In case you’ve done your best to avoid any news surrounding the recent release of Beyonce’s latest album, Lemonade, I’ll sum up the majority’s opinion in two words: it’s good. Strike that, four words: it’s really really good. And they’re right. What Beyoncé has done here is what I’ve been wanting from the mainstream music scene for as long as I can remember. Similar to what Justin Timberlake did in 2013 with The 20/20 Experience, or more recently what Rihanna did earlier this year with ANTI, Beyoncé expands her expertise infinitely, both musically and content wise, laying herself bare as she tackles a handful of genres new to her arsenal. Even the ones she’s familiar with seem to have taken on new life, like the gospel jam “Freedom,” where, with the help of Kendrick, she addresses the racial injustice at work in America today. Lemonade’s structure might be its shining achievement, each song peeling back another layer in Queen B’s tale of her husband's infidelity. The record is ambitious, which isn’t a word that gets tossed around often in regards to mainstream music, and even less so when it comes to ‘pop stars;’ however, this, in accompaniment with her previous record, warrants a new label. Calling her music ‘pop’ is a disservice to the scope of what she has created, and what I hope she’ll continue to create.
In hindsight, Beyoncé has been foreshadowing this break from the norm since 2013’s 4, where she began her ascent from simple pop artist to something much more. The New York Times reflected this perfectly when they insisted that while songs like, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It),” “Get Me Bodied,” “Crazy in Love” and “Baby Boy,” were ‘songs that other singers could have plausibly released and made their own’ they concede that, ‘Most of 4, though, no one else could get away with, or would even want to try.’ I can only assume that the feeling of that creation gave her a sense of liberation, because that concept was taken to another level with the surprise release of her followup the very next year; the extremely personal, sensual, intimate, Beyoncé. The album was far and away her best release and another step forward for an artist who didn’t need to change to retain her worldwide love and army of adorning fans. Yet, she did; creating a record that was as listenable as it was affecting; approaching her struggles and victories that accompany womanhood with extreme honesty and a natural touch. And despite her coming from a female perspective, the issues she highlighted were universal, relatable to anyone willing to open themselves up to it. Beyoncé was also the first time she presented a record that carried noticeable continuity in terms of feel and presentation. The record was a triumph, little did we know that her revolution was still evolving, and that her best wouldn’t arrive for another two years in the form of Lemonade, which, in comparison to Beyoncé’s previous work, is perfect. In comparison to music as a whole? Near perfect. She and an army of producers handled the reigns here, and while I normally scoff when a billion producers lend a hand, Beyoncé makes it work in a unique way, and all other artists should take note. What she created is a non-traditional concept album, and while there isn’t much continuity throughout from a musical standpoint, it flows just as well, if not better than a natural concept album because of how she presents it. She tells her story through emotional stages, each feeling treated like a different chapter. It’s ingenious. The record is brutally honest, and for someone in such a highly public relationship, a courageous act. I realize that many artists reveal themselves in the same way, and yes that type of vulnerability is difficult and commendable, but most of them aren’t living their life in the spotlight, married to a man who’s also a major presence. Her proclamation…declaration…confession…whatever you want to label it as, will be torn apart and scrutinized by every media outlet known to man. I bring that up only to say that I hope this doesn’t deter other artists from creating like this; it’s refreshing, and again, courageous. Now, let’s talk about the record.