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Beyoncé Lemonade Parkwood / Columbia

Lemonade is so much more than an album; it’s a deep immersion in black art. Throughout the politically-charged audio-visual project, Beyoncé quotes Somali-British poet Warsan Shire and explicitly references Malcolm X’s Who Taught You to Hate Yourself? Among those featured in the hour-long epic are Zendaya Coleman, Amandla Stenberg, and Quvenzhane Wallis, young actresses who have been handpicked by B herself. Here, Beyoncé is laser focused on delivering her potent message of empowerment, and she is unafraid.

Intertwining autobiographical elements with the universal emotions of love, betrayal, and redemption, Lemonade is unapologetically forthcoming, showcasing Beyoncé’s capacity for ferocity, both vocally and via its hard-hitting production. Since its release, there has been much speculation that Lemonade’s lyrical content is an open door into Beyoncé and Jay Z’s marriage, and there are also instances where lyrics potentially allude to the dissolved relationship between Beyoncé and her father.

Whatever the exact inspiration, Lemonade is an iconography for black women, a pictorial novel of strength and salvation illustrating the grieving process after heartache. These themes are well executed, staging the journey through denial, rage and wrath, acceptance, then forgiveness. The tracklisting traces this arc from the aching Pray You Catch MeSorry and 6 Inch to the tender Love Drought and All Night. With frequent references to religion, both visually and lyrically, Beyoncé turns to God to help her understand that the storm, can, and will, pass. Forward is a pivotal point, joining Beyoncé after this hurricane of emotion. “Go back to sleep in your favourite spot just next to me,” she sings, allowing her lover to return to her most intimate space, and revealing her willingness to fight for true love.

Lemonade represents an artist using vulnerability to connect with the world in order to seek healing and forgiveness. Freedom, which also includes an impassioned verse from Kendrick Lamar, celebrates the significance of feminine strength: “I break chains all by myself / Won’t let my freedom rot in hell / Hey! I’m’a keep running / Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.” In the album’s visuals, these lyrics are paired with appearances from the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Mike Brown – each victims of police brutality. Aside from peering into Beyoncé’s personal affairs, this album allows the listener to dig deep and appreciate the journey of black women who understand the idea of community and the ultimate power of salvation.

Beyoncé has provided a visual album that helps us fully comprehend the power of self-healing and forgiveness. Instead of a fragmented story, this cohesive visual novel vividly details the grieving process as a whole. Lemonade is, intellectually, a reflective piece of work connecting the historical past and present with personal, emotional scars. Through Lemonade, Beyoncé forces us to be in tune with ourselves, to be honest with ourselves, and to decide that liberation from pain and suffering is a reward worth living for.