Lemonade continues Beyoncé Knowles‘ longstanding engagement with black Southern regionalism. The video album writes black women back into national, regional and diasporic histories by making them the progenitors and rightful inheritors of the Southern gothic tradition. Beyond “strong” and “magic,” Lemonade asserts that black women are alchemists and metaphysicians who are at once of the past, present and future, changing and healing the physical, chemical and spiritual world around them. Rihanna uses her “glitter to make [your shit] gold,” Erykah Badu compels men to “change jobs and change gods” and Janelle Monáe’s Cindi Mayweather is secretly leading the Android Revolution. But Beyoncé accounts for the method behind black women’s alchemy. Traversing genre and space, she fundamentally transforms the Southern platitude about what one should do when life hands her lemons.
Part of black women’s magic, born of necessity, has been the ability to dissemble: to perform an outward forthrightness while protecting our inner, private lives and obscuring our full selves. We have drawn on this culture of dissemblance, as Northwestern University historian Darlene Clark Hine has called it, to deflect physical and discursive violence, cultivating rich inner lives that play out behind the enduring walls of Jim Crow. Beyoncé rejects any magic predicated on constraint with Lemonade, a meditation on the process of becoming a black woman in a society in which black women matter the least, are “the mule of the world” and are the most disrespected, neglected, and unprotected. Through the metaphor of lemonade — the South’s other cold drink, sweet tea’s antithesis and sometimes nemesis, but perhaps its best collaborator — Beyoncé insists on alternative forms of inner magic that demand emotional disclosure for healing, wholeness and a freer kind of freedom.
Lemonade is an extended introduction to “Formation,” the song, visual and live performance that transformed our collective 2016 Super Bowl weekends. As the culmination of a different kind of Great Migration story, “Formation” foreshadowed the movements between space (rural and urban) and time that Lemonade takes up. But “Formation” tells us little of the physical, emotional and social labor — the trans-formation, as it were — it took to get in-formation. We learn from Lemonade that “Formation,” the last track on the audio album, is the result of a dissembling and silenced black womanhood, broken, baptized, forged in fire and resurrected through the strength of intergenerational mother wit to sing and signify resilience and resistance.
Black women’s expression of emotion can be discursively and physically dangerous for us, and sometimes telling our truth leads to violence or death. But on screen and in our minds, Lemonade provides a risk-free emotional space that sonically and visually highlights what we all miss when we dismiss and neglect black women’s emotional lives. In a musical landscape replete with black men’s emoting — Kanye West’s misogynist breakup screed, Drake’s perpetual hurt from the good girls who get dressed and go out too much, Kendrick Lamar’s struggles against a depression-inducing capitalism — Lemonade takes up a bittersweet space to explore how it feels, and how it has felt for so long, for black women to be so black and blue.