I just finished watching Beyoncé's HBO special, Lemonade, for the third time, and I'm having trouble finding words to describe my feelings. At first I thought I was watching an album about infidelity. Then I realized Lemonade was about something larger than that. Yes, Beyoncé was telling a story about unfaithfulness within marriage, but she wove together many other stories that felt familiar and at home within me. How was it possible that, while watching her walk down the street with a bat or float in water, I felt as if she, Beyoncé, the Queen, was me? How did it feel as if my story was being told before my eyes? I think it's because, at its center, Lemonade is about love.
When her self titled visual album, Beyoncé, was released, it seemed as if she had really hit her stride. That she had exceeded all expectations. I, at least, was not expecting what she gave us. It was a celebration of love and being in love. That album seemed to have the themes of self-love and black love. Beyoncé was confident and reveling in her relationship with Jay and the love that she had for him. She was acting it out over and over.
Then Lemonade was released, which portrayed their relationship in a different light, and in many ways she dove in even deeper. It began with a Beyoncé standing alone in a field, then flowed into confessions, fury, reflecting on being a black woman, self love, and then redemption. It was 54 minutes of a story we could all understand and have lived.
I love hard like this Bey. I get it.— roxane gay (@rgay) April 24, 2016
I watched Twitter respond to the special, seeing everyone tweet out "WHAT DID JAY DO?! HOW COULD YOU?!" because we all assumed that the infidelity sung about was the same infidelity rumors that have been swirling about for years now. Maybe it was about her mother and father's marriage, or maybe it was about other people that we pass on the street everyday. Even in that, though, there was something spiritual that I felt was below the surface of what was taking place. Maybe I projected my own life story onto what I was watching, but I believe I saw Beyoncé digging into who she was when she felt as if she was losing a part of her that was important.
Love is important. But is it so important that we should lose ourselves in order to have it? Or can we love someone else while loving ourselves, loving who we are. I watched Beyoncé love herself while moving in and out of different narratives that ultimately ended up being the same. She was loving herself, and asking us to join her in that. She was offering her hand, and requesting that we step into the act of self love with her. That's what I felt and noticed right away.
If we don't love ourselves, who will?
We've watched many a woman sing about heartbreak and the revenge they would inflict. Yet, here we watched Beyoncé weave different stories together that felt as if they were hers but ours at the same time. From the start of Lemonade, I felt as if we were witnessing something spiritual. This was much deeper than a story or an experience. It was soulful. She poured her heart out without ever playing the victim. "I'm not sorry," she said while lounging in a chair while Serena Williams danced around her. Why should she be sorry for being upset for being wronged? It was more than that, though. When she said, "I'm not sorry," she was also saying, "There will be no apologies for loving myself and my blackness." During the song "Don't Hurt Yourself" we hear this Malcom X quote:
I was reminded that even though Beyoncé is Beyoncé, she is still a black woman living in America. At the end of "Sorry," she says "Call Becky with the good hair," which I instantly nodded to. I know it's a simple statement, but it spoke volumes to me as a black woman. No matter what, you always risk being seen as less than. Beyoncé has dominated music for the last 10 years, yet here she is, sharing this familiar story. Being Beyoncé didn't change the reality that white women are put on pedestals, that we are not invited to stand on. But she has built her own.
Even if this whole album was about a relationship, it was just as much about being a black woman moving in the world.
As Lemonade progresses we arrive at "Forgiveness" and then "Resurrection," but only after she's allowed herself to be angry, disappointed, and sad, which is a beautiful form of self love and care. This is where we get to see the journey take a turn, but then realize that it's been in this space of love the whole time. It was never not about love, heavily directed toward the self, specifically the love of black self. There were Williams, Quvenzhané Wallis, Zendaya, Amandala Stenberg, all black girls and women who have been torn apart in the media for what they look like, for what they stand for. There were the mothers of Travyon Martin and Michael Brown, holding the images of their slain sons. There were young black women standing together, as if they were all queens. Not even as if, because they are. This was a celebration of being a black woman, and including young black girls showed that they too are celebrated, and will inherit what we leave behind. To shot that being a black woman comes with strength, magic, and flaws.
I had chills when Beyoncé stood on a stage singing to the rows of black women and girls:
If we don't love ourselves, who will? We may get beat down often, we may be tired, we may watch each other suffer, but we can rise even from that. We may always be the ones that have to be strong. We may always be the ones overlooked. We may always be the ones who go above and beyond, then get told it's not enough. But we can rise even from that. We can stand in the power that is ours. The love that we have for ourselves, for each other: that is the love that holds a power and strength. That extends and overflows into our lives. That is how we heal and how we remain strong. Black women have always been powerful, and will continue to be so, despite the pain and suffering that takes up room. It will never take up so much room that love can't grow. Beyonce showed us that injustice had been done to her, to all of us, yet also showed us that love can be something that overpowers that.
"I was served lemons, but I made lemonade" is the powerful line spoken by Jay-Z's grandmother during the end of the Lemonade. And just like that, Lemonade ended with the reminder that true love never has to hide. And that beneath lies, there is truth. Crimes can be kissed. Broken wings can be traded. We make the choice to stay and walk in love. With ourselves and with others. Even if this whole album was about a relationship, it was just as much about being a black woman moving in the world. Moving confidently, sometimes a little broken, sometimes displaced, but still just as magical. This is our love letter to ourselves. Let us not for one moment forget the power we possess. We are forces to be reckoned with.