Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” is about the shock of cheating and the struggle to piece together a marriage.
But the heart of the album comes not from the release of reconciliation, but the sheer power of the early songs, in which Beyoncé is wronged, but not particularly broken. Any brokenness is far behind her, and she’s used it to fuel her now.
In this, she is like that other most powerful woman in the world, Hillary Clinton, whose marriage with the former president has been subject to similar, if not more, public scrutiny and speculation. As Beyoncé has transmuted that relationship into art, Clinton has campaigned — both going beyond their husbands.
“Lemonade” was released on Jay Z's streaming service Tidal (in which Beyoncé has a stake) over the weekend, and is now available on iTunes. Its release was paired with an hour-long "visual album" that visualized and fused the songs in a way that goes beyond the stale music video.
The “visual album” celebrates wronged but resilient women, in particular African American women. It features lines from Malcolm X — “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman” — and images of the mothers of contemporary police shooting victims holding pictures of their sons.
Ultimately, the album ends with a sense of uplift — after suggesting, but never exactly acknowledging, the infidelity of Beyoncé's husband Jay Z, the album ends with Jay Z in the role of tentative conciliator.
The topic of infidelity isn’t exactly new subject matter for music (or even for Beyoncé), and certainly it isn’t new in politics.
But there is something particularly potent about the current state of affairs here: Not that Jay Z and Bill Clinton are rehabilitated and able to move on, but that their equally powerful wives were part of that rehabilitation and themselves rebounded beyond it.
This is the joy of a song like “Hold Up,” an anthem of the cuckolded partner. In the video, Beyoncé breaks out of a sturdy municipal building to begin wreaking havoc on the street, a stand-in for the patriarchy. Handed a sturdy wooden baseball bat by a small child, she decries “being walked all over lately,” and — effortlessly, gracefully, smiling the whole while — breaks car windows down the block.
The emotion of the scene speaks to more than her marriage. A close-up of a young black man doing a wheelie on an ATV displays his shirt — "In memory of when I gave a [expletive]." He, like her, is successfully rebelling against society even in his choice of vehicle. On this street, everything that touches Beyoncé and her world are protected, and everything that does not, is not.
At one point, Beyoncé smiles briefly for a security camera, not unlike the weary resilience that other political wives eventually put on after their husbands’ travails. Then she smashes it to pieces.
Reconciliation or triumph?
This song might be the truest synthesis of the album’s views. The album follows Beyoncé from hurt to happy ending, embodied by the family coming back together again. But the overall message is not one of reconciliation — it has to include Beyoncé triumphing over Jay Z and in spite of him.
Of course, the husbands are triumphing too in the end. Jay Z with his streaming service, the former president with another shot at living in the White House.
But this is neither of their times and neither of their shows. Jay Z appears but does not speak in “Lemonade.” And Bill Clinton has proved out of practice and often a liability on the campaign trail, struggling to cope with some of the very energy that “Lemonade” embodies so well.
“I want to be as good a president as Beyoncé is a performer,” Hillary Clinton said in Iowa in December. As much of a winner, too.
This is amExpress, the conversation starter for New Yorkers.