Here’s the thing about my relationship with Beyoncé: I desperately want to love her but the chemistry just isn’t there. While I do recognize and appreciate the mind-blowing international superstardom that is Beyoncé, we haven’t clicked in the past because I’m expecting something different. I’m well-versed on her music but on the surface I’ve been looking to her to be a new Whitney Houston complete with unmatched vocals and charismatic stage performances dripping with heart-stopping emotion. But I’ve come to realize how Beyoncé brings something to the table that Whitney never could and never did—and that’s art.
Yes, I’ve finally drunk the lemonade and it’s sweet and it’s sour and extremely unexpected… in all the right creative places.
Lemonade is a progression literally from intuition, anger, denial, acceptance and forgiveness. I think enough has been said about Jay-Z’s alleged cheating ways to leave them out here. What’s important here is the phrase, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? Whether this album is all a plot by fierce business professionals (as some have said), or not, it sure makes for an amazing album of self-reflection and actionable change.
Watching the hour-long video accompaniment and listening to the songs consecutively, I can’t help but think how Quentin Tarantino could pick up the album in its entirety and layer it atop his next movie. I would argue you could do this now by replacing the entire soundtrack of Django Unchained with Lemonade. It has that completely modern yet vintage sound that incorporates hip-hop (obviously) but also country, pop, blues, rock and soul.
The listener is transported straight to low-country Louisiana on “Daddy Issues”—complete with acoustic guitar, drumstick clicks, harmonica and a lazy yet funky baritone sax. You have to try hard not to place yourself in a pop-up bayou jam session, and equally as hard not to be infected with its knee-tapping chorus.
Another unexpected hit is “6 Inch,” featuring The Weeknd—a perfect contribution from him since he’s accustomed to singing about ladies of the evening. Just when you think the girl has completely lost her way dancing for the dollar, Beyoncé changes the tune to pinpoint the strong, selfless woman who has no concern for anyone or anything except finding her own way.
The top pick of the album goes to “All Night.” I’ve listened to it 20 times in as many hours. Toward the end of the album, when forgiveness has finally slipped into Beyoncé’s psyche, this song represents an emotional, soaring and redeeming climax. It’s a mid-tempo pop-music juggernaut that serves as a perfect ending—a song about getting back to what’s important in the face of so many distractions. You’ve never heard the three words “all night long” sung in such an uplifting manner. It’ll change you. Envision flying above a sprawling city with the ability to see everything and everyone but not having lost sight of what it means to be holistically healed.
Regardless of your views of Beyoncé or infidelity or forgiveness, this album stands to be one of the best of the year because of what it puts forth. It represents actual creative art in music that is important, immediately accessible and fiercely well-packaged—the holy grail that is often lost.
I had the opportunity to attend the Philadelphia stop on her Formation World Tour last night. I balked at getting tickets when the tour was announced for reasons explained above—not wanting to blow my annual concert budget on an artist I didn’t love. But the threat of impending tropical storm winds and golf ball-sized hail made for some pretty affordable seats on StubHub the day before. So I grabbed two tickets and my friend, Anne Marie, and off we went—plastic ponchos ready in-hand.
Turns out, the sky cleared 30 minutes before showtime, and all-told it was a visual and aural spectacle in every way imaginable—even in our nosebleed seats. A giant three-dimensional rectangle (perhaps 10 stories tall?) was the focal centerpiece—acting as the largest high-definition screen I’ve ever seen, a fireworks launchpad and trapeze structure. It slowly spun and split throughout the show. It was unimaginably epic. And the sound system was so completely high-tech. You know when you go to see a movie and before the movie starts there is sometimes an opening for THX Surround Sound? Well, they played a custom version of that opening that shook the entire arena—a huge feat given the open-air environment. If for some reason the cool breeze and people-watching was lulling you to sleep, you were instantly awakened by an audible earthquake.
If I’m honest, Beyoncé did an amazing job with the show but she seemed a little tired and robotic at times. With 30+ songs (some shorter than others) on the setlist, wouldn’t you be? Through it all, however, she connected with the audience in all the ways you’d expect and pulled off an arena show up there with the best.
Concert opening video from YouTube user in Miami: