A year ago, I was sitting on the edge of my friend’s couch, eyes glued on the TV. We all were huddled around the flat screen TV, excited but most of all uncertain about what exactly we were getting ourselves into. Just the week before, Beyoncé had released an extremely vague trailer that suggested she was airing some sort of special on HBO in a week. So a week later, here we were, posted in front of the TV ready to see what Beyoncé had up her sleeve. A chorus of “YASSSS!” erupted from us when the commercial transitioned into what we now know to be Lemonade, the visual album.
A couple of months before, Beyoncé released a single that sent the world off the edge–Formation. Formation visually and sonically did not shy away from political themes such as Black pride and anti-police brutality. Beyoncé proudly proclaimed love for “negro noses” with “Jackson five nostrils” and plainly stated that she likes her baby’s hair with “baby hairs and afros.” With as much praise she received, she also received just as much backlash, if not more, but the criticism did not stop her from continuing to express her pride in Lemonade.
The ideas presented in Formation were extended and unpacked visually and musically in Lemonade whether it was her paying homage to Black womanhood or pinpointing intergenerational infidelity. It showed the cycle of loss, grief, joy, and forgiveness within the context of Black womanhood. Lemonade is arguably Beyoncé’s most substantial and conceptual body of work to date. It was more than an album.
It was more than a vivid visual. It was a letter–a love letter at that. A love letter to Black women across the world. It is hard to refute that Lemonade was not made with Black women primarily in mind when the film featured nothing but Black women and girls. It also included an audio sample of Malcolm X’s famous speech about Black women being the most disrespected demographic in the United States. Beyoncé even diegetically recited poetry by Somali poet Warsan Shire at certain moments in the film.
Lemonade’s cultural impact can not be denied–not even by its critics. The album sparked necessary conversations about race, womanhood, love, and state violence. Black women everywhere were lining up to get into formation with their baby hairs and afros. College courses were even created for the sole purpose of analyzing the album and using it as a medium to critique the state of race and gender relations in the United States. Lemonade is a timeless piece of work that will be immortalized and visited for years to come.
Unfortunately, Lemonade’s impact was not wholefully respected at this past year’s Grammy Awards when Beyoncé was not awarded ‘best album of the year.’ But as Myles E. Johnson notes in his article for New York Times, what Beyoncé won is much bigger. It is important to keep in mind that the pinnacle of your career, as a Black artist, is not validation from the white establishment. Instead, we should feel great pride for providing the representation that is often denied from our community. Reaffirming our community is the greatest prize one could receive and that is exactly what Beyoncé did. When ‘album of the year’ was awarded to Adele even she noted that she loved how Beyoncé’s music made her Black friends feel.
A year later, the magnitude of Lemonade’s cultural impact still holds true. There is still a sense of pride I feel everytime I listen to or view the visual album. Beyoncé took a risk with Lemonade. She went against the grain of what’s expected of a mega, mainstream pop artist and created a body of work that unapologetically confirmed her pride in her Blackness and womanhood. She took a risk worth taking and for that, I will always appreciate her and Lemonade.
About the Writer:
De La Fro is Clef Magazine’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief. She is a budding Black feminist writer and filmmaker.
Twitter and IG – @delafro_ | www.delafro.com