On [Lemonade] and America

If you haven’t read Part I – it’s not necessary. This focuses on general themes.

What I love about this album is its transcendence. On the surface, the obvious meaning is Beyoncé making lemonade with the lemons that Jay-Z gave her when he cheated on her. But this can represent so many other things – controversies and conflicts that are referenced throughout both the visual and auditory albums.

For one thing, on “Sandcastles,” Beyoncé is transcending herself. She sings “Every promise don’t work out that way,” referencing the ultimatum she had always set down that if he cheats she is gone. And then James Blake, in his chillingly angelic voice, sings – “Forward.” The lyrics of this songs make it sound, for one, that Beyoncé is suggesting an open relationship of some sort between her and Jay-Z, recognizing that the bond they have is greater than most, that the strength and multidimensionality of their connection is not worth throwing away over some becky. At the same time, these lyrics suggest a moving forward for America, an opening of minds to unity – an American identity.

I’ve heard people reference “white culture,” and I guess this is meant as mainstream America, but, honestly, I’ve always felt lost in this country because I can’t see a culture I identify with. My ancestry is mostly Jewish and Irish, but we’ve all been in this country so long that if I tried to join a Yiddish community in New York I’d feel interested, but certainly not at home, and while I might look Irish with my red hair and pale skin, I have no idea what kind of Irish communities exist in the U.S., and I’m not sure I care enough to find out. If I think of white culture, images of preppy kids on golf courses and in country clubs or California surfers come to mind. I don’t fit in either of those scenarios, but even they have some diversity. I don’t know what white culture is, but I don’t want to. What I want is American culture. And I want it to be more than what it is right now. And I think that can only come if we embrace each other, start being generous with our traditions and beliefs and strengths, and come together.

bell hooks, in her critique of Lemonade, wrote that Beyoncé neglected to really call out the patriarchy – that change must be mutual. This goes for intimate relationships, for patriarchy and feminism, and for people of all races. Change must be mutual.

There’s a Gandhi quote that’s used so often it’s likely lost its meaning for many – “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you want a world of love, acceptance, kindness – you don’t have to wait. In Beyoncé’s visual album, a woman’s voice speaks these words: “So how we supposed to lead our children to the future? How do we lead them? Love.” Be love to everyone around you. People notice a positive example, even if you don’t get constant praise and recognition for it, you’ll know you’re doing the right thing, and, I promise, your actions will make a difference. Someone is always watching. Maybe not the world, but all progress begins on an individual level.

hooks also wrote that, while Beyoncé’s Lemonade focused primarily on the bitterness of the lemons, it’s actually a sweet, refreshing drink. We’ve all been through some shit, but true lemonade is made in “celebration of our moving beyond pain.”

So, Beyoncé, I love Lemonade for its celebration of black women and its transcendent messages. It’s a necessary work of art with words and images that the world need to see, to recognize its power, and to acknowledge and laud the strength of black women. Now – I know at least one white girl that can twerk (it’s me), and I’m sure some Asian and Native American and Mexican and racially ambiguous girls know how to get down to a beat, too, and I would love to see some racial inclusion in your future work – practicing your own message of moving forward. After all, we are American, and, more than anything, I want that to mean something. And I want it to be positive. AND I believe that’s possible.042015_0136_HowtoWinFri1.jpg

 

[Lemonade] Deconstruction Part I

Everyone drinks lemonade. She did not call this Grape Soda or Jungle Juice or champagne. She called it Lemonade. Pour yourself a tall glass. Share the pitcher with everyone you know. It is delicious.

On the first track, “Pray You Catch Me,” she’s praying to be caught, to end the dishonesty. We all know how painful lying is. The betrayal of feeling slighted, deceived – disrespected. “Maybe it’s a cause for concern / that I’m not at ease.” Trust yourself. And, in the beautifully shot visual album, she jumps off a building into water. He didn’t catch her.

Beyoncé reads poems between the songs, all by the poet Warsan Shire, In the poem after this song, she grieves how when men hurt us, we attempt to reduce ourselves. If we weren’t enough for them…then what?

Then she opens the floodgates, in the most amazing dress I’ve ever dreamed of owning, and is enough for herself, singing “Hold Up / They don’t love you like I love you.” This is the freedom, the power that comes with realizing your agency. If you’re Beyoncé, this manifests in smashing car windows and fire hydrants with a baseball bat, smiling and twirling and owning every inch of your fine self. It is glorious. She’s showing off how incredible she knows herself to be, graciously showing him how stupid he was to step out on her. Everyone watching this is thinking, “Jay-Z, what the hell is wrong with you? You’re married to BEYONCE.” And she knows it. She won’t reduce herself for him.

She labels the phases of enduring trauma, beginning with Anger. This album is a how-to guide of sorts, a method for feeling and accepting and gracefully processing the emotions that surface in hard times. She’s mad, asking, “Why can’t you see me? Everyone else can.” Maybe they don’t. But she sees herself clearly. She knows who she is, and love can only come from someone else who sees her this way. She put Jay’s ass in check. But she did it kindly on “Don’t Hurt Yourself” – “When you love me / you love yourself.” This is good for both of us. Do better. You don’t want to lose this, Jay. She is too much for you. Be the man Beyoncé deserves.

She intersperses the power of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” with a quote from Malcolm X, speaking about the struggles black women go through. And the worst part is that much of America has no idea. Well let Beyoncé inform you. She gets crazy in this song, and it’s beautiful – she is free, and she is speaking truth. But she knows what’s what – when referencing God, she flashes “GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT” across the screen. Fans of anyone, please remember this. People are not gods. Beyoncé is a powerful woman with a good message, but she is not a deity. She’s just out here doin some good.

Next phase: Apathy. She proclaims her greatness as taken for granted and rocks it out on “Sorry.” Because she isn’t. She didn’t do anything wrong. And this touches on a common problem among girls and women – an epidemic of over-apologizing. Sorry for taking up space. Sorry for being a person. Sorry for having an opinion. Please, ladies, let’s put a stop to this. Personally, I caught myself doing this a few years ago and consciously made an effort to stop. It is possible. Now I say “excuse me” when I walk through people in a crowded room.

She ends the song with, “You better call Becky with the good hair.” Please don’t interpret this as Beyoncé calling out someone named Becky. This is a common slur for, typically, a slutty white girl or simply someone who gives head freely. “Good hair” – I refer to Chris Rock’s documentary; it’s traditionally seen as straight, smooth, tame.

Beyoncé continues to celebrate the power of wild women. “6 Inch” is anything but tame. It’s an anthem, an anthem that celebrates another woman slaying the game, lauding the work that she puts in. As women, we should be each other’s ultimate supporters. I notice women glaring at me when I walk into a room confidently. Let me be great. It doesn’t detract from your greatness. In fact, celebrating another woman makes you look better, if that’s what you’re worried about. There’s no need for pettiness – think of the greater cause. If you want women to make strides in society, start by supporting your sisters in the club. We are all beautiful. And when I say sisters, I mean all women. A term for black women has been “sisters.” During my time at Howard, I realized that that’s how they see each other. They do have it rough, and they support each other. Fashion was a thing, but never in a competitive sense. I learned how to support other women by being friends with black women. But all women should exercise this – why not empower ourselves? We’re playing for the same team.

Sisters. In Costa Rica.

Sisters. In Costa Rica.

It’s interesting that she puts the phase of Loss in the midst of “6 Inch” and ends the song with the repeated plea, “Come back.” Even at her strongest, she knows that she can accomplish the most as part of a team.

The next phase is Accountability. “Did he bend your reflection? / Did he make you forget your own name?” [Warsan Shire] Women in my family have been abused. Not my immediate family – farther up – but the marks are evident. And that makes you tough. That’s “Daddy’s Lesson.” You learn strength when women in your life have been wronged. You learn it for their sake. In this song she uses her father as someone she learned from both directly and indirectly, citing his mistakes as reasons for her toughness and his words as reasons for her strength. Women can have male role models. My dad was one of the people I respected the most.

Reformation. “Why do you consider yourself undeserving? / Why are you afraid of love?” [Warsan Shire] Love yourself first. Maybe that’s scary. Change happens when you go through some shit. It can be scary, because it’s a loss – parts of you die. But the most beautiful life can come from death. Daisies grow on graves.

To be continued.

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