Beyoncé’s latest visual album Lemonade, a project reminiscent of her surprise 2013 self-titled release, arrived as unsuspected as its predecessor along with her one-hour HBO special. Lemonade is an ambitious statement about finding the strength to overcome the toughest challenges in life. With a focused project and raw, vulnerable delivery of a personal narrative of struggle and liberation, it is her most accomplished album to date.

‘Lemonade’ by Beyonce Album Review

Lemonade opens with the downtempo “Pray You Catch Me” and with the straightforward message: “You can taste the dishonesty all over your breath.” Made of delicate sonic layers of piano and strings, the opener has a haunting quality. Its simplicity renders it even more heart-wrenching and raw. Followed by several texturally contrasting tracks, “Pray You Catch Me” sets the underlying tone of betrayal and pain, while the rest of the album deals with the various stages of facing this challenge.

“Hold Up” is a reggae-inspired track, whose visuals have Bey roaming through town and smashing car windows and anything in her way with a bat named “Hot Sauce.” As amusing as the video is and the lighthearted tone of the music are, the lyrics serve as a poignant reminder that the singer firmly stands her ground and holds on to her dignity, stating she would rather be considered “crazy” than “walked all over lately” and made a fool of.

Following is the sizzling Jack White duo “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” which features samples from Led Zeppelin and feisty vocals by White. Her “middle fingers up” attitude on this as well as other tracks has a potentially powerful message to all women, but the track is also issuing a warning that Bey is no one to be messed with. Lemonade also brings forth some truly exciting collaborations with big names from various genres – The Weeknd, James Blake and Kendrick Lamar – all of which are unique in their dynamics and mood.

“6 Inch,” which glorifies the profession of stripper performing in 6-inch heels for money but “not for material things,” is a nod at the raunchiness and deep bass of hits like “Partition,” and it seems there is no performer more fitting for this collaboration than The Weeknd. “Forward” is a brief interlude which has Blake’s haunting, distorted vocals speak to the slow process of regaining the power to move forward. Finally, the explosive Kendrick Lamar track “Freedom” speaks overtly about civil rights.

On the surface level, the themes of betrayal and infidelity provide a personal lens for the larger message that the artist is aiming to get across, a message directed at all women who have been wronged and especially at the strife of African-American women. With the smashing single “Formation” concluding the record, Beyoncé makes a statement that projects her personal challenges onto a larger framework.

Despite all the recent speculations the release of Lemonade has caused, it should first and foremost be appreciated as a work of art. There is the actual threat, which over the past few days has indeed become a reality, that the superficial narrative – that of Jay-Z allegedly cheating on Beyoncé – would supersede the real intention and message behind it. Even if its confessional style can hardly be separated from the real life events that may have inspired it, this is a record telling a story of hardship and empowerment.

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