives, critical race theorizing, Vine saturation, industrial analysis, memes, content, content, content.

Anti-capitalist critiques abound whenever Beyoncé’s feminism is circulating en masse, accusations that she’s posturing. Can we not believe in the possibility of someone so popular to be articulating revolutionary discourse? Why does Rihanna keep killing men in her videos? Beyoncé has navigated major labels and a hundred different imaginaries until she arrived in the position to do something that shouldn’t seem as corny as theorizing about Illuminati mess: Black feminism on a massively mediated and distributed scale.

Prior to this, Beyoncé was representing herself in the medium that we’d always understood her, the commercial music video (even if in a series of consecutive music videos that constituted a visual album). With LEMONADE, an on-the-nose and at the same time elusive short film, she indulges us in a deeper poetics. Spanish moss and empty tables, haunted stages and Superdome, the horror of another’s embrace, the tearshed of a lover’s embrace, the hands of a mother without a son, the teachings of a father to his firstborn and granddaughter, surveillance feeds and home movies.

When Beyoncé puts on a show, see who shows up.

In the film’s rollicking first half, her face and the faces of others are shown obscured, by blades of grass, the brim of a hat, the edge of a rear-view mirror, shadow, underwater exhalations. We’re dedicated to pay attention, to watch for the listening eyes, sensitize ourselves. The images are blended, looking forward and backward, referencing themselves and the past (Malcolm X, Nina Simone), creating a shared universe and history that’s neglected in dominant spaces, a much-needed massive representation. The film’s cast, almost entirely composed of Black women, set a table for a feast, celebrating themselves, breaking bread with each other.

you are a horse running alone
and he tries to tame you
compares you to an impossible highway
to a burning house
says you are blinding him
that he could never leave you
forget you
want anything but you
you dizzy him, you are unbearable
every woman before or after you
is doused in your name
– Warsan Shire, excerpt from “for women who are difficult to love (the affirmation)”

Beyoncé’s posturing, her image is a tight-rope sculpture — catch the tug-of-war stalemate that she strikes knee-deep in the ocean, holding herself up in equilibrium, turning a struggle into a still-life. Beyoncé. A household name, a name in ALL CAPS, a name that lights up eyes (not just the ‘hive’s) and dims others. She is not Hova and Yeezus. GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT. The sentence is a split-second flash in LEMONADE’s flood of imagery, but it sets the entire project apart from some of her most popular collaborators. She is not God. She is vulnerable, not detached; she is awake to her pain, empathetic. Mortal and petty. But righteous. Middle fingers up.

As she seems doused in the name of every woman before and after herself. As she is the dragon breathing fire and the beautiful lion. To breathe in and breathe out a balm (the massive affect channeled, an outpouring of cathartic rage to work through the purpleword of grief, how powerful on such a scale is the response to this release).

The whole world is organized about this aesthetics of rhythm, you know? It’s sweeping everywhere. I’m amazed at the young people of the world, they live in music. They carry these ‘Walkmen.’ They’re sharing the same stars, the extraordinary knowledge that they have about this music. What we are trying to do is something that’s happening. You could call it the new autopoetics of cognition — when a Billie Holiday sings; the dub poets or the rappers, and it’s not only their songs but their style which is all over the world and everybody is living that kind of way. Obviously this is a question of what it is to be a good man or woman of your kind in different ways. There is the orthodox way, which is to think economically, and then there’s the thing of, ‘How do we live our lives?’ And I can’t help feeling that the role of Black music has been to bring the spiritual into the secular. The whole idea of ‘Soul.’ In Fanon’s concept, the belief in ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ is a scientific concept; there is this other thing (consciousness, spirit, soul, even mind) that the body makes possible but which is not a property of the body itself. This is happening in the music; and the paradox is that capitalism is carrying it! All over the world! By means of its market-driven, invented technologies.
– Sylvia Wynter, interview with ProudFlesh [which I only read via Anti-Blackness Is A Theory]

We live in music. Spirit to secular, counter to public. Insurrection in a top-seller? A mirror-facing whisper of an intro; a surefire reggae radio hit; a blues-rock reclamation; an airy Rihannian tell-off; an emptied out and overflowing D∆WN/Monae suite; a Louisiatexasbamacana country banger; a waterfalling crisis in the garden; a timelessly timeless piano ballad; a minor computer-blue duet; a psych-soul Butterfly-Bey anthem; a love song as curtain-drawing finale; and then another, an at-first out-of-place listen but then all-too-necessary call.

Beyoncé with some bells to ring. Freedom. Suck on her balls, pause. This is all too good, way too much.

The resplendent breeze and airhorn swing of “HOLD UP,” the twang thump she embodies on “DADDY LESSONS,” the soaring chill of “6 INCH” (no one has a voice for Emptiness like The Weeknd) that transforms into a show-stopping hook and testament, “She grinds from Monday to Friday/ Works from Friday to Sunday,” before swelling up into her falsetto cool. LEMONADE’s first half is an astonishing run of generic re-inventions and vocal highs for Beyoncé, who (like Rihanna on ANTI), seems to be pushing beyond the requirements for listenable pop and toward something like canon, not that this album cares about anything but NOW. The gospel organ surges of “FREEDOM,” an anthem fit for summer and for cheering. “ALL NIGHT” refashions the hair-raising “Spottieottiedopaliscious” brass she’d used to perfection before on the “Flawless” remix.

And what is LEMONADE?

i think of lovers as trees, growing to and
from one another searching for the same light

– Warsan Shire, excerpt from “the unbearable weight of staying (the end of the relationship)”

What of the romantic pain she speaks? The album-film is a piercing vision of love. Body horror and sensuality in the process of restoring herself from the imagination of another. Have I not been a selfish lover? Am I a curse? She’s rotating around and undoing the toxic masculinity that plays itself by trying to play her, that hides contempt and insecurity behind a cavalier mask, that would attack before admitting, retreat before embrace. “Where do you go when you go quiet?” Beyoncé reenacts the dramatization of her falling out, demonstrating the work that went into recovering each other (maybe a preemptive guard against the misogynistic accusations lobbed at other women who stayed with their partners).

For all the scorn and fireworks, LEMONADE is maybe most remarkable for its capacity for healing. The fire (wild at heart) that becomes one of the film’s central images is explosive (“HOLD UP”), engulfing (“6 INCH”), and eventually tempered into the warmth that burns alive in a domestic truce (“SANDCASTLES”). It’s a work that relishes in the movement of emotionality, the contradictory wrecking-ball feelings that spring from disappointed love, that could turn you to drought if turned from. And it never loses its focus. The album is little interested in Jay’s apology or his interiority. It’s about the strength and reservoir of emotion that Beyoncé drew upon just to hear him, whose heartbreak we only hear of from her.

This album’s closing scene of adoring couples seems less reproductive futurist fantasy, and more testament to the vulnerability at heart as basis for action, free love.

“Music. The great blobs of purple and red emotion have not touched him. He has only heard what I felt.”
– Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” (which I only read via “Beyoncé’s Lemonade is #blackgirlmagic at its most potent”)

Should it go without saying I’m not the one to write this? I’m an eavesdropper. I’m petrified and animated by the windows she opened when she architected an experience potent as portent. The magnitude of an emotional upheaval that propels every flourish and flush of her voice, every pop-detour, every activating sound. To do LEMONADE justice, I’d have to do what I can’t quite yet, to go back as far as Beyoncé, to the ends of myself, and go quiet for a loving response. What she pulled out of fire and water, to make music and mobilization out of betrayal and accountability, to make homes out of stadium turf and darkened hallways. Power in her own hands, again holding his, and now: One balled into a fist and the other stretched out. Work, work, work, work, work. To drum up something that builds and builds and builds to a trembling.

Just fucking listen to her.

Links: Beyoncé - Columbia


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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