Beyoncé shocked the world on Saturday night, but in some ways, her sixth album, Lemonade, isn’t all that different from its predecessor.
Like the Houston native’s eponymous fifth LP, Lemonade arrived after a lengthy bout of uncertainty: The album appeared on Tidal without warning, assuaging frantic fans with new tracks and captivating visuals to match. Lemonade also mirrors the structure of Beyoncé, with slow, haunting production that gives way to harder beats and a more intense delivery from the singer. Then she settles back down a bit, offering midtempo tracks and poignant ballads.
That said, the difference between Lemonade and Beyoncé is much like the difference between Beyoncé and 2011’s 4: The artist took something pretty damn amazing and had the audacity to make it even better.
Lemonade feels fuller because it features a wider range of emotions. Both albums deal with love; only here, someone not named Beyoncé screwed up, and it’s evident from the opening line of the album: “You can taste the dishonesty/It’s all over your breath as you pass it off so cavalier.”
Beyoncé is pissed, and angry Bey is a treat more might finally appreciate thanks to this album. On her sophomore effort, B’Day, Beyoncé released “Ring the Alarm,” which was right in its tone and delivery – “I been through this too long/But I’ll be damned if I see another chick on your arm” – but nonetheless missed the mark: The song’s materialistic lyrics (“She gon’ be rockin’ chinchilla coats if I let you go …”) made it seem hollow. Here, her fury hits home because it stems from what feels like real heartbreak. This album isn’t about a chinchilla fur; it’s about figuring out what to do in light of broken promises.
On “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” Beyoncé sneers, “Who the fuck do you think I am?/You ain’t married to no average bitch, boy.” Next comes “Sorry,” where she informs us, “Me and my baby, we gon’ be alright/We gon’ live a good life/Big Homie better grow up.”
There’s already debate as to whether or not Beyoncé would really expose marital problems – namely her husband’s infidelity – to the masses. It’s hard to parse whether or not some of the material references her experiences with Jay Z, or her father, Mathew Knowles, or perhaps an imaginary scenario that’s serving as good practice for a future dramatic role she hopes will secure her an Oscar nomination.
Whatever the backstory, she sounds dead serious when she says, “I’mma fuck me up a bitch” and “If you try this shit again, you gon’ lose your wife.” Anyone who swings a bat like that means what they say. The same goes for the longing in the gorgeous “Love Drought,” the sadness that’s echoed in “Sandcastles,” and the joy of rejuvenated love in “All Night.” Lemonade feels like a breakup record, but there is forgiveness at its conclusion.
Lemonade turns out to be about much more than relationships, though. The album focuses on love, pain and womanhood – specifically Black womanhood. On “Freedom,” the line “I break chains all by myself” reflects a tale that’s all too familiar for many Black women, yet the album’s title refers to a crucial transformative act: being handed less-than-ideal circumstances and finding joy and contentedness all the same.
Lemonade wrestles with strife, but ultimately, like most things in Beyoncé’s world, it ends with triumph. What’s most impressive is that the singer manages to offer an album that dabbles in R&B, country, trap and piano balladry yet flows seamlessly as a complete body of work.
Fans have longed for more uptempo tracks from Beyoncé. She hasn’t dropped a dance-heavy album for some time now, and Lemonade still isn’t it. But this latest statement feels more timely, more impactful and more necessary for where she is. Beyoncé’s aim right now is to give you something you can feel. Based on the overwhelming response to her sixth studio album thus far, she got exactly what she wanted by giving many listeners exactly what they needed to hear.