Beyonce spills 'Lemonade': Surprise album drops with HBO special, right before Formation Tour
“Take one pint of water, add a half pound of sugar, the juice of eight lemons, the zest of a half lemon. Pour the water from one jug, then into the other, several times. Strain through a clean napkin.”
That’s the recipe for lemonade Beyonce bestowed upon the world on Saturday night. As for Lemonade, the HBO special in which it appeared, and the surprise album by the same name? The recipe for all that is a whole lot more ambitious.
As expected, the always-secretive singer kept the world guessing about Lemonade until the moment it dropped, but once it did, man, did the BeyHive’s world spin off its axis.
The lushly filmed, wildly evocative special blended previews of the album’s 12 songs with dramatic spoken word poetry and a dramatic narrative about a woman who’d been cheated on and scorned by her man, only to forgive him by the end because “nothing real can be threatened; true love brought salvation back into me.” Life gave her lemons, and ... you see where she’s going with this, right?
Before the world heads to Jay Z’s doorstep (in Tampa!) with flaming torches and pitchforks for what he done did to Queen B, let’s take a deep breath and remember: Lemonade might not be gospel truth. As Entertainment Weekly noted, Lemonade is described as “a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing,” according to Tidal, which is exclusively selling the album — and which, obviously, is owned by Jay Z. Let’s just say it’s a pretty good bet they’re still on speaking terms.
That said, boy, does this not look good for Hov. Even though he appears in the video, both in newly filmed segments and what appear to be home movies, he immediately becomes Public Enemy No. 1 after Lemonade. Who’s the other woman, this “Becky with the good hair” from Sorry, who sent Bey on this path of public shade and fury?
“If it’s what you truly want, I can wear her skin over mine, her hair over mine, her hands as gloves, her teeth as confetti, her scalp a cap, her sternum my bedazzled cane,” Beyonce whispered (in words penned by poet Warsan Shire). “We can pose for a photograph, all three of us, immortalized, you and your perfect girl.”
That’s some kind of domestic drama, there — and it was all over Lemonade, from start to finish.
Now, again, it’s perfectly possible that Bey and Jay are fine, that no real cheating occurred, that this is all a narrative. (Lemonade’s full credits feature multiple armies of contributors to the special and album, including songwriters like Diplo, Father John Misty and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig).
But putting such a narrative into the world, even if it’s false, will change things forever. This is Beyonce’s you-cheated-on-me album. You don’t think this is going to loom like a shadow over the rest of their marriage? Unless they both come forward in interviews (LOL!) and speak openly about where this motivation came from, it’s a pop-music mystery that will haunt them both for ages, a You're So Vain for the Snapchat era.
Drama is all over Lemonade — the album, yes, but especially the special. Directed by Kahlil Joseph and Knowles herself (with “additional direction,” according to the full credits, by others including music video luminaries Jonas Akerlund and Mark Romanek) its songs and segments were divided into post-cheating “stages” (Denial, Anger, Emptiness, Redemption, etc.) with spoken-word interludes that sound like journal entries of an 11th grade Goth (“I whipped my own back and asked for dominion at your feet. I threw myself into a volcano.”)
Thanks to the stunning direction — if Lemonade doesn’t win a Grammy for Best Music Film, it’s a crime — this is probably the best Beyonce has ever looked on film. Whether she’s smashing cars and fire hydrants in a flowing golden dress; striding through the tides of a bayou at sunset; stomping on a coffin in her Loretta Lynn finest; or lying in repose on the artificial turf of the Superdome , she’s styled to perfection in just about every frame. The sheer ambition of every segment — to say nothing of the whole hour — makes it all the more stunning that not one word or image about Lemonade leaked before its release.
As for the album? It sounds, after one half-listen, more sonically ambitious, yet somehow more accessible, than its predecessor, 2013’s Beyonce. We’ve got collaborations with The Weeknd (6 Inch), Kendrick Lamar (Freedom), Jack White (Don’t Hurt Yourself) and James Blake (Forward), and several tracks that sound like Song of Summer contenders (Formation, of course, but also Sorry and Daddy Issues, which, no joke, sounds like an honest-to-goodness country hit).
There are tender and gorgeous harmonies, searing psych-rock organs, foundation-shattering beats and meme-able lyrics for days (“She got them commas and them decimals” is your new “I got hot sauce in my bag, swag”). It’s as dramatic as Adele’s 25, yet fiercer, riskier, more furious and volatile — and after the special alone, I’m going to say even better. Next year’s Grammys are going to be OH. SO. GOOD.
But like the rest of the Internet after watching Lemonade, I’mma need a minute with it. I’ll give Lemonade some spins before Beyonce’s Formation World Tour kicks off in Tampa on Friday, and offer some more cogent thoughts later this week. And like the rest of the world, I’ll be beyond eager to see if she actually sits down and plays the piano on Sandcastles, as she did in the special.
You can get the album on Tidal right now. You can stream the album on HBO Now for a day or so. HBO will re-air Lemonade at 8 p.m. Sunday.
And check back here Monday morning for the start of Beyonce Week on Soundcheck!
— Jay Cridlin