Opening up a debate on black America – Beyoncé’s Lemonade

Monique Alicia Bell considers her favourite album of 2016 – Lemonade from Beyoncé

Photo: Arnie Papp/flickr
Photo: Arnie Papp/flickr

I have been a Beyoncé fan since the days of Destiny’s Child, expressing my teenage moods by blasting ‘Emotions’ on repeat. As I watched women freaking out in excitement over this year’s visual album Lemonade, I decided I had to dedicate one full hour to me, Bey and the visuals. I found myself gripped by the album’s rawness as she took me on a vulnerable journey. The visual album opens up debate on a number of issues facing Black America by including an implicit dedication to the Black Lives Matter movement. Beyoncé places a dark mirror before U.S. police violence, using powerful imagery of a young black boy holding up his hands in front of an aggressive line of police, as well as showing badass Black women getting in ‘formation’ to Beyonce’s command, something I interpreted as her call for us to form together to rise up against racist oppression.

This year I have found myself in numerous situations feeling that I need some empowerment, and the intro to ‘Hold Up’ has been a way to fulfil that need. In the visual album, Beyoncé falls through the air into water while narrating her vulnerable thoughts: “I tried to be soft, prettier, less awake”, reflecting on how she has tried to be more of a woman, conform to the ideal feminine image ascribed to her. She shows the world how women are viewed as jealous or crazy when exposing their husbands as cheaters, as she elegantly and aggressively smashes cars, waterpipes and windows with a baseball bat – this is the Beyonce I love.

My favourite track on the album has got to be ‘Sorry’. Beyonce’s give-no-fucks attitude transcends all as she slouches on a throne gazing at Serena Williams, another successful Black woman, telling her man to “suck on my balls”, and holding up her middle finger to the patriarchal expectation that she has to keep mouth shut, smile and pose for photos quietly. I viewed this as another mirror on society and the expectations that women face.

I did not understand why she had named the album ‘Lemonade’ until I reached track ten, ‘Freedom’, featuring Kendrick Lemar. This is one of the most political tracks of the album with some emotional visuals, a celebration of African-American culture rooted in slavery and racism with recognition of the ongoing struggles of today. The beautiful outro features Jay-Z’s grandmother, Hattie White, addressing the audience, “… I was served lemons, but I made lemonade”, an emotional ending to a powerful song that I feel recognises the successes of African Americans despite their ongoing battle for true liberation.

Beyonce is not revolutionary or a socialist. She is not breaking with heteronormative ideas of relationships, and her feminism is in no way radical or ground-breaking. She may even be capitalising on the alternative narratives that are becoming more visible through social media, blogging and alternative media outlets. However, this year she did manage to bring into the mainstream debates, discussions, music and art on ideas that have previously been marginalised. She forced people to think about police brutality in America. She forced people to think about how women are viewed in society, and she celebrated the beauty and power of blackness and femininity. As a popstar operating in a racist, conservative, capitalist music industry, I think she nevertheless did something to the mainstream that many music artists have neglected to do for a long time, and that is something to be celebrated.


  1. What is so good about Beyonce? About a grown woman and mother dancing about in her knickers giving a hootie mama dance in front of millions? what a joke.

    she didn’t force anybody to think about police brutality. People already know about it.

    “As a popstar operating in a racist, conservative, capitalist music industry, ”

    really, the music industry is not conservative. ie it does not promote conservative social values, it promotes rather the opposite. I’m also not sure it is racist. There are a lot of black music artists that are well represented.

    It is capitalist tho.


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