It was a bittersweet week for pop culture. It was one in which we said goodbye to one of the most influential and revolutionary artists of our time. And it was a week in which one of the greatest living performers unleashed a visual feast upon us. Beyoncé’s Lemonade was the sort of pop culture event that rarely comes along.
Just when we thought she’d peaked and would need at least 1-2 albums to top Beyoncé (if that was even possible), she shocked us all by delivering an impeccably crafted masterpiece. Lemonade is a raw nerve. It’s the kind of confessional we’ve been waiting for. The kind we knew we’d never see in a magazine or on a late-night talk show. It’s a window into the heart and soul of one of the entertainment industry’s most intensely private women.
From the distorted rage and anger of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” to the aching politics of “Freedom” to the in-your-face bravado of “Sorry”, Lemonade is proof that Queen Bey has reached a new creative peak and entered the next phase of her career. Gone are the days of the metal glove and leotard of “Single Ladies”. This is a new Beyoncé. A woke Beyoncé. An inspired, passionate, grown ass woman Beyoncé. And it’s a Beyoncé that I hope sticks around for a long time.
The hype around Lemonade (including the million-plus tweets in just a few hours’ time) was a window into what the world have been like if social media was around when Michael Jackson unleashed Thriller on the world. Twitter fingers across America were firing away, musing on everything from black girl magic to the identity of “Becky with the good hair”.
But Lemonade also reminds us that we are very protective of Beyoncé. When I say we, I mean the black community and the gay community.
"Because being the most dynamic live performer in the business and releasing increasingly impactful music isn’t enough."
We’re protective of Beyoncé because we know, as highly regarded and sought after as she is, she still doesn’t get the recognition she deserves. Taylor Swift, with her shaky live vocals and bland stage presence, has never even come close to delivering a performance as electric or captivating as Beyoncé’s. Yet, she’s able to sell a million copies of her new albums in a week because of her marketability. And that’s not to say that she doesn’t have some good songs because she does. I often find myself humming “Bad Blood”. (So Taylor Swift fan force-stay calm.) But it just seems she doesn’t have to work as hard to keep the attention. Whereas Beyoncé had to reinvent the music business release model to achieve the same level of per-album success (with 2013’s surprise Beyoncé album). Because being the most dynamic live performer in the business and releasing increasingly impactful music isn’t enough. It’s a reminder that the ‘black tax’ is a real thing, and not even one of the most famous women in the world is exempt.
As a long-time obsessive of all kinds of music, I recognize that music is subjective. There’s no song or album or artist that is universally loved and respected by everyone. Though I am a HUGE fan of Beyoncé, I recognize and respect that not everyone will feel the same way. But I can’t help but notice how her talent, vision, marketing prowess, and sheer genius on stage isn’t as revered outside of the black and gay communities. I can remember a conversation in which someone preferred Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime show to Beyoncé’s. It was shocking to me, not because I’m a fan of King B, but because Perry’s show was full of pitchy vocals, cheesy costumes, and cartoonish theatrics that were more befitting of a Sesame Street special than the world’s biggest stage. I’m all for comparing B’s showmanship to that of Bruno Mars. But for this person who preferred Katy Perry (I don’t remember who because I don’t associate with people whose taste is that bad), it felt personal.
"As a black person, I always feel a sense of pride any time an artist of color ascends to the level that Beyoncé has achieved."
It felt personal because, as a black person, I always feel a sense of pride any time an artist of color ascends to the level that Beyoncé has achieved. And it’s not to say that non-black Beyoncé haters are racist. That’s not what I mean. Especially because a lot of the hate towards her also comes from within the community. But I can’t help but think, with all that she’s achieved and capable of, that it would be universally respected if she were white.
Yes, Lemonade is an unapologetic celebration of blackness. One that we deserve in an entertainment world that is still largely plagued by a lack of diversity on so many levels. But just because it isn’t all-inclusive doesn’t mean it’s not accessible. It doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be recognized as great.
For all the trolls out there who will surely fire off nasty comments on message boards from their dank basements, give it a rest. I may not personally care for a particular artist, but I can recognize when they’ve done great work. Even if I don’t enjoy it. Even if I’ll never listen to it again. I can put my pride aside to recognize it for what it is. Why can’t people do that for Beyoncé?