What’s worse? Looking jealous or crazy? Or like being walked all over lately? I’d rather be crazy.
One of my girlfriends and I always talk about what we consider to the basic fact of life: women need to be able to provide for themselves (and their kids) on a moment’s notice. While being a mother and wife are both some of the most important roles in our lives, our most important job—actual job—will always be the one that pays the bills. Why? Because men can be dumb. Because you never know.
Beyoncé dropped Lemonade late this past Saturday night. It started with a bang: an hour-long, shots fired out of the gate, visual album on HBO, followed by the release of the audio album. All of this was expected—after “Formation,” we knew something was coming, and we all know that Beyoncé can drop an album without any prior notice. But what nobody saw coming was the true nature of Lemonade itself: a rageful, reflective, powerful, and profoundly intimate raw discussion on marriage. On life. On infidelity, and specifically, on how Jay-Z (allegedly) cheated on Beyoncé and the ensuing emotional fallout—and eventual redemption—that followed.
Lemonade is for women, but even more importantly than that, it’s an album by a black woman for black women (which was most excellently noted by Luvvie, of course). In “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” Beyoncé offers up this famous Malcolm X quote:
The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.
She doesn’t stop there—Beyoncé enlisted an incredible team of black women for the video experience. In the track “Forward” (introduced as the “Resurrection” section of the visual album), the mothers of young, slain black men have their own moment. In fact, these women own their moments as they unflinchingly stare into the camera while holding a photo of their murdered child, ending with Michael Brown’s mother’s unbroken gaze, a single tear falling down her face.
She also pulled together a collective of some of the best and most powerful celebrities, athletes, and actresses on the planet: in “Sorry,” Serena Williams, a woman who has been bashed for her appearance and her domination of women’s tennis, twerks and gyrates Beyoncé-style all over a mansion while sending out a silent “Fuck you” with her eyes. Simultaneously, Beyoncé is draped across a throne a la Serena’s Sports Illustrated cover from last year. Quvenzhané Wallis, most recently from the remake of Annie, holds hands with Beyoncé’s daughter in “Freedom.” Poet Warsan Shire worked closely on the creation of Lemonade. Disney star and activist Zendaya appears throughout the hour, and Amandla Stenberg—who you might recognize from Hunger Games and/or her powerful Tumblr—is also present. Beyoncé brings two of her recently signed artists, Chloe and Halle Bailey, into the fold, along with Winnie Harlow. The message? This isn’t just about Beyoncé: It’s not just one woman’s story.
Lemonade is also about the state of a marriage, the power of women, and what our unchecked rage can look like. It’s 2016, and Beyoncé no longer has to sit quietly, smile prettily, and defer rumors about her husband’s possible infidelities. In 2016, Beyoncé—and the album implies #allwomen—can grab the reins of power and put her husband publicly on notice. As she says in “Don’t Hurt Yourself”:
This is your final warning. You know I give you life. You try this shit again, you gon’ lose your wife.
The pain Beyoncé is speaking to, and the experience she is bringing to the forefront isn’t anything new, and it’s not something unique to her—which is part of the power of the album. I mean, who in the world would cheat on Beyoncé? Obviously someone would, or at last might have, and in doing so she joined the legions of women who have come before and will come after—the women who will wrestle with this pain. She’s not even the first in her family to experience it (though we all knew that). She contextualizes her pain in the context of generations of her family and generations of women:
You remind me of my father, a magician… able to exist in two places at once. In the tradition of men in my blood, you come home at 3 a.m. and lie to me. What are you hiding? The past and the future merge to meet us here. What luck. What a fucking curse.
While putting the power not with her father, exposed as a cheater, but with her mother:
Mother dearest, let me inherit the earth. Teach me how to make him beg. Let me make up for the years he made you wait. Did he bend your reflection? Did he make you forget your own name? Did he convince you he was a god? Did you get on your knees daily? Did his eyes close like doors? Are you a slave to the back of his head? Am I talking about your husband, or you father?
But it was as Beyoncé’s unchecked rage played across the screen, that I realized that this album wasn’t just about the pain of betrayal, it was also the portrait of the depth of married love. Because while—twelve years into my relationship—I haven’t experienced this particular pain, I have experienced other kinds of pain. Death, childbirth gone wrong, the depths of depression. And as Beyoncé sums up in one powerful lyric—the act of being a woman in a relationship is both powerful and vulnerable. We’re the ones who have the power to bear the children, while counting on our partner’s devotion.
So, what are you gonna say at my funeral now that you’ve killed me? Here lies the body of love of my life, whose heart I broke without a gun to my head. Here lies the mother of my children, both living and dead. Rest in peace, my true love, who I took for granted. Most bomb pussy who, because of me, sleep evaded.
By Sunday night, almost every woman I know went to bed angry with her husband. Because if Beyoncé can be cheated on, what does that say for the rest of us? What does that say about men in general?
I was angry enough to sit my husband down and make him watch the full hour of Lemonade without interruption, I went to bed that night feeling like marriage is more powerful than I even knew. Because as the album closes, Beyoncé says:
Why do you deny yourself heaven? Why do you consider yourself undeserving? Why are you afraid of love? You think it’s not possible for someone like you? But you are the love of my life… There is a curse that will be broken.
But for all that Lemonade ends with adorable home video footage of their wedding, and Jay-Z and Beyoncé playing with the world’s cutest child, Blue Ivy, Beyoncé ends with one final warning:
Ashes to ashes, dust to side chicks.
did you see lemonade? how did it make you feel about yourself? Your marriage? Race, culture, legacy? This is your open thread to work out all of those lemonade thoughts.