By: Gabriela Yareliz
Part I: I Almost Loved You
Okay, so we are back for our last post in the Beyoncé series, looking at a mélange of songs by Beyoncé, starting with “Best Thing I Never Had.” A song that made it to #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart according to Wiki. There is something about the piano melody in this song that gets sooo stuck in your head.
So the song indicates that she left someone. He is the best thing she never had, not the other way around. It’s not “Best Thing You Never Had.” It’s a song that she wanted to be relatable to men and women; a song about relief (dodging a bullet). It’s a song where she states over and over again that “what comes around goes around.” The song reveals that she left him for good reason when she sings, “I saw the real you; Thank God you blew it.”
Have you ever looked back and seen people it almost worked out with or someone you almost opened a door to, and then been relieved? I know I have…
This seems to be a recurring theme in Beyoncé’s music– this woman who leaves a man who “blows it.“ What I find interesting is that her earlier music, whether “Irreplaceable,” “Best Thing I Never Had” (where she in the video is singing in a wedding dress) contrasts with the sentiments expressed in the Lemonade album. Until Lemonade, what we had seen in Beyoncé’s music was a woman who says “bye.” This was her brand of feminism. The following lyric in “Best Thing I Never Had” shows the brand of feminism she was singing about prior to Lemonade:
/Lord knows that it would take another place
Another time, another world, another life
Thank God I found the good in goodbye
I used to want you so bad
I’m so through with that/
But what happens when you love the man and you don’t leave after he has wronged you?
Part II: The Nuance in Lemons
When we meet Beyoncé in Lemonade, it’s like she is a different woman. (Sort of like Mindy from The Mindy Project in the last season). And listen, regarding her personal life, we don’t have too much information. (Or maybe I missed it because I don’t necessarily follow).
For years, there were rumors swirling around that Jay-Z cheated on her. This was later confirmed. Perception is weird when cheating is involved. Often times, the person who feels the most shame is the person who was wronged, when in all reality, they shouldn’t be ashamed of the fact that their partner sucks. They aren’t responsible for what their partner did. As Shallon Lester likes to say, if a relationship isn’t working out, the consequence is never that you cheat on that person, it’s that you leave and respect that person. Cheating is never ok. Ever.
While some cheat to leave, others cheat and stay. With Jay-Z, we have an example of the latter. Beyoncé put some songs out there that expressed her anger. We see this especially with the song “Sorry” (“Today, I regret the night I put that ring on”). She sings that “Big homie better grow up” and that “he better call Becky with the good hair.”
This whole perception game comes into play in songs like “Hold Up,” where Beyoncé sings about the denial and internal dialogue of someone who has been betrayed (she sings, “I saw the devil”). She talks about how she tried to change; how she tried to be the good wife. She reflects, making us feel that internal dialogue of shame as she tries to almost take responsibility for something that isn’t her fault. The video starts with her submerged in water for an unnatural amount of time. Then, she literally opens some doors, and walks out into fresh air– sanity, questionable.
/I smell your secrets, and I’m not too perfect
To ever feel this worthless
How did it come down to this?/
In the video, she gets a bat and smashes everything in her path. She sings, what’s worse, “being jealous or crazy?” In this album, we see a different Beyoncé. She isn’t leaving; her head is spinning. She is working through it; processing. Maybe this song was just another one showing anger and angst or maybe this video was a way of controlling the narrative and having people see her a certain way, as perhaps she felt that shame that many often feel that really shouldn’t belong to them. She did nothing wrong. By destroying everything in her path, she still looks strong, despite the fact that she isn’t leaving. Even in the insanity, she looks in control. While her words make her sound vulnerable, her actions do not. There is a direct contrast.
Several songs on the album are a brain dump and middle finger to the people who hurt us, but they leaves us confused as to what is next.
What does feminism look like when our hearts are left bleeding out? We continue to face this question when we look at Hillary Clinton, Beyoncé, the Kardashians and so many in the public eye. When you are betrayed, what is feminism? Is it staying? Is it going? Can you be cheated on and then have a “Redemption” chapter like in “All Night” in Lemonade? (This was my favorite song on the album).
Jay-Z revealed his infidelity in an interview where he said, “You know, most people walk away, and like divorce rate is like 50 percent or something ’cause most people can’t see themselves. The hardest thing is seeing pain on someone’s face that you caused, and then have to deal with yourself. […] So, you know, most people don’t want to do that. You don’t want to look inside yourself. And so you walk away.” (Source)
Wiki states that Beyoncé’s Lemonade album wanted to reflect the effects of slavery and racial inequality on relationships in black society, and she also went on to talk about “generational curses” in a 2018 Vogue article. However, while systems of oppression are real (I am a minority myself), I wonder where character falls into all of this. As a society, we often seek to blame systems for dynamics that later, as we try to work through the “generational curses,” we realize the key is in our very hand. If we can choose healing, it means there is much more in our control than out of it, despite the societal systems and inequalities, we find ourselves in a land of choices.
In the lives of those of us who have the generational curses– lives stained with racism, political baggage such as colonialsim and communism, poverty, betrayal– lives where survival was priority, the striving for healing and redemption is the bravest thing we can do. To love is the bravest thing we can do. It’s a winding, dusty road with potholes, frustration and anger. But a broken wing can learn to fly again. Or as Beyoncé sings, we can trade our broken wings for another’s.
/So we are going to heal; We are going to start again/
Lemonade stands out. Beyoncé called it “using our art almost like a therapy session.” It stands out because here is an artist we barely hear speak on her own. We honestly don’t know much about her. Most of what is out there is something imagined by the public and attributed to her, in all honesty. She has been with us for years and years, and finally in Lemonade we got a glimpse behind the curtain. These weren’t generic pop or R&B lyrics that could be sung by Rihanna. We felt raw emotion. This was not the boppy “Irreplaceable,” but a woman really grappling with what it means to love when all goes to sh*t, a past where poverty and racism were front and center, and how feminism can sometimes stem from confidence, but sometimes it’s fueled by righteous anger. We see the fact that redemption is not a religious future but very much here and now. Redemption was painful on the cross and painful in our everyday journey through life. Sometimes, it’s possible. Sometimes, it’s not.
The tarte lemons life gives us often leave us feeling raw, burned and cracked open. Nothing real is glossy, neat and simple. In Lemonade, we are left with a very nuanced, real Beyoncé, finally. And as she quotes her grandmother in the “All Night” video, “Nothing real can be threatened.” This is all we know for sure.