“To the left, to the left, everything you own in a box to the left”.
Beyoncé sang these lyrics in her 2006 hit Irreplaceable, which is about kicking out a cheating spouse. The song was never considered as a mirror to her life; it was just a sweet RnB-pop song that credited Beyoncé as the seventh writer. Two years later Single Ladies happened and everything changed. She established herself as an industry powerhouse; creator and controller of her perfectly curated image. With the 2013 surprise release of BEYONCE, she evolved again, this time into the bad ass feminist pop-culture needed. When she released the game-changer, Formation in February this year, she positioned herself on the powerful platform of race and gender. For the first time she explicitly branded herself as a black female artist. GAME. CHANGER.
And since the Super Bowl we’ve all impatiently waited for what we assumed would be a spectacular, game-changing new album.
Last weekend, the visual album Lemonade was released, and I couldn’t be more disappointed and confused. Despite the powerful and beautiful images and lyrical themes of Beyoncé owning her identity as a black woman, the overarching theme is a glamourous reflection of her forgiving her cheating husband (while not confirmed, there are plenty of not-so-subtle lyrical references.)
However, let me be clear: there is no denying the profound impact this album has already had and will continue to have, particularly for black women for whom it was created. I’m not diminishing that in any way, as it wasn’t created not for me. It’s not my place to comment on the black woman’s experience – it’s only my place to support, learn and understand. Therefore, rightly, it leaves me only with the cheating theme to connect with and critique.
My dear friend Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen recently wrote about having problematic favourites; her issue being with Beyoncé playing a Bollywood actress in Coldplay’s Bollywood-themed video, and still being ok with loving Beyoncé just as much as she always had. (Another fab friend, Ashley Anderson, has also written about the problem with idolising celebrity.)
Like Giselle, and so many other women, I lost my shit when Beyoncé stood in front of a huge FEMINIST banner at the 2014 MTV VMAs; I coordinated a military-style exercise to get tickets to her 2013 concert; and I’ve unashamedly ran to the dance floor to do my best Crazy in Love strut. I’ve always loved Queen Bey’s music and watched on in awe at the Boss Lady she has become. And like Giselle, I have now found out that the higher we place someone on a pedestal, or the greater level of perfection we expect from them, the more disappointed we are when they mess up.
And boy, Beyoncé has messed up. Twice.
I was expecting Beyoncé’s new album to be a sequel to her spectacular release of Formation: a deeper examination of the historical and current experience of the black woman, and her interpretation of gender and racial inequality. While those themes are incredibly showcased, for me, Beyoncé distracts from the social and political issues that matter by having a whinge about her cheating husband.
Firstly, I know it’s not Beyoncé’s job to educate me on matters of gender and racial inequality, but through what is really a stunning visual album, I’m getting something very different, and unexpected: an education on how to forgive someone you love for the ultimate betrayal. Maybe Beyoncé doesn’t want to rebrand herself as a solely political artist, but does she really want to be the poster girl for the clichéd dutiful wife to a cheating husband? Is this really what she wanted to use her post-Formation platform for? To encourage her mostly female fans to attack other women (when it takes two to tango)? To have the Internet try to figure out who Becky with The Good Hair is? While there are wonderful reflections of what Lemonade means to black women, I feel like Beyoncé has wasted a creative and political opportunity for everyone to focus solely on the issues that she so explicitly and amazingly aligned herself with pre-Lemonade release.
Secondly, I’m having a hard time processing why Beyoncé, such powerful woman, a self-proclaimed feminist would promote what is, in my eyes, such an anti-feminist act of standing by her cheating husband – especially in amongst content that actually matters. I’m struggling to support her creative choice to…heal (in public)? Air dirty laundry? Contradict her Bow Down mantra? I’m also struggling to think of any reason good enough or complicated enough that would ever warrant someone forgiving their partner who betrayed their love and trust.
As a non-perfect feminist and expert single person, I’m hardly the most qualified to comment on relationships and others’ choices about how to deal with the challenges within them. But I can only respond to what Beyoncé has presented, without explanation: her husband cheated on her, betrayed her, and she’s stayed with him. Regardless of feminism or relationship status, what she has presented is so outside of my moral compass. I’m disappointed that I haven’t been able to connect to and focus on the beautiful music and messages of an artist I’ve admired since she was hanging out with Kelly and Michelle.
I freely admit that I’m projecting my non-negotiable moral compass, as well as my selfish request to be educated on such important issues. Maybe the cheating narrative isn’t for me to understand, but I can only respond to what I know and believe for myself – and if that doesn’t align with what I expected and hoped for from Queen Bey, well that’s on me to either accept or not. At this point, I can only hope that I can press pause on my (bizarrely dramatic) moral response and, press play with a clear mind to appreciate the music and, the messages that matter.
Assuming this isn’t a bullshit, yet brilliant marketing charade, I’m holding out hope that Lemonade is a pre-curser to a divorce announcement and Beyoncé takes Jay Z for all he’s worth. It’s been 13 years since Crazy in Love, she doesn’t need him anymore. I also hope that we can all move on from focusing on the cheating theme to the issues that matter.
I still love and support Beyoncé, but her crown is now tarnished. Jay Z can remain in the bin forever.