Label: Parkwood, Columbia
Released: April 23
Lemonade is the best album of the year because I would relive the horrors of 2016 just to wait and receive it again, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
To say Beyoncé found her blackness on this album would be to completely misrepresent an artist who, from day one, has molded her career out of black forms, genres, and aesthetics in homage to virtuosos like Aretha, Michael, Janet, Prince, and Luther. Lemonade is not an album of discovery but rather an exhibition of what can be achieved by an artist well aware of her destiny (and heritage). In an era where pop beloveds of the previous decade are scrambling for relevance, Beyoncé has moved on from defining a genre to inventing new ones.
At once studio album and film, Lemonade is a glorious fiction that pushes the bounds of autobiography and black femmehood. From the furiously devoted lover in “Hold Up,” to the femme fatale on “6 Inch,” to the mournful soul on “Forward,” and the freedom fighter on, well, “Freedom,” Beyoncé sets up visual tropes and then shatters them sonically. Not to be outdone, her visuals, too, have secrets. Like Easter eggs for the initiated, Lemonade the film rewards its watchers for knowledge. Not knowledge in any whitewashed philosophical sense, but a deep familiarity with the roots and pasts (and presents) of black diaspora.
Upon its release, engaging with Lemonade was to watch a cultural event unfold in real time. While white people were mostly concerned with investigating “Becky with the good hair,” black audiences gathered to unpack Beyoncé’s tributes to the goddess Oshun (“Hold Up”), Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust and a rich literary archive of black womanhood including Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, and Toni Morrision.
Aside from its included intertexts (to which I’ll add audio samples as wide ranging as Led Zeppelin and Isaac Hayes), Beyoncé once again assembled a range of collaborators who, like her, take their craft seriously. Music industry favorites such as producers Diplo and Mike Will Made-It and directors Jonas Åkerlund and Melina Matsoukas collide with the arresting poetics of Somali poet Warsan Shire. Whether featured artists like Kendrick Lamar, Jack White, and James Blake showed out for the Queen, or if Bey expertly employed their strengths, it’s hard to say. Regardless, Beyoncé shows once again that music isn’t a solo process. When you collaborate, you get gold (or platinum, as it were).
Lemonade is the best album of the year because it is a complete, artistically cohesive project that contains new avenues, new thoughts, new moods, and new modes of being together. All this while privileging black femmes, to boot? Standing ovation, she’s gotta have it. —Laur M. Jackson