According in the rural South where it is known
According to Forbes magazine, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is the highest paid women is music in 2017 thanks to her very well received solo album Lemonade which was released in 2016 and ensued her Formation world tour. Beyoncé and her husband are notoriously discreet about their private life but in this 65 minute film, we get to see some of Beyoncé most deepest and personal thoughts while she touches subjects such as grief, love, femininity, sisterhood and race. This film is mostly about her reaction regarding her husband’s infidelity with sequences of the other subjects engrained throughout, she divides her film into 11 parts alike the Kübler-Ross model of the 5 stages of grief: “Intuition”, “Denial”, “Anger”, “Apathy”, “Emptiness”, “Accountability”, “Reformation”, “Forgiveness”, “Resurrection”, “Hope”, and “Redemption”. In this essay we shall analyze the poetry and imagery that Beyoncé has chosen to accompany her music through symbols and her lyrics.
Before she enters these 11 chapters, Beyoncé frames the album with a shot of the pre-civil war Fort Macomb which is located just east of New Orleans, in which she has found most of her inspirations for this album although she was born and raised in Houston, Texas. The shot of this war fort is done so to set the film in the rural South where it is known to be the hub of African-American culture, in addition to that I think it is to symbolize the upcoming battles she is to face. The next shot shows Beyoncé on stage, the place that we are most familiar with seeing her. In this sequence she is shown to be vulnerable and broken, kneeling just in front of the curtains at the edge of the stage. Just like any diva readying herself for a confessional or like a tragic theatrical character. In this scene she opens with her song “Pray You Catch Me”, where she tells about her suspicion of her husbands infidelity and she prays that he will notice her suspicions and hurt.
She then opens her first chapter “Intuition” with a voice over monologue with influences from Somali-British poet Warsaw Shire “I tried to make a home outta you. But doors lead to trapdoors. A stairways leads to nothing. Unknown women wander the hallways at night. … In tradition of men in my blood you come home at 3AM and lie to me” referencing Jay-Z as her home and also her father who was infidel to her mother. She then jumps off a rooftop to land in a body of water. This acts as a breakthrough to her second chapter “Denial”. The singer then recites an altered passage from Shire’s poem “For women who are ‘difficult’ to love” : “I tried to change, closed my mouth more. Tried to be soft, prettier. Less… awake”. She figured that something was wrong but instead of being forthcoming with her husband she internally looked for things wrong within her. She strips off the sweatshirt she was wearing revealing a nude garment underneath while transitioning to a bedroom still submerged in water symbolizing her move towards cleansing her mind, body, and soul of the toxicity of the suspicions, doing the hard work instead of letting herself drown in the water. She speaks, “Fasting for 60 day. Wore white. Abstained from mirrors. Abstained from sex. … I threw myself in a volcano. … I bathed in bleach. … But still inside me coiled deep was the need to know… Are you cheating on me?”. She shows the process of her spiritual and metaphorical physical cleansing drawing from multiple faiths and though she knows that she is in the clear, the suspicion persist.
Cutting to a shot of the singer coming out of the Metropolitan Museum doors with water gushing out with her. This was where the “Elevator Incident” took place where Beyoncé’s sister Solange Knowles was captured on an elevator surveillance camera hitting Jay-Z in front of a non-intervening Beyoncé. The flood pouring out is a parallelism to the incident, symbolizing the breakthrough when Beyoncé possibly found out for certain of her husband’s infidelity and also the rebirth of a new woman full of clarity. She is dressed in a yellow dress that could be a nod to Oshun, a Nigerian deity of water, love, fertility, sexuality, and life who is usually depicted in yellow besides bodies of water. This scene introduces her next song “Hold Up” which has fairly violent lyrics disguised as an upbeat reggae song, “I don’t want to lose my pride but imma fuck me up a bitch. … What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you.”. Throughout the song she is prancing her way down town smashing windows with her baseball bat with emotions ranging from ecstasy to rage. Again a similarity with Oshun who is described in folklore to have a sinister smile and temper to those who have done her wrong. Her lyrics continue “What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy, jealous or crazy? … I’d rather be crazy” hence her ecstatic smile and crazy in her eyes directed towards the camera.
This ensues her next chapter “Anger” where it seems that she is talking directly to her husband about becoming the ‘perfect girl’ for him by “wearing her skin over mine, her hair over mine.”. She is now situated in an underground parking lot with other women by her side, she has her hair up is cornrows, she is wearing fur, and heavy jewelry. There is an alternate scene where she is seen under a crimson light surrounded by fire wearing a gown resembling her wedding dress, wearing armored style necklace, and having her hair styled wildly. This also plays with the stereotype of the “Angry black woman”, Beyoncé is now screaming out her next song “Don’t Hurt Yourself” which is a full on blend of rock and R&B. The lyric goes : “Who the fuck do you think I is? You ain’t married to no average bitch boy … And keep your money, I got my own” reminding Jay-Z that he is not the only person to have a certain type of power in the relationship, on her own she is an empress of her own musical empire. The censoring of the curse words gradually becomes sloppier to actually not censoring at all to show how little Beyoncé cares about how angry she looks. The singer then inserts images of common black women accompanied by excerpts from a 1962 speech by Malcolm X: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. … The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” bringing this matter from a personal one to a national one for she is just one of the many black women being disrespected and neglected. She then reminds Jay-Z in a manner that is very expected of the “Angry Black Woman”: “When you hurt me, you hurt yourself…. When you diss me, you diss yourself…. If you try this shit again, you gon lose your wife” as she throws her wedding band to the camera and with this she shows the power of a scorned woman.
Throughout her “Anger” chapter we can also see images of black women dressed in white, having their sleeves tied to each other showing their support of one another. This imagery of an all black women coven is frequently occurring throughout the whole visual album especially after this chapter, it is used to amplify the notion of sisterhood where magic and healing is created through suffering. In “Apathy”, Beyoncé announces the death of her characters as Jay-Z’s wife in a voiceover: “So what are you gonna say at my funeral now that you’ve killed me?… Her heaven would be a love without betrayal.” She also references an altered version of a biblical passage for burial ceremonies while taking a jab to her husband’s infidelity, “Ashes to ashes, dust to side chicks” making an allusion that the women he had used for his extramarital affairs will forever taint his legacy since ashes and dust are all what is left of humans when we pass on from this world. She then cues her song “Sorry” while being in a vehicle that seems like a sort of party bus with a group of black women in tribal paint swaying and dancing together. This song is about Beyoncé getting over Jay-Z sing that she “ain’t thinking about him”, that she will be out with her girls and not pick up his phone calls.
The singer features a lot of black women is her film, famous and not famous. During “Sorry” she features Serena Williams who is a renowned black female tennis player dancing around Beyoncé while she sits in a throne singing “Middle fingers up, tell’em boy bye…. I ain’t sorry”. With this passage she is referencing that her and Serena are both influential and successful black women in their respective fields that don’t need men because they have solidarity between them and any other black women throughout the film. With this video Beyoncé really stresses the need for black women to feel empowered within one another, she has called upon numerous black actresses, singers, protégés, and her family members to be in her video showing that nothing is stronger than the solidarity between them. The next chapter is “Emptiness”, this is the part where the truth has already settled in and she is not in the mood to go out with her friends but reflect on the situation by herself. The images in this chapter includes Beyoncé on her bed alone seeming deep in thoughts, there is also a shot of a hallway tinged with red representing the walls of a female reproductive organ as she recites Shire’s poem about pleasurable sex although tinged with the sadness of his actions: “Grief sedated by orgasm, orgasm heightened by grief”. Although she is back to sadness, she is still a working woman, she announces this with her next song “6 Inch”: “6 inch heels, she walk in the club like it’s nobody’s business. … She works for the money. … She don’t gotta give it up ’cause she professional.” And she ends this sequence with a shot of her standing in the red hallway which is now burning, representing the lack of intimacy due to being separated from her husband, and she has flashing lights on her, representative of the media/public she has to face without showing that she is unwell because she is professional.