Just a few days after Prince left us, Beyoncé dropped her masterpiece upon the world. With Lemonade, she not only made a new high bar for herself musically, but artistically as well. When it was revealed on April, 23rd 2016, for many this was not just the release as a new album, but “as a near-religious experience.” Yet, now a year later when the dust has settled, Lemonade received minimal critical acclaim for its achievements as music or a film. It lost the Emmy to a live musical. It lost the Grammy to a safe choice. Just what is the significance of Lemonade? Was it truly a landmark achievement?
First, let’s start with a little background. There is truly no better way to describe how Lemonade was released than to say it was unleashed. On the evening of the 23rd, Beyoncé revealed what she calls “a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing.” No one knew what Beyoncé has in store. Was it an album? Was it a music video? No one could of imagined the sheer scope of Lemonade. Working in collaboration with HBO, the project might simply be defined as a music video by some, but it is a lot more than that.
Lemonade’s larger strokes describes the difficulties of marriage, with the trails and tribulations of the Beyoncé/Jay Z romance aired out to the world. Throughout the length of the album she goes through many different emotions regarding her relationship from denial, to acceptance, and then perhaps finally achieving forgiveness. Beyoncé, above even many of her peers, is a very public persona. Those of us who thought we knew the things she kept hidden, perhaps never really understood her feelings underneath.
The album itself has been described as a movie, but what about what Beyoncé showed us with her visual album. She was certainly influenced by Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust, which in essence, is the story of African-America survivors, those descendants of former slave trying to make a life for themselves. Beyoncé made an album that speaks on many levels and according to Thrillist, “[Lemonade’s] celebration and intimate conversation surrounding black womanhood gives it an emotional and artistic heft that Beyoncé has never demonstrated before.” Perhaps its greatest strength was giving hope when there might not be any. Especially since when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
I WANTED TO SET HER ASIDE AND BELIEVE AT LEAST ONE BLACK WOMAN WAS NOT HANDED LEMONS, BUT LEMONADE, ALREADY CHILLED AND SWEETENED. — Melissa Harris Perry
As a visual album, Lemonade was nominated for four Emmy awards including Outstanding Variety Special, Outstanding Production Design for a Variety, Nonfiction Event or Award Special, Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Programming, and Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special. Lemonade ended up walking away with nothing. Among the fine programs it lost to were things like Grease Live! and James Corden’s The Late Late Show Carpool Karaoke Prime Time Special. We ran an article shortly after the launch of Lemonade showcasing some of the talent that worked with Beyoncé to achieve her vision. Directors such as Khalil Joseph, Melina Matsoukas, Dikayl Rimmasch were a few of talents behind the camera. They all worked together to create something that wasn’t so easily categorized.
Many were quick to note that while Lemonade lost the Emmys it was eligible for, when it came time to recognize the music, it wouldn’t be forgotten. Well, it was mostly tossed aside. Even though it was nominated for multiple awards including album of the year, the most notable achievement it picked up was Best Urban Contemporary Album, which singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens famously described as such:
Q: WTF is “Urban Contemporary”?
A: It’s where the white man puts the incomparable pregnant black woman because he is so threatened by her talent, power, persuasion and potential.
Everyone acknowledge something had gone horribly wrong, including Adele who publicly announced her own astonishment that Lemonade did not win the album of the year achievement. There are many reasons, mostly music politics, that Lemonade didn’t win including sales numbers and black artists continually struggling to garner the acclaim that their achievements deserve.
So, where are we now? As her album would suggest, Beyoncé forgave Jay Z for his infidelity and is now expecting twins. While the album failed to win many achievements in either the Emmys or Grammys, it won plenty of awards and acclaim from journalists and music aficionados alike. Sometimes true works of art are hard to place into categories. Lemonade might have struggled with traditional awards because of how revolutionary it is.
Artists are still trying to catch up to just what Beyoncé accomplished with Lemonade. Every week you see an someone trying to replicate the stealth release of a new album. Music Videos have never reached the heights of Lemonade, with its feature length quality. Musicians will be continue chasing after Beyoncé hoping to match her artistic flair, but perhaps only she will be able to take this art form to a new level.
Lemonade might be more of an anthem now than it was when it was released. Before we had a democratic president that cared about women and minorities, now we have a republican president who is restricting women’s rights on a regular basis. Every morning we seem to be waking up to even more bad news. We are continuously given lemons that need to be squeezed into lemonade. As a work of art, Lemonade provides something extremely valuable. It provides a message will resonate far longer than any awards would have. Hope that even in the darkest of times, we have the ability to grow stronger.