Jun 28, 2016 Music
A reader response submitted via Twitter by Anny Ma (@RUOKAnny) in response to Gary Steel’s review of Beyonce’s Lemonade, first published in the June 2016 issue of Metro.
First-time writer, long-time reader. I wish my first correspondence with you could be of a much more pleasant nature, as I have always been a fan of you. However, I have never felt so personally victimised by a publication as I was by your June 2016 issue.
I excitedly settled in on a cosy Sunday night with my favourite magazine, enjoying Lani’s column, the great food chat, and of course Simon’s excellent story…but when I reached page 108 I dropped my magazine in shock, as my most-trusted magazine had just betrayed me.
“WHAT THE FUCK!!!!” I yelled, as my flatmates rushed to my side, wondering what scandal the excellent editorial team at Metro had uncovered this time around. “Lemonade…got…2.5…stars” I uttered, and the room fell silent.
Once I’d been revived with smelling salts and “Formation”, I thought that surely my beloved Metro had not been so unfaithful – it was just a printing defect which meant all 5 of those little stars weren’t coloured in, right? The only way to get to the bottom of this was to read the review…How I rue the day I thought that and rue the damn day I saw page 108. Why couldn’t the 108 and 109 have just been glued together? SMH.
I had a lot to process. Gary Steel had many things to say about the greatest album of 2016, but the only kind comment he could muster was that he liked the minute James Blake was on it. Hmm.
The album which reached #1 in 25 countries in under 24 hours, was described by Gary as “a set of one-dimensional, mostly unmemorable songs”. Huh. I’ve never been good at maths, but even I can see that his working is incorrect. Did you carry the #1 over, Gary?
Let’s not get it twisted – it’s fine to not understand that Beyoncé is a goddess sent from the heavens to make the world a more bearable place through her dulcet tones. That’s tolerable. But to call an album where all 12 songs were on the Billboard 100 at the same time “rag-tag” is just plain rude.
My immediate issue with the review isn’t Steel’s lack of loyalty to the BeyHive, but his lack of awareness that maybe this album wasn’t intended for his audience.
My immediate issue with the review isn’t Steel’s obvious lack of loyalty to the BeyHive, but actually his lack of awareness that maybe this album wasn’t intended for his audience, and he was lucky to even be privy to it.
Lemonade is unapologetically for black women and by a black woman. It follows her self-titled album Beyoncé, which spoke to many feminist themes. Yes, Lemonade speaks to the trials and tribulations of a tumultuous relationship, but at the forefront is an hour-long highly emotional journey of empowerment for a very oppressed and very large group of America. Her intended audience is made quite clear in “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, as she quotes Malcolm X who once said: “The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.”
Beyoncé fan and friend, Prince, said at the 2015 Grammys that “albums, like books and black lives, still matter,” and I think Lemonade is the perfect embodiment of that notion.
Lemonade is a package deal of a truly visual album – this isn’t just a buzzword we’ll be embarrassed to have used in a year – it is a highly accurate summation of the art we’ve been offered. The visuals not only complement, but strengthen, the narrative of the album and the story we’re being told. Listening to the album in this intended way also ensures the viewer is getting the full picture and emotional journey in a chronological format, rather than a bunch of disjointed singles haphazardly thrown together.
Beyoncé was the cause of many white tears when she both released and performed “Formation”, and the subject of much criticism for daring to question the police and society which oppresses blacks in America. However, it’s now clear that “Formation” was just the warm-up.
The world’s in a heated time where race relations and woman-led discourse are growing in visibility, and Lemonade is Bey’s salute to and rallying of the cause. There has been no instance where an album has been so politically-charged and targeted to a niche audience yet received such widespread and mainstream success.
There has been no instance where an album has been so politically-charged and targeted to a niche audience yet received such widespread and mainstream success.
The format of the album is a huge contributing factor to this success – throughout Lemonade we’re blessed with imagery and super-stardom on a level that only Beyoncé could assemble. She nonchalantly sits on her throne and throws her middle fingers up while Serena Williams – equally confident and unconcerned – dances next to her in “Sorry” – two black women at the top of their respective games with no fucks given about how anybody feels, which is a bloody refreshing portrayal. This is also the song with the now infamous Becky line which apparently offended the most privileged women in society, but let’s not talk about white feminism right now (or ever).
Freedom is another song where the visual elevates the audio, as we see young black women like Zendaya and Quvenzhané Wallis – who’ve been on the receiving end of some bigoted bullshit in the media – stand proud and tall as Bey belts out “I’ma keep running ’cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” and Kendrick Lamar raps about the everyday struggle of being black in America. The song and video are highly political, with the mothers of victims such as Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown appearing with portraits of their lost ones as well – sending a strong message that Black Lives Matter, as does Black Excellence. The styling and art direction of each individual video is both poignant and on point, and this video is no different.
I’m not qualified to speak further on the significance of black culture in this album, but it’s clearly the overarching theme.
I can acquiesce that Beyoncé isn’t everybody’s cup of lemonade, that’s fine. But it is undeniable that this album deserves its own permanent exhibition at MoMA. The album is a political statement, a visual masterpiece, an ode to the black woman, a cathartic release for anybody who has ever been betrayed, and Beyoncé’s sixth album to debut at #1.
The visual album spans pop, country, rock, R&B, hip-hop, soul, countless other genres within its 12 songs, and still sits in the NZ iTunes Top 10 as I write this – months after its release.
I hope that Gary can see that maybe he didn’t resonate with the album because it simply wasn’t made for him, but it means the world (who runs that, btw?) to its intended audience. As such, it deserves far more considered, careful and open-minded listening.
Bey is the only person who can follow up a surprise album with a surprise movie/album combo and then sell out 23 shows across America before embarking on a world tour. During this tour, Bey broke records as the first solo female artist to sell out venues, including Houston’s NRG Stadium with the venue’s highest grossing show ever at a cool $6.4 million.
Unfortunately, the New Zealand dates have not yet been announced, and it is of very grave concern to me that none will be thanks to this little 2.5 star review. In the interests of damage control/mending my broken heart, I suggest that Metro correct the rating to 5 stars – the amount that Rolling Stone gave her – and the amount of Grammys Blue Ivy’s probably broken in her lifetime.
Many thanks for your consideration, and I’m sure you’ll happily get in Formation.