Eight months and hundreds of analytic think pieces later, we still have not gotten Beyoncé’s concept album Lemonade off of our chest. Well, I definitely still haven’t. Beyoncé’s Lemonade shook something in me and our culture loose and there have not yet been enough words to fully explain exactly what. Without ever speaking a word—no press, no interviews, no statements, just music—Beyoncé took lemons, made Lemonade, and stole 2016 right out from under us.
From the moment the single “Formation” dropped, without warning, the day before Beyoncé’s Superbowl halftime performance, Lemonade became the album heard round the world. Is it hyperbolic of me to say that who you are before and after you listened to Lemonade for the first time are two distinct and separate versions of the self? Probably, but I’m going to say it anyway.
To be clear, this is not just idolatry from some blinded member of the beyhive (the 9 Grammy nominations and possible Emmy and Golden Globe considerations for the HBO TV special should be proof of that). It’s true that I’ve always loved Beyoncé but it’s always been in the semi-innate way that every young black woman loves Beyoncé, having grown up on Destiny’s Child and her early albums. It is the casual kind of love that comes from a lifetime of exposure combined with admiration of the fact that one of the most powerful and successful, women in the world can be someone who looks like you. But besides bopping to her classics and knowing all the lyrics to her mainstream radio jams, my adult music tastes have strayed a little farther from the Beyoncé camp. That is until Lemonade came out and hit me somewhere in the base of my spine, shifting the earth beneath my feet.
What Lemonade did for me is give a voice to black womanhood in the one year of my life I’ve felt most invisible. From incidents of police brutality, to the never-ending stream of celebrities and their cultural appropriation, to the events of the unspeakable November election, 2016 has been dominated by moments that seem to negate and reject my every right to exist as a black woman. Throughout all of this, Lemonade has arisen as the backbone it sometimes feels like I don’t have. And yes, while on the surface Lemonade is about Beyoncé’s relationship with her husband, Beyoncé makes her pain not just hers but ours, makes herself not a black woman but the black woman. Through its allegorical imagery, poetry, and of course, its music, Lemonade invents a heart shaking spiritual dedicated to black women in America that is never lost on my ears. Simultaneously unapologetically personal and fiercely political, Lemonade is an hour-long escape into a world where the black woman gets the credit she deserves.
A sermon at the altar of black womanhood, Lemonade sanctifies the mixture of love, beauty and strength that function at the core of the black woman’s existence. It legitimizes the anger and the pain that comes with always being the women left behind, expected to carry the struggle on our backs without complaint. It celebrates the mundane magic that drips from our fingertips, celebrates our ability to persist in the face of a world that is consistently unfaithful. Lemonade delivered a formula for salvation, taught me strength through a baptism in my own name, in facing myself—the black woman—unhinged and unashamed. Lemonade let Beyoncé reclaim her blackness and me mine, painting our everyday lives in shades of tradition and ritual—inherently black, intrinsically feminine. With Lemonade as gospel, Beyoncé became the patron saint of 2016 for black girls and black women everywhere engaged in the revolt of loving themselves.