I watched Beyonce’s “Lemonade” late Saturday. After spending a day with one of my favorite Black Gurl buddies: Cybel Martin (@CybelDP). Over an amazing Cuban dinner she and I spoke about the music of Rihanna and Beyonce. I feel that their music is full of an energy and strength that is empowering. They aren’t singing about despair, hurt and pain. Although, at times, they are too preoccupied with limited themes, they have a fierceness, a playfulness and artistic courage. Cybel was surprised to learn that I have Rihanna, aplenty, in my music stash and that I love “Formation” (mainly the visuals).
Cut to: #Lemonade. First, I do believe that some of the music in #Lemonade is new, pushing boundaries, forward movement with respect to Black Gurl music. I love the country song. I love that Beyonce pushes herself, artistically. The connections made between her lover, her Father, her Mother are extremely valuable. As I said to Cybel, I can tell that Beyonce looks at Art and it is expanding her vision of herself beyond the limitations of the music industry. I look forward to her evolution.
However, the visuals in this piece, as someone who ingests Art, constantly, didn’t capture me. I am in a constant search for new images, new ways of seeing.. Especially, new ways of seeing Black people. I was not excited by the visuals. I have seen “Daughters of the Dust.” Some of the visuals, were, clearly, an homage to “Daughters.” And thanks to a fellow NYU Film Graduate, I was made aware that Beyonce, in the yellow dress with the bat, was a direct homage to Pipilotti Rist’s “Ever Is Over All”.” Yes, I am using the word “homage”, flippantly. Since I don’t know any details, any agreements, licensing, conversations that may have transpired, I will assume the best about the use and repurposing of this imagery.
I was able to sift through and sidestep the visual content, for the most part, as it felt repetitive and self-indulgent. I believe the greater value of #Lemonade was in the vulnerability and truth that Beyonce brought forward. Look, I don’t know if Jay-Z cheated, who he cheated with or what their personal life is. I do, however, appreciate Beyonce taking the risk to connect with other Black women who have experienced deep hurt after taking the step to love.
Whereas I do believe Black women may be surpassed by Native American women, with respect to this atrocious truth, seeing Beyonce speak it and claim it within the context of her own pain, solidified the bridge she has built between herself and her fans: “The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.”- Malcolm X. At the same time that Beyonce presents this idea, the value is in how she undercuts it.
Certainly, in my life, I don’t live that idea. My besties, the women in my family, the women I see in Brooklyn and in my travels abroad, toss beauty about like raindrops. So, for every way in which Black women are betrayed, defiled, still like dust we rise with a most unique and uncontested beauty. That is one of the values of #Lemonade, showing us that what we experience in the larger culture has very little to do with how Black women actually are. If you live in a universe, as I, fortunately, do, of Black love, Beyonce’s vision makes sense.
The trick that creatives have before us is bringing that idea front and center. Black love has been marginalized, appearing, periodically, between cascading imagery that showcases a divide between Black women and Black men.
The decades long era of “BigPimpin’” has contributed to this divide. #Lemonade not only provided a critique of that idea with Malcolm X’s words, it took the very symbol of that idea, Jay-Z, and delineated the damage that that idea has caused. Unlike many, I have never co-signed the vile antics of misogyny in rap. As a matter of fact, I have observed how it has eviscerated relationships between Black women and men. Men, educated and not, embraced the idea of “pimpin” Black women as if it is integral to their manhood. (If you want to see a Pimp, in his own words, speak of the damage he did to himself and women, watch “Dreamcatcher” by Kim Longinotto.
One time, I asked a Jazz musician, “Why do (some) Black men embrace and seem to be proud of the idea of the Pimp?”
He said, “Because the Pimp has control. He has power and control over his life. Something we don’t have in the culture.”
I said, “You play Jazz. The most genius form of music this world has ever known. That was created by Black men. You need to look to pimps for role modeling?!”
The era(s) of devaluing Black women in imagery has to be cleansed. For me, Beyonce’s #Lemonade is a significant marker in that journey. I have waited to see imagery where Jay-Z is pleasuring Beyonce in a way that women desire and experience pleasure. I can’t speak for all women but receiving understanding, connection, engaging, playing with the babies, being vulnerable (and yes, on their knees is in that landscape, too) is pleasurable. Seeing Jay-Z, “Big Pimpin’” at Beyonce’s feet, showing us a different kind of masculinity, was, for me, gold. And I hope it signals the end of a very destructive time. Destructive to the emotional and physical well-being of both Black women and men.
Beyonce, a mainstream pop Artist, connected her vulnerability to the lives of everyday Black women (which were my favorite visuals). She didn’t perform the thing that the era of ‘Big Pimpin’ brought forward in (some) Black women. The desire to be the partner, the pleasure maven or the underling to the “pimp”. As we know, I wasn’t here for the visuals in the Beyonce album. Mainly because Beyonce can dance on a stripper pole or shake her ass in public spaces and she will be protected by bodyguards. She will be safe no matter what she does.
But, the rest of us walk through the streets of America (the world, actually), vulnerable to violence, unprotected and, often, subjected to the whims of male violence. Beyonce stepped into this space with us and held our hand. She let us know that she, too, is vulnerable, is not safe from hurt, or rejection or trying to shape shift and downplay her power to accommodate spaces where men are broken. She was here for Black women and, for me, that is everything.
In the span of #Lemonade, Beyonce went from deep hurt to healing. Certainly, it is a production; we don’t truly know the intricacies of her journey, but she gave just enough to extend a hand to her Sistren. I am here for that. And I don’t know who #beckywiththegoodhairis nor do I care. That conversation diminishes the importance of this cultural moment. Beyonce will be okay. As she said, she and her daughter will be fine. If Black Artist women and men continue in this tradition, showing the intimate spaces where we lose our connection to one another and find the way to love and survival, in spite of that, where #blacklivesmatter to us in and out of our bedrooms, we will have done the thing that we seem to have lost over the last two (or more) decades. We will integrate with one another.
Beyonce, very easily, could have been the “Big Pimp” in #Lemonade. Instead, she chose to be a fully integrated human being, who is vulnerable, experiences pain, falters, gets back up, and brings legions of women with her. That is some powerful shit!