Beyoncé has once again outdone herself. With few details announced in advance of her LEMONADE one-hour special on HBO, the pop icon debuted her new album as a film, featuring Serena Williams in a segment and contributions from The Weeknd and James Blake.
Similar to her rollout for 2013’s BEYONCÉ, she pieced together music videos with in-between vignettes and spoken-word introductions. Though she wasn’t necessarily explicit about the content of the music, it’s clear that she’s coping with the emotional fallout from her husband Jay Z allegedly cheating on her, using the project as a medium to explore her feelings about the situation and how she got through it.
Directors for the visual-album include Mark Romanek, Khalil Joseph, Melina Matsoukas, Todd Tourso, Dikayl Rimmasch, Jonas Akerlund and, of course, Beyoncé. The special was an aural spectacular, featuring slow-moving images in black-and-white and entirely devoid of dance routines, one of her hallmarks.
Instead, LEMONADE was a clear exploration of marriage post-Beyoncé, where she reveled in her marriage’s sexual nature. For her latest, she’s much more straight-faced, staring the infidelity straight in the face and addressing her husband directly. “You remind me of my father, a magician / Able to exist in two places at once / And the tradition and men and my blood, you come home at 3 a.m. and lie to me / What are you hiding?” she says at one point, plunging off the top of a building into a deep ocean, reemerging in a bedroom brimming with water and asking, “Are you cheating on me?”
She emerges from a court house as the water spills out, and Bey goes to town. Brandishing a baseball bat, she smashes cars, security cameras and store windows along the way, hopping into a monster truck where she crushes a long line of cars and brags about “get[ting] my swing on.”
Soon, she’s addressing the mistress to her husband. “We can pose for a photograph—all three of us. Immortalized. You and your perfect girl. I don’t know when love became elusive.” Wrapped in a fur coat, she struts through a parking garage with her hair done in cornrows. “Beautiful man, I know you lying,” she says. “Who the fuck do you think I am? You try this shit again, you gon’ lose your wife.”
Serena Williams danced alongside Bey, sitting on a high-backed chair, as the latter continued to exercise her angst. “He better call her Becky with the good hair,” she says. The Weeknd contributes as a guest star, singing about Beyoncé in an uplifting manner: “Stacking money no matter where she goes, karma, karma, karma.”
Scorned, she turns her attention to the mistress and confronts her directly. “Did he bend your reflection? Did he make you forget your own name? Did he convince you he was a god? Do you get on your knees daily? Do his eyes close like doors? Are you a slave to the back of his head? Am I talking about your husband, or your father?”
Mathew Knowles, Bey’s father, also appears in the film to play with Blue Ivy during “Daddy Lessons.” It’s not so far from “Daddy,” a piano ballad that existed as a secret track on her debut album Dangerously in Love, which praised him for raising her right. This time, she sings, “Came into this world, daddy’s little girl / Daddy made a soldier out of me / Daddy made me dance / Daddy held my hand.”
Finally comes “Forgiveness,” one of the title cards that lays out the stages of grief that she experiences through the film. “Baptize me, now that the reconciliation is possible,” she says. “If we’re going to heal, let it be glorious. One-thousand girls raise their arms. Do you remember being born? Are you thankful?
Bey sits at a piano keyboard with headphones on as the first images of her and Jay Z appear, signifying a sea change. “We built sandcastles that washed away, I made you cry when I walked away / Oh, and although I promised that I could stay baby / every promise don’t work out that way,” she sings.
English singer-songwriter James Blake appears on a stark piano ballad, where mothers Sybrina Fulton and Lesley McFadden hold up pictures of their sons Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, both killed by police. It’s a continuation of the politically-charged “Formation,” which is included at the album’s end.
The film comes to a conclusion full circle: Beyoncé is pictured with Blue Ivy and Jay Z, smiling and laughing in a backyard. It’s a fitting conclusion to her latest surprise, tying a bow on an epic adventure through heartbreak, and coming out on the other side.