‘Lemonade’ Review: Beyoncé’s Best Album Yet

“I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”

On April 23rd, 2016, Beyoncé finally blessed the world with her highly anticipated sixth studio album. With just days to the opening night of her “Formation World Tour,” expectations were high, and Bey completely blew them out of the water. From the visuals to the music, Lemonade is without a doubt the singers most artistic endeavor. In lieu of a traditional review, three Celebuzz editors, Jelani Addams Rosa, Matt Russoniello and Mia Lardiere chatted about their Beyoncé fandom, the importance of Lemonade, and why this is Bey’s best music to date.

Jelani Addams Rosa

I think I like to consider myself a certified member of the Beyhive. Although I’m not a leave bee emojis in your comment section kind of fan, honestly I’m a fairly recent fan. I wasn’t actually a big fan of Beyoncé’s until I watched her Life is But a Dream HBO special which prompted me to want to see her live. When I saw her perform live a few years ago, I was just literally blown away and I’ve kind of just loved everything she’s done since then.

Matt Russoniello 
I have been a fan, although I think an admittedly casual one, since Destiny’s Child days. I have, at one time or another, purchased copies of every Destiny’s Child/Beyoncé album and usually, additionally, the deluxe edition. I didn’t see Bey live until her 2013 tour; it was predictably amazing. But having said all that, I never considered myself like a ride-or-die STAN. I liked the music, but it wasn’t really until / Beyoncé that I felt she started finding her place not just as a hit-maker but as an actual artist.

Mia Lardiere 
Yeah, when you’re discussing Beyoncé, there’s a membership and dues that come with declaring yourself a “true fan.” You can’t just be in the Beyhive – it has to be earned. I consider myself, respectfully, below that gold membership. I do love Beyonce and will consume everything that she puts out — both through purchase and through listenership. There’s no doubt she’s one of the greatest living pop culture icons of all time.

MR

I still don’t consider myself a member of the BeyHive. In order to be a part of that, you have to participate in the game. And by game I mean war. I don’t go to message boards or get into fights on Twitter about it. But, again, I get excited about every release, and I go and see her on tour. That, in my opinion, is good fandom.

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ML

Agreed. An artist’s intention is never to start a war — i.e. “Becky”gate

JAR
Hmmm, I never really thought of it that way, that makes sense. Although I do think some over-zealous fans give “Beyhive” a bad name.

ML
I think that goes for any fandom. There are those who take it too far and those who respect their icon.

MR
That’s true of any fan group, though. It’s true of any group, really. The “vocal minority” factor. But there are a lot of… intense… people. It’s not just, like, two guys in a basement.

ML

Exactly! The problem is, with Lemonade, what surfaced to the general public was not Beyonce’s political call-to-action or her poetry in social justice, but the murder mystery of “Who did Jay Z get caught with!??!” I don’t know Beyoncé personally, but I can assume that this one line in one song was not what was meant to be blown up as its legacy. I don’t think that it will be, but right now, people are missing the point.

JAR
That won’t be the album’s legacy. That’s just the line that gets people to the album, it’s everything else that’s going to make them stay.

MR
Well, I don’t think that is the album’s legacy. I think, in just a few days, there has already been some incredible, thoughtful writing on all aspects of the music, the message, and the visuals. The affair angle, of course, is eating up a lot of space, because scandal sells. And it speaks to rumors that have long plagued that couple. After the Met Ball incident, minus that weird statement, they have made no direct mention of these supposed problems, yet rumors persisted. And I also don’t think it was one throw-away line. A lot of the album (and even more of the movie) references cheating explicitly.
Ultimately, though, Beyoncé is an incredibly smart woman, and she has been in this industry for nearly 20 years. She knew how people would react to this. There is no way she did not know. She probably didn’t know that Rachel Roy would post a “good hair” selfie hours after the album drop, or that Rita Ora would wear a bra or whatever. But she knew it would cause a frenzy because she knows the media and how fans react. She just didn’t care. It’s a part of her message. It’s a part of what she wanted to say. It’s a part of something she has spent years not saying.

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ML
Exactly. And she doesn’t have to say a damn word about it to propel the buzz because that’s the power that she holds.

JAR
Is that not the allure of Beyoncé though? You never ever really know what’s going on. It could all be real, and it could all be nothing more than a way to capitalize on what people think about her. People keep debating whether or not what she sing/speaks about in the album really happened, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter. 

ML
Well, that’s where you need to offer space for the artist to elaborate on the truth.

JAR
Whether or not it really happened, Beyoncé’s been able to speak to and for women, especially women of color in a way not many other artists have. I know for myself, watching the special, I identified a lot of what I saw and heard. The good, the bad, and the ugly. 

MR
The thing with art, good art, anyway, is that it can mean different things to different people. And that includes the creator. I think Lemonade works as a statement of fact, of truth (although likely heightened and altered). I think it works as a metaphor. I think it works as a larger commentary. I think it works in application to her father just as well as it works in application to Jay Z. I think it works as a “relatable” piece, and I think it works on a more artistic, ambiguous level. It’s all about what you want to take from it,
That said, I don’t personally have a ton of doubts about Jay Z cheating on her. Those rumors have been so persistent for so long. I think, in some form or another, Beyoncé felt a deep betrayal.

ML
Right. The resonance of any piece, whether it be music, film, photography, comes from the universal themes. How can you not listen to Adele’s 21 and not time travel through your worst relationship?  While I can’t personally identify with the message that Beyoncé brings with Lemonade, I can see that impact that it’s made on a community, as you both have noted, and can respect the hell out the use of her platform to unify that voice. I think that’s the point that Piers Morgan was missing in his op-ed on The Daily Mail. He says that he prefers the less-political Beyoncé because he feels that she is exploiting her “blackness” for album sales. I think that she, as an artist, human, female, whatever, has the right to use her voice for whatever she wants to shed light on.Who are we to tell her how to use her voice?

MR
I think “relatable” is an overused and honestly a rather useless attribute of music and art. I mean, it is sometimes good to relate to things, but I am much more interested in empathy. I would rather a piece of art ask me to try and feel for someone — the author, its subject, or otherwise — and on that level (among others) I think Lemonade succeeds. You feel for Beyoncé. You feel for women who have been through this. You feel for a group of people who have been, historically and currently, marginalized and degraded.

ML
That’s a good point. Empathy is definitely a better word.

MR
The true magic though is that she doesn’t just inspire empathy with generic platitudes; she guides herself to empathy through the course of the album. The album, whatever you take from it — a documentary of her marriage, a political declaration, a feminist manifesto, a combination of these things, or something else entirely — does follow a fairly linear narrative. And the narrative follows its protagonist, whom I would argue is Beyoncé herself and not a character, from Point A to Point Z, and it makes stops at all the places in between. It is an album about an emotional cycle: from hurt to forgiveness. And I think that’s notable because most albums that start the way Lemonade starts end before they get to that resolution. It’s a resolution with Jay Z, but it’s really a resolution with herself and with her beliefs. And that’s powerful.

ML
All true. And I think that’s where the visual album aspect brings Lemonade to a whole new level in a way that her last album didn’t even touch. It shows the evolution in her storytelling abilities, that’s inspiring other artists. Not to mention the texture added by the poetry from Warsan Shire.

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JAR
Do you think the music is as strong without the visuals?

MR
In this case, I think the music and the visuals are inseparable. They were released as one body of work, and they inform each other. You get things from watching the movie that you don’t from just listening, and vice versa. I think it works better as a full work than the self-titled did because it was made cohesive. It wasn’t just 15 videos paired up with songs. This is one long work. Generally, though I like music videos and I believe a good music video can make a good song even better, I believe the music should speak for itself.  I often like to have my own visuals in my head when I am listening to music. A really good music video will replace my own, or influence the way I hear the music, but a lot of the time, I just watch a video once or twice and then never again. That might be the case with Lemonade, just because that might just be how I consume music. That said, there is no way I will listen to the album and NOT think about the visuals. And that is a testament to the power of the film.

JAR
Agreed. After I watched the last visual album, I didn’t feel the need to watch again. Although I personally don’t often feel the need to watch music videos, they don’t usually do anything for me that enhances my listening experience. But after I watched Lemonade I was compelled to watch it again, and I’m sure I’ll watch it a few more times, there are just so many important things to unpack that I don’t think can be done in one viewing, for me at least.

MR
Yes, there is a lot to unpack in the film. And I do think watching it enriches the music itself. I think there’s a reason she insistently refers to it as a “visual album” and not just as an “album.” The full work is the music and the film combined. They work separately, but it’s pretty clear she defines the Lemonade project as the full-length film. Promoting it as an album after the fact is simply a means to an end.

ML
Yeah, I’ve only seen the visual album once and I definitely would want to watch again. I had had a glass of wine beforehand which was a celebratory gesture, but I need to watch it again with a sober eye. I’m interested to see what kind of visuals the tour will bring and how they’ll relate to the film.

JAR
Me too, I was thinking about that yesterday, how this will look on stage?

MR
I was looking forward to the show from the moment I got tickets, obviously, but ever since Lemonade’s release, my curiosity has been whipped into a frenzy. Like, how is this thing, something so inherently personal and emotional and somewhat dependent on this gorgeous film, going to translate to stadium shows?  It will be very interesting to see what shape the tour takes.

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ML
I will be there in my Ivy Park.

MR
I know it’s early, but where do you rank Lemonade in the discography of Beyonce?

JAR
For me, this is my favorite album of hers. From start to finish. I don’t think there’s another album that I can say that I love every single song. Although, I still have mixed feelings about “Daddy Lessons,” it’s beginning to grow on me, but I’m still not sure on my feelings about Beyonce and country music.

MR
I think for me, too, it will probably nab that No. 1 Beyoncé Album spot. I appreciate how concise it is; there is no filler. Every song fulfills a purpose, furthers the narrative, speaks to one of the guiding issues. As much as I loved self-titled, I think a few tracks could have been left off without changing much. I mean, at 12 tracks, Lemonade is by far her shortest album, and you can tell she took pains to really edit herself. And so, yes, from start-to-finish, I think it is pretty darn close to perfect. And “Daddy Lessons” was an immediate stand out to me, I don’t know why. I don’t really like country, but that sound is so fitting for her, and it’s one of the best vocal performances on an album full of standout vocal performances. It also brings in these theme of her father, who of course cheated on Tina Knowles, and adds layers to the stuff going on elsewhere in the record.

JAR
Is there anything you don’t love about the album?

MR
Honestly, there is nothing I would change about the album. This is after only 5 days. Ask me again in 6 months. The only song that was not IMMEDIATE for me is “Love Drought.” I think it’s very pretty, and I like the lyrics, but it took several listens for me to start getting into it. I still have a way to go with it.

JAR
You’re not the first person I’ve heard says that about “Love Drought,” although I personally love it, it’s in my top 5 of favorite songs on the album. I love the lyrics and the beat, I love how hopeful it sounds.

MR
Last call. Favorite songs on the album and/or favorite moments from the film? 

ML
My favorite song on the album right now is actually, “Sandcastles”. I get a chill every time I listen to it, and I think that’s definitely the lasting impact of the visual component — the Nina Simone  album, the closure with Jay Z, her alone at the piano.

JAR
Ohh this is hard, I think I’m tied between “Hold On” and “Pray You Catch Me.”

ML
On the other end of the spectrum, Serena Williams’ appearance in the film gave me life for at least the next half century.

JAR
My favorite moments are, her singing a cappella before the beat in “Freedom” drops and badass Beyoncé in the parking lot during “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” And agreed, Serena gets a resounding YASSS!

MR
It’s hard for me to choose favorites; most of the album really connected with me. Love “Hold Up” and think it would make an incredible single. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and “Sorry” are the shit. “6 Inch” is maybe my Everything of the Moment, especially that last crescendo, which I view as the turning point of the album. “Daddy Lessons,” “Freedom,” “All Night,” and “Sandcastles.” I mean the whole thing, apparently. As for the film, the “Hold Up” visuals I think were the most bombastic and memorable, in a pop spectacle-type way. Obviously the clips of the mothers holding the photographs of their murdered children. That scene where Bey’s face rotates 360 degrees on screen stuck with me. The personal footage of Jay and Blue at the end felt like a gut punch, but like a surprisingly pleasant one that I didn’t know I’d been craving.

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ML
Bey knows you better than you know yourself sometimes.

MR
When life gives you lemons, Bey makes you lemonade.