Everything will be fine. Just be yourself…oh and don’t tell them you don’t like Beyoncé,” were the words my then girlfriend said to me as I was about to meet her kabarkadas.
Before “Lemonade,” I wasn’t the biggest Beyoncé fan. She was relevant to me for two reasons: the first was that she beat Kanye West in a game of Connect Four, the second was that she helped me find the single ladies in a club every time she told them to put their hands up.
My problem with Beyoncé is that she had no heart. I had a problem with her perfection. I always felt like she was hiding something from us, that her elaborate vocal swings, dance moves and outfits were acting as smoke and mirrors hiding the real Beyoncé. She wasn’t human, and that’s where things fell apart for me. I felt like she was lying to me every time I listened to Best Thing I Never Had because surely someone as perfect as her never felt that way. The infallibility went both ways, surely the pre-”Lemonade” Beyoncé was incapable of loving anyone like XO, letting Ryan Tedder and Terry Richardson do all the feeling for her.
But somewhere between getting cheated on with “Becky with the good hair” and teaching Jay-Z a lesson, Beyoncé found a heart. Like the scenes from The Wizard of Oz, she enlisted the help of her friends James Blake, Jack White, Kendrick Llamar, The Weekend, Diplo, Ezra Koenig and Andre 3000 to help her do this. “Lemonade” marks the first time in her music career when Beyoncé was actually selfless, allowing her collaborators to shine instead of overpowering them with her Beyoncé-ness. This comes through in her Jack White collaboration Don’t Hurt Yourself, where Beyoncé transforms herself into the third White sibling. Hold Up is another Beyonce-learning-how-to-share-her-toys triumph, not because of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs by way of Ezra Koenig writing credit, but because this is one of the few songs where Beyoncé doesn’t resort to her high notes to express her heartbreak.
This is what makes “Lemonade” a success — the mishmash of musical genres makes it sound like a team effort. The smoke and mirrors are gone, and all that’s left is a Beyoncé that needs a little help expressing how she feels…just like the rest of us.
And just like the rest of us, Beyoncé makes mistakes. In an age where men in positions of power are doing terrible things like condoning the killing of the innocent, allowing big companies to continually harm the environment, and make rape jokes while still winning an election, I would have expected the woman who Run the World to leave the man who hurt her. Even if much of “Lemonade” is spent teaching the man a lesson, the narrative still falls into the conventional narrative where the man cheats but the woman stays. “Lemonade” doesn’t call for an end to this stereotype, it justifies it by singing “Ten times out of nine, I know you’re lying / But nine times outta 10, I know you’re trying.” “Lemonade” reinforces the notion that airing your dirty laundry in public is punishment enough, that the embarassment makes up for the heartbreak. At the end of the day, Jay-Z still sleeps in the same bed as Beyoncé, counting all the dollars he made from this album. At the end of the day, Jay-Z still wins.
The problem with branding yourself as a feminist is that you’re expected to uphold these values not just for yourself but for the women who look up to you too. The narrative of “Lemonade” lets women down because it gives women a false sense of redemption, the narrative of Beyoncé lets women down because Jay-Z gives her a false sense of power. But that’s okay, because Beyoncé is still learning. I guess this works out too, because if “Lemonade” is the pre-breakup breakup album, then I can’t wait for the next one.