A year ago, on this day, HBO premiered the highly anticipated new project Lemonade by Beyoncé. Prior to its release, Lemonade was shrouded in secrecy, with no hints as to what fans where in for, apart from a few mysterious video clips released onto the internet in the lead up to April 23rd 2016. At that point, the only thing that could be expected was the unexpected; for the past few album releases Beyoncé had completely gone against the grain, surprising and delighting both fans and critics by delivering albums that no one had seen coming.
Back in 2011, when the majority of RnB stars had chased popularity by shifting into an electronic/pop sound, Beyoncé stuck to her guns and released a strong, cohesive RnB album titled 4. Filled with nostalgic songs like Party and Love On Top, as well as the modern, Frank Ocean penned, I Miss You, the album satisfied an important and loyal audience that had otherwise been neglected.
Then, in 2013, Beyoncé bypassed the usual pre-release hype machine and dropped her self-titled visual album BEYONCE without warning, in the dead of the night. Selling 828,773 copies worldwide in the first three days of release, it was at the time the fastest selling album in the history of iTunes.
With 4 and BEYONCE under her belt, Mrs. Knowles-Carter began to solidify herself as a visionary artist.
A few months before Lemonade was set to be released, Beyoncé unexpectedly dropped Formation - an unapologetic pro-black, pro-woman anthem - and offered it as a free download on her husband Jay Z’s streaming platform Tidal. She then took to the stage of the Super Bowl just a few days later, with her dancers dressed like the Black Panthers to perform the song, with the lyric “you just might be a black Bill Gates in the making” taking center stage. It was clear at that point that Beyoncé was making a stand.
As a feminist and a well-known supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, Beyoncé had long shown concern about social issues. Having worked with former FLOTUS Michelle Obama on her Let’s Move campaign aimed at helping young kids get in shape, as well as supporting the families of victims killed in racially motivated attacks, Beyoncé’s social impact was being brought to the forefront more and more.
At this time, Beyoncé had also become much more visible on social media, posting pictures of her and her family on her website and on her Instagram page. This new, more fearless, more familiar version of Beyoncé only added to the anticipation of Lemonade… and she didn’t disappoint.
Millions of people tuned into HBO on the night of Lemonade’s release. It was revealed that the mystery project was a concept album that had been incorporated into a 60-minute film that the TV channel premiered. The film consisted of 11 chapters, each covering the different stages a woman goes through when learning of her husbands infidelity. With poetry by Warsan Shire and 11 new songs (plus Formation) from Beyoncé herself, the album instantly solidified itself as an important and original piece of art.
With Lemonade, Beyoncé was able to voice the difficult feeling of pain and insecurity that infidelity brings, which women worldwide could relate to, then fused it together with imagery and spoken word to form a complex and haunting visual album.
The depth of the album, and the vulnerability Beyoncé displayed throughout, further revealed a side to her that had only been hinted at previously. Through becoming more open and showing us ‘Beyoncé, the woman’ and not just ‘Beyoncé, the superstar’, she displayed a relatability that the public hadn’t seen before.
Upon its release, critics instantly praised Lemonade. Among other positive reviews, it received a coveted 5-star rating from Rolling Stone and was also award the title of the magazines No. 1 album of the year. But, unfortunately, The Grammy’s weren’t in agreement.
In early 2017, social media was set ablaze when, following a breathtaking performance while pregnant with her twins, Beyoncé lost The Grammy’s Album Of The Year award to a confused and disbelieving Adele. The British singer, who’d voiced her support for Lemonade earlier that evening, took to the stage, asking “What the f*** does [Beyoncé] have to do to win Album of The Year?”. She then broke off a piece of the award she won for her album 25 and gave it to Beyoncé in a show of solidarity.
Despite not receiving the recognition it deserved from The Grammy’s, Beyoncé received an incredible amount of success from Lemonade. Soon after the release she embarked on a highly successful world tour, picked up multiple awards, sold 3 million copies of the album worldwide and most recently won a prestigious Peabody award. She has done all of this while continuously releasing new seasons of her successful active wear line Ivy Park, running her company Parkwood Entertainment, raising her daughter Blue Ivy and preparing for the arrival of her twins.
As we’ve always known, there’s no stopping Beyoncé and I can’t wait to see what she surprises us with next.