Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' Is Defiant In The Midst Of Upheaval

Apr 25, 2016
Originally published on April 25, 2016 5:19 pm

On Saturday night, Beyoncé shook the music world with an hourlong feature on HBO, and then a surprise album — Lemonade.

Beyoncé couldn't have produced a body of work this defiant, or blunt, two years ago. Lemonade has been made possible by the cultural, social and political upheaval we're in the midst of, triggered by the deaths of boys and fathers and women, who will never be forgotten.

We've all been changed by these events. Beyoncé may be a machine, but she's changed, too. And so have Serena Williams, actress Amandla Stenberg, literary giant in the making Warsan Shire, and the other figures featured front and center in the visual version of the album — from the women who look like my mom and my aunties and my cousins, to those carrying the grief of a nation: the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown.

Beyoncé is stomping, frolicking, crawling and sashaying back and forth across the genre line, all over Lemonade. When she hears a sound she wants, she goes straight to the source: When she needs melancholy, she turns to reclusive electronic crooner James Blake. When going for a kind of emotional detachment, and talking about money, she taps newly minted pop superstar The Weeknd. And when she's righteously angry — just one shade of the emotion she explores thoroughly on Lemonade — she calls on blues rock giant Jack White.

Beyoncé uses these men as tools. She digests their work and filters it through her art, creating a new and distinct product. She's put her hand in every cookie jar of sound, making sure we hear her loud and clear — all genres, all listeners.

The lead single, "6 Inch," is a dark and dedicated shout-out to every woman on her grind. Taken literally or metaphorically, she's pointing out that women are fighting for every penny, day in and day out. She's letting us know that we're not crazy for wanting more, for refusing to settle for less.

Late in the album, which bends toward forgiveness and redemption, comes Beyoncé's anthemic moment. With the song "Freedom," she's telling us to clear our own path, not wait for someone else to clear it for us, or give us permission. Throughout Lemonade, but most clearly here, she is authoritative. She didn't write all of these words, and she might not be singing about her marriage — but this is her story. It feels like sage advice.

With this album, Beyoncé is telling us that she's made it this far in spite of the system in place; you know — the overtly sexist, subtly racist one. She was served lemons. And she made the most fire, refreshing, delectable, thirst-quenching lemonade ever known to man. Actually, scratch that — ever known to woman.

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There was a huge cultural event on Saturday that shook the music world. If you've been anywhere near social media, you might know what I'm talking about. Beyonce dropped what's being called a visual album in an hour-long special on HBO. It's an explosive work that deals with race and fidelity, gender and power. And in this review, NPR's Kiana Fitzgerald says Beyonce delivered a very personal take on the black female experience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAY YOU CATCH ME")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh...

KIANA FITZGERALD, BYLINE: Beyonce couldn't have produced an album this defiant or blunt two years ago. "Lemonade" has been made possible by the cultural, social and political upheaval we're in the midst of, triggered by the deaths of boys and fathers who will never be forgotten by the pain of the women who loved them.

We've all been changed by these events. Beyonce may be a machine, but she's changed, too. And so has Serena Williams, actress Amandla Stenberg, literary giant in the making Warsan Shire and the other figures featured front and center in the visual version of the album. From the women who look like my mom and my aunties and my cousins, to the women carrying the grief of a nation - The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T HURT YOURSELF")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Oh, na, na na. Oh, na, na, na.

FITZGERALD: Beyonce is stomping, frolicking, crawling and sashaying back and forth across the genre line all over "Lemonade." When she hears the sound she wants, she goes straight to the source. When she needs melancholy, she turns to reclusive electronic crooner James Blake.

When going for a kind of emotional detachment and talking about money, she taps newly minted pop superstar The Weeknd. And when she's righteously angry, just one shade of the emotion she explores thoroughly on "Lemonade," she calls on blues-rock giant Jack White.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T HURT YOURSELF")

JACK WHITE: (Singing) When you dis me, you dis yourself. Don't hurt yourself. When you hurt me, you hurt yourself. Don't hurt yourself. Don't hurt yourself. Don't hurt yourself.

FITZGERALD: Beyonce uses these men as tools. She digests her work and filters it through her own art, creating a new and distinct product. She's put her hand in every cookie jar of sound, making sure we hear her loud and clear - All genres, all listeners.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIX INCH")

BEYONCE: (Singing) You got them commas and them decimals.

FITZGERALD: The lead single, "Six Inch," is a dark and dedicated shout-out to every woman on her daily grind. Taken literally or metaphorically, she's pointing out that women are fighting for every penny day in and day out. She's letting us know that we're not crazy for wanting more, for refusing to settle for less.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SIX INCH")

BEYONCE: (Singing) She works for the money. She works for the money from the start to the finish.

FITZGERALD: Late in the album, which bends toward forgiveness and redemption, comes Beyonce's anthemic moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Lord, forgive me. I've been running, running blind in truth.

FITZGERALD: With the song "Freedom," she's telling us to clear our own path, not wait for someone else to clear it for us or give us permission. Throughout "Lemonade," but most clearly here, she is authoritative. She might not have written all the words, and she might not be singing about her marriage, but this is her story. It feels like sage advice.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Freedom, freedom, I can't move.

FITZGERALD: With this album, Beyonce is telling us that she's made it this far in spite of the system in place - You know, the overtly sexist, subtly racist one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

BEYONCE: (Singing) I break chains all by myself.

FITZGERALD: Beyonce was served lemons, and she made the most fire, refreshing, delectable thirst-quenching lemonade ever known to man. Actually, scratch that - ever known to woman. Kiana Fitzgerald, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.