Suddenly released in late April, Beyoncé’s Lemonade was certainly one of the boldest and most elaborate records of 2016. Now equipped with nominations for a whopping eight Grammy awards and being named in that spot amongst The Edge‘s favourite albums of the year, it represents how vital music is to our lives and development. Described as “a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing,” Lemonade was an archetype of Beyoncé’s newfound musical signature, blending a mature sense of pop with an overt declaration of power.
Launched with a world tour of the same name over the Super Bowl weekend, ‘Formation‘ was a powerful return, epitomising her recent style, with its semi-rapped lyrics touching on her status (“Sometimes I go off / I go hard / Get what’s mine / I’m a star / ‘Cause I slay”) and proud heritage (“I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils / Earned all this money but they never take the country out me”), and a video that showcased Black Lives Matter campaigners and references. In its tone, ‘Formation’ almost combines ‘Partition’ and ‘***Flawless’ from 2013’s Beyoncé, employing her ability to combine flawless, provocative vocals with catchy production and songwriting from a vast cast. (In this case, credits include Mike WiLL Made-It and Swae Lee of his ‘Black Beatles’ proteges Rae Sremmurd.)
Though ‘Formation’ ultimately closes the album as somewhat of an addendum to the central relationship/betrayal/redemption theme, Lemonade‘s greatest strengths are simple: its variety, originality, and ability to orchestrate a consistent and pertinent narrative. With credited collaborations from The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, and James Blake, Lemonade represents the most diverse collection of inspirations, creators, and genres seen from a major artist this year. (Behind-the-scenes work can be seen from Diplo, Soulja Boy, MNEK, Father John Misty, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, and more on ‘Hold Up,’ its best-performing UK single, alone.) The sexuality of ‘Formation’ and ‘6 Inch’ is combined with an emerging country vibe in ‘Daddy Lessons’ and a stripped, more vulnerable vocal in ‘Sandcastles,’ and all falls into a strong, cohesive set when completed with the vintage pop beat of ‘Freedom.’
Having been launched and distributed with an hour-long cinematic visualisation on HBO, it has always been clear that Lemonade is more than merely a collection of a dozen songs. Beyoncé realises her story not only through powerful declarations authority but also a series of narrative commentaries. At the close of ‘Freedom,’ for example, we hear from Hattie White, Jay Z’s grandmother: “I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.” About dealing with the good and bad of life, Lemonade has thus cemented its place as one of 2016’s album highlights, experimenting cleverly with a variety of styles whilst progressing with its messages and asking who exactly Becky with the good hair is.
Lemonade was released on April 23rd via Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records