Unless you’ve been living under a Roc, by now you’ve heard about Beyoncé’s break-the-internet boss move of an album release last weekend. But you may not know what her new music is all about and why the whole thing is such a big deal. Well, consider this post as your Beyoncé crib notes. Below, I’ll run through five things you should know about Beyonce’s new music in order to understand this pop culture moment.
1. Beyoncé hit us back-to-back with an HBO special and surprise album release, both of which paired her new music with strong visuals.
Let’s start really basic. What happened? Last Saturday night, HBO aired Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” special, with very little pre-show buzz about what the program would be. “Lemonade” turned out to be an hour-long music special that debuted a dozen new Beyoncé songs. Captivating, powerful, evocative visual scenes accompanied each song as well some voice-over speech (mostly poetry read by Beyoncé). It felt like a dozen Beyoncé music videos linked together for one coherent album video, much of which was set in Louisiana (her ancestral home). Immediately after “Lemonade” aired on the East coast, the Lemonade visual album and a songs-only album became available on Tidal, the music streaming service owned by Beyoncé’s husband Jay Z.
This is a continuation of past innovations from Beyoncé. In December 2013, with no advance promotion of any kind, Beyoncé released her eponymous fifth studio album. It, too, was a visual album–consumers could download a full album of unique music videos all at once. Beyoncé was considered groundbreaking, pairing the visuals with the music as one indivisible piece of art. And earlier in 2013, Beyoncé partnered with HBO for a documentary-style special that included segments of Bey talking about her music, her day-to-day routine, her childhood, her inspiration–really giving us access to her personal life in a way the private star rarely does, and telling us her story as an artist through a combination of concert footage, behind-the-scenes footage, and her own words.
Beyoncé is known for exerting tight control over her image and the way her music is communicated. With “Lemonade” (and Lemonade) she continues to shape the way we enjoy popular music and push the boundaries on her art.
2. It’s not just the form; the content is blowing minds. And Jay Z just might need a TRO.
Lemonade expounds on themes that have been building in the singer’s world. What’s shocking here is the depth and intensity of them. First and foremost, she talks about marital struggles. Ooooooh boy, does she talk about marital struggles…. Beyoncé communicates sadness, rage, more rage, and eventually, it seems, forgiveness as she talks about her husband’s infidelity. How much is her art based on real life? My take is the album is very much based on a true story. We can’t take every word as truth, but I think Beyoncé writing a whole damn album about her man cheating on her is a pretty good indication that something went down. (Expect this did-he-or-didn’t-he speculation to continue for a longgggg time.)
Lemonade also features Beyoncé’s longstanding feminist, girl-power themes and her attention to the struggles and the strengths of black people, particularly black women. Beyoncé through the album is all at once speaking from a very personal place and yet placing herself in a community and in a historical arc. The visual album does a really effective job of communicating this solidarity and shared experience and emotion.
3. “Becky with the good hair” is the hit line of the album — and seems to be a dog whistle for every Becky on the C List.
Beyoncé put Jay Z on blast time and again on Lemonade. However, social media has really latched onto a highlight from the song “Sorry” which intones “He only want me when I’m not there / He better call Becky with the good hair.” The meaning: Beyoncé has left her cheating man, and he may want her back but that’s not going to happen–if he wants female company, he should call his side chick (Becky with the good hair). The implication from the song is that Jay Z has a Becky with the good hair. This certainly plays into the longstanding rumors that Jay was unfaithful.
Fashion designer and self-designated Becky Rachel Roy posted to Instagram a suggestion she was the woman being called out in “Sorry.” This is particularly annoying and thirsty behavior because Roy was rumored to be Jay’s side chick and some claim she was at the center of the 2014 elevator incident in which Beyoncé’s sister Solange Knowles attacked Jay Z, allegedly out of anger regarding his inappropriate relationship with Roy. Roy subsequently took down the post, made her account private, released a statement to People, and backed out of a scheduled appearance, likely due to threats from Bey’s hardcore fan base.
So Roy was the first woman to out herself as a Becky/not-the-Becky. Singer Rita Ora was the next to involve herself, denying the rumors about her and Jay Z–only after posting a photo of herself wearing a lemon-decorated bra and a letter J necklace, both seemingly a reference to Bey and Jay and that song. Yes, there’s a history of rumors there too, but Rita seemed to court the attention before coming around to deny it. *eyeroll* The odds are good another chick will step forward as Becky/not-the-Becky before Cinco de Mayo.
4. Celebrities got on board–and Serena Williams kinda stole the show.
Beyoncé brought in scores of talent for the music and the videos. Notable celebrity appearances include tennis superstar Serena Williams, outspoken teenage actresses Zendaya Coleman and Amandla Stenberg, child actress Quvenzhané Wallis, Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy, the mothers of slain young men Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin, and Mr. Beyoncé’ Knowles himself. Solange Knowles was (conspicuously) absent from the video.
Particularly moving: the haunting images of Coleman, Stenberg and other black women on a plantation, stoney-faced and staring at the camera, standing as ghosts of black women past and future.
Particularly enjoyable: the delicious images of Beyoncé lounging atop a throne with Serena Williams posing and dancing next to her.
5. Beyoncé’s marketing prowess is unparalleled.
As we covered at the top, Beyoncé has a keen understanding of the importance of image. But her business acumen goes far beyond that. It seems she has timed her career moves this year in a really strategic way to blow our minds and penetrate the market across many mediums. To appreciate the full Beyoncé moment we’re in, take a look at the singer’s moves this year.
- Beyoncé releases the provocative “Formation” video online, totally unannounced, the day before the Super Bowl. The Beyhive goes nuts.
- Feb. 6, Beyoncé performs at the Super Bowl and her set includes “Formation,” performed with a dance corps of fly Black Panther-looking women.
- In the commercial break immediately following Super Bowl halftime, Beyoncé announces her Formation world tour. (And the tour basically sells out in a heartbeat. Duh.)
- April 23, HBO airs “Lemonade.” The album immediately goes on sale exclusively on Tidal.
- Let me restate this: Beyoncé released an album all about Jay being a cheating son-of-a-gun ON JAY’S MUSIC SERVICE. And Tidal app downloads skyrocketed following that exclusive release.
- Within a few days, Lemonade becomes available for purchase through other sellers–and of course dominates the charts.
- The Formation world tour kicks off April 27 in Miami, where a crazy lineup of famous artists open for her.
Beyoncé is everything and everywhere.
So now you know. And if you want to read more about Lemonade or the Formation tour or anything else Beyoncé, just open a new webpage and enter… anything. Go to any damn website. You’ll find a Beyoncé article. Anywhere. (The takeover is happening…………..)