An exercise in contrast and duality, Beyoncé’s Lemonade carries an existential weight uncommon for a music video, manifesting humanity in toto through the dissection of a broken marriage and its spiritual fallout. Portraying conflict by wavering between melancholy and antipathy, Ms. Knowles wrestles with her conjugal bondage through penetrative visual metaphor, utilizing infidelity as the MacGuffin on a sociological quest to unravel the gnarled roots of sexual and racial persecution. By experimenting with an unorthodox fusion of Christian clemency and vulvar eroticism, she spawns a daring artistic provocation, esteeming cultural unity beyond the boundaries of melanin and championing intellectual rebirth in the face of phallocentric morality.
Despite the bellicosity at its center, Lemonade’s prologue is notably stoic, somnolently drifting through empty tunnels and solitary bandstands, expressing desolation through intoned poetry and the sway of nodding wheat stalks. Echoes of Antebellum architecture are employed as a backdrop, lingering behind the action as constant reminder and object of oppression, swept away only by an act of symbolic renewal. Captured in an evocative transformation shot, Beyoncé’s limp figure plunges to the earth from a lofty roof, only to sink into water instead of splatter on stone, each of her delicate subaqueous actions reverberating with psychedelic trails.
The digital images that accompany her ponderous introduction are expressive and precise, maintaining cohesion despite an impatience with lens and technique. Natural environments are met with fluid and observant cinematography akin to Alexis Zabe’s work in Silent Light, taking inspiration from his majestic rising and setting suns and limitless patience. Utilizing steely, monochromatic color, the camera stares heavenward, detailing every ray of sunlight as it peeks from beneath a halo of flora, illuminating the Spanish moss as it sags from drooping branches.
Slow, roving steadicam and bleary neon signal a change in tone, picking up layers of reflection in metropolitan puddles and rear-view mirrors. Beyoncé, stepping out from her aquatic slumber, struts in a sun-kissed yellow frock, smashing vintage sedan windows as a radiant dynamite blast brings up the rear. Playing proxy for a cheating beau, the camera suffers the brunt of her aggression in first-person point-of-view, getting struck point-blank with a baseball bat and careening to the pavement with a protracted thud.
The cycling through style and perspective continue by way of extreme juxtaposition, as the reggae-inflected buoyancy of “Hold Up” slips into the soft tinkle of Swan Lake, each pluck of a music box acting as sonic substitute for an on-screen monster truck, decimating a line of street-side automobiles. This destruction signals a catharsis and subsequent variation, moving to spartan parking structures and a voyeuristic shooting style, employing blinding spotlight to channel the masculine gaze as it ogles the “second sex.”
Beyoncé uses this discomfort as a forum for antagonism on “Sorry,” playfully flashing a middle finger and appropriating male vulgarity into righteous rallying cry and significant artistic statement. Marrying modern, bass-heavy electronics and haute couture, Bey molds each of her personas and genres into timeless artifacts, incorporating the empowered, Lilithian aura of Claudette Colbert and Grace Jones into an anthem for autonomy.
Yet, despite its wealth of visual and structural innovation, Lemonade still speaks in the language of its adversaries, muddying the fragility of its poetics through patriarchal obscenity. This boorish posturing renders otherwise exquisite emblems of menstruation and orgasm inert, revealing a dated dichotomy that compartmentalizes woman into two roles: Madonna and whore. By accepting these limits, Beyoncé cheapens fidelity into a battle between one “bomb pussy” and another, distracting from an array of complex parallels that draw psychological lines between her father’s love, her lover’s lies and the perpetuity of the domestic quarrel.
Lemonade (Good Company, 2016)
Directed by Kahlil Joseph and Beyoncé Knowles Carter
Music by Beyoncé
Poetry by Warsan Shire
Photographed by Khalik Allah, Par Ekberg, Santiago Gonzalez, Chayse Irvin, Reed Morano, Dikayl Rimmasch and Malik Hassan Sayeed