“What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you.” This lyric from the second track on Beyoncé’s sixth album (and sophomore “surprise” one), “Hold Up,” encapsulates so much of what Lemonade speaks to. A one-hour “visual album” that intersperses one of Beyoncé’s favorite topics of late–being a black woman looking back to her roots–with the narrative of a spurned lover, the tale is rife with allusive imagery. Of course, the obvious rumors point to the inspiration being Jay-Z, but others have claimed that it’s really about her mother’s marriage. Whatever the case, it feels as though Beyoncé has experienced the heartache she details in Lemonade firsthand.
Tying the past of her ancestors back to herself with regard to infidelity, Beyoncé asserts, “There is a curse that will be broken.” And though it isn’t broken by Bey ultimately leaving her spouse for his indiscretion, it does involve the sort of healthy expression that Hillary was never capable of wielding to rage against Bill back when she was one of the first famous women to publicly condone his adultery by staying with him.
Going one step beyond 2013’s Beyoncé (which included separate videos to accompany each song), Lemonade takes the essence of “Jealous” and turns it into the entire pissed off, had enough theme of the opus that unfolds before us in all of its enraged glory.
Exploring the torture of being ignored and taken for granted by someone who she loves with undeserved gusto, Bey demands, “Why can’t you see me? Everyone else does.” Undeniably, she is drawing on her own past instances of neglect by Jay-Z, long accused of stepping out. And yet, the more a man pulls away, the more a woman seems to want to sacrifice herself–specifically her dignity–to get him to love her in equal measure. The questions, “Did he bend your reflection? Did he make you forget your own name? Did he convince you he was a god?” are all too resonant and uncomfortable to answer.
But beyond the cursory tale of a woman spurned, Bey takes her examination of infidelity to the next level by tracing it back to generations of mothers and daughters tolerating cheating in their family, with the query, “Are you a slave to the back of his head? Am I talking about your husband or your father?” The absence of and abandonment by men is a running motif in so many women’s lives, that it’s only natural one of the segments in Lemonade would be called “Apathy,” that point at which you’ve been burned so many times by the same person that you can’t allow yourself to care anymore.
“So what are you gonna say at my funeral now that you’ve killed me? Here lies the body of the love of my life whose heart I broke without a gun to my head. Rest in peace my true love who I took for granted, most bomb pussy, who because of me sleep evaded. Her shroud is loneliness, her god is listening, her heaven will be a love without betrayal. Ashes to ashes, dust to side chicks.” This leads to the “Flawless” of Lemonade, “Sorry,” an anthemic resource for any woman to turn to when she’s attempting to ditch a lover who’s done her wrong. Cornrows and a party bus filled with other black women are all Beyoncé needs to overcome the pain.
And yet, elsewhere, she must give in to the sorrow, the absolute wreckage of being turned on by the one closest to her, noting, “I don’t know when love became elusive, all I know is no one I know has it.” It is easy to think this way when looking at infidelity through the lens of inherited trauma (a topic another pop culture outlet, Transparent, has also examined of late). That we can’t escape “the curse,” as she calls it, of years of negative examples shown to us by our mothers and fathers. Mulling it over from this perspective, Beyoncé wants only to mend the damage of the past by forgiving in the present. She asks Jay, “Why are you afraid of love? You think it’s not possible for someone like you. But you are the love of my life.” And yes, it is hard to give up on the love of your life when you know that there can never be another replacement and that “grief sedated by orgasm” (i.e. a slut rampage) can only feel fulfilling for so long before digressing into hollowness.
As Beyoncé covers all the stages of mourning and then some (“Intuition,” “Denial,” “Anger,” “Apathy,” “Emptiness,” “Hope” and “Resurrection,” to name a few), she looks again to her forebears for the strength to go on and the wisdom to know what not to do. After all, “Your mother is a woman and women like her cannot be contained.” And, knowing genetics, you are probably a woman like her.
For those naively convinced that Lemonade is “for black women” (and sure, certain scenes on plantations and with Malcolm X quotes might make it seem that way), the universality of what Beyoncé addresses, a broken heart, is too poetic not to reverberate within every woman’s core (core could also refer to a vagina in this instance). Especially when she totes a baseball bat down the street and declares her desire to fuck up a bitch. “You’re my life line and you’re tryna kill me,” she laments to Jay-Z. But that’s the danger of love (a phrase harkening back to her debut album, Dangerously in Love). You’re putting your heart quite literally in someone else’s hands.
Forgiveness isn’t necessarily the route every woman is capable of taking, but Beyoncé justifies her logic in saying, “Pull me back together again the way you cut me in half,” a phrase that bears thematic similarities to Madonna’s “Only the one that inflicts the pain can take it away” lyric from “Erotica.” Mending is, unfortunately, almost impossible when it isn’t received from the one who did the breaking. Maybe it’s a matter of how many times a woman is willing to allow herself to be broken. Judging from Lemonade, Beyoncé has a one-time scorned policy.