Actually, Lemonade is Beyoncé’s weakest album since I Am...Sasha Fierce.
Actually, Lemonade isn’t for me. I am a white man.
Actually, art is for everybody.
Actually, not everybody needs to weigh in on every damn thing despite communication being democratized enough in 2016 to make it more possible than ever for the masses to do so.
Actually, Lemonade is a work of art that took months of thought and planning, a good deal of courage and craft on Beyoncé’s part alone, and a stadium’s worth of contributors to make possible (read these extensive credits—and these are just for the music, not the project’s visual component). And here I am swooping in with things to say after having thought about it for less than 48 hours.
Actually, though my work isn’t art, my creative impulse is akin to that of an artist. Ideas are like itches—I have to get ‘em out. Expression is unleashing feelings so big they verge on burden, threatening to weigh me down and take up too much space inside me. That’s why I’m here.
Actually, I have a job to do. Hence the easily digested presentation.
Actually, a lot of people have jobs to do, and some do them better than others. But when everyone’s a critic, what is the use of criticism? When it seems that everyone is in agreement that something—say Lemonade—is brilliant and moving and important, what is the use of public dissent? Masochism? Fetishizing Beyhive stings, a figurative, digitized answer to that woman who literally stung herself repeatedly on My Strange Addiction that one time?
Actually, criticism in its ideal form can probe, contextualize, and even enlighten, helpfully connecting dots where artistic license leaves spaces. “Lemonade is gorgeous; an hour-long manifestation of all the conversations you’ve eavesdropped on social media between black women,” writes Syreeta McFadden in her terrific Lemonade review for The Guardian. Read it. You might learn something, even if you don’t care about Beyoncé or Lemonade.
Actually, after reading something as passionate and sharp as McFadden’s critique, the dissenter is tempted to throw up his white hands and say, “What’s the point of saying anything?”
Actually, if maintaining the status quo were a worthy ideal, Lemonade wouldn’t have gotten made in the first place. This project is fundamentally an act of resistance in terms of representation on macro and micro levels. Not 15 minutes into the Lemonade “visual album,” we’re treated to an explication of one of its major themes when Malcolm X’s voice pipes in: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected woman in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
Actually, Beyoncé, arguably America’s most celebrated pop star living today and certainly one of the only ones who could stop the world repeatedly when she deigns to emote, is not unprotected or neglected. Maybe she has her moments of feeling like that, but in these areas, surely she is doing better than just about everyone else on the planet. (Disrespect is trickier—she certainly withstands her disproportionate share, while nonetheless commanding respect when she decides to unveil her art to the world at 9 pm on a Saturday night, for example.)
Actually, “the current system of control depends on black exceptionalism; it is not disproved or undermined by it” (Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow).
Actually, the idea that the interior lives of black women are worthy of respect, care, and cultural space is inherent to the tradition of female-led soul, R&B, and hip-hop, especially that which is written by its performers.
Actually, some messages demand being made literal. Disparity for black women thrives. Look at how black women are disproportionately affected by HIV and unemployment. Look at how they’re underrepresented in government. Even if we hear them, are we actually listening? Isn’t that the point in Beyoncé’s contextualization of personal grief—deriving from infidelity that she may or may not have been the victim of—within history and larger culture? Isn’t Lemonade a way of honoring black women’s resilience, because no life is easy despite outward appearances?
Actually, Lemonade’s message is so universal, its heart pumps with cliche: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I’m always doing that, even now.
Actually, infidelity is a concept that is even more relatable than transmogrifying sour to sweet. I’ve cheated, I’ve been cheated on. I get it.
Actually, monogamy is an unsustainable structure for the vast majority of those who attempt it, and yet our culture stubbornly idealizes it instead of facing reality. If only we’d relax and accept each other for what we desire, we might find more peace.
Actually, Lemonade is not just polemic, but it is largely being embraced as such. I don’t know why we favor messaging over aesthetics when we analyze art today, but I can take some guesses. It’s easier to explicate what something means than to illustrate what it does. If you want to know what it does, watch it or listen to it. It’s at your fingertips. Don’t ask me; I’m not your seeing-eye critic. No one got a million clicks with florid descriptions of sound and image. Right is right and wrong is wrong, but art at its purest defies those binaries. It’s hard. So many voices are just trying to be useful, even if it’s for the benefit of the companies that have them under contract.
Actually, I worry that the oblique imagery, the inarguable righteousness of Beyoncé commanding an hour of everyone’s time to revel in the greatness of the black woman, the breezy use of Warsan Shire’s dense poetry (actually, I don’t remember being born), the attempt to knit together a cohesive visual statement (unlike in the self-titled visual album that preceded Lemonade, in which virtually each video was a world unto itself), the bombardment of spectacle here is ultimately an intricate sleight of hand to distract from an album that would have been quickly forgotten without all of what accompanies it. If she wasn’t Bey, would we still feel her? Would I even care enough to scrutinize? The tunes, they just aren’t grabbing me. I don’t have the compulsive drive to stuff myself with Lemonade until I am about to burst with its joy. This isn’t like last time.
Actually, egocentrism by way of subjective taste (“I like this”/“I do not like this”) is as crummy a critical rubric as it is an imperative driving force in criticism. This isn’t about me. But of course it is.
Actually, divorcing the visual from the aural seems to neglect the point of Lemonade, which was after all, presented to the world with both components in tact. In this phase of her career, Beyoncé seems to be concerned with redefining what makes an album, which is smart and necessary in a time when people don’t buy traditional albums. My brain understands this, but my ears don’t when I walk around listening to Lemonade on repeat, as I did for much of Sunday.
Actually, should I even go into what I find underwhelming about the UPN-promo bombast (“Freedom”), the reheating of an overused classic “Walk on By” (“6 Inch”), the trite, fuzzed-out, self-conscious rockerly vocals on a hookless dirge (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”), the MOR-styled salvation that comes by way of forgiveness rendering all the rage into temporary catharsis (“All Night”)?
Actually, Beyoncé has never sung better than on this album. That, I think, is something that’s gotten lost in the thousands and thousands of words that came tumbling out in Lemonade’s wake. The harmonies alone, braided tightly with intricacy, are goliath. Listen to her flutter operatically on “Sorry,” growl uncontrollably on “Sandcastles,” strike a taught balance between a chirpy delicateness and unfaltering strength (a la Dolly Parton) on the countrified “Daddy Lessons.” Beyoncé is more convincingly human when she sings about herself (or whatever character she is embodying) than when she talks about herself (which she barely does at all these days, anyway). That is soul. At this point, the virtuosic spectacle that accompanies her music is enough to drown out just how special a singer she is. These things happen. For an almost inverse example, take Aretha Franklin, whose musical genius and aptitude for arranging songs (some of them among her very best, like “Respect” and “I Say a Little Prayer”) generally goes unspoken when her work is discussed. This is how one can be the Queen of Soul and still an underdog. Compared to most people, Aretha Franklin is not is not disrespected, unprotected, or neglected. And yet, she is.
Actually, “Love Drought” is simply perfect, a delicately devastating slow jam that sounds like it tiptoed from the future to bless us with a vision of how music could be.
Actually, “Hold Up,” and “Sorry,” are so so great, too.
Actually, if we accept that this narrative is about Jay Z’s cheating, doesn’t the fact that it was released to promote his streaming service Tidal render a lot of Lemonade’s message pointless? Like, of course, the narrative reaches a point of forgiveness. And then Jay Z and his bank account lived happily ever after.
Actually, Lemonade can be interpreted as an act of subversion on virtually every front.
Actually, I forgot to mention how wonderful “Formation” is—how weird and revolutionary and brilliant and moving and important and, man, that Super Bowl performance and OK, ladies now...
Actually, whatever. Never mind.