“The first thing you’d expect to see in a black Beyoncé video before [“Lemonade”] is black women in a church,” said Anthea Butler, professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Her new album is “refreshing” in the way it shows “how people practice other African derived religions to increase their connection to their ancestors.” For black people, Butler says, the album “might look like Christianity on the surface, but there’s all this other stuff going on.”
— Collier Meyerson, Fusion.com
I’ll fully admit to arriving at this party very, very late. I’d seen Beyonce’s Formation video, liked it and then promptly thought nothing of it after the fact; however, it wasn’t until earlier this year – after all the hype had died down about Lemonade – that I’d actually decided: “Let me see what all the fuss is about.”
And, holy hell, I saw and heard what all the fuss was about.
My husband knows to this day that I still can’t adequately express in spoken words the visual smorgasbord that was Lemonade. As soon as I was done watching the visual album, I told him: “I must own that CD and DVD” and promptly went out and bought it the very next day (we signed up for a free trial with Tidal, but since I’m Spotify-ride-or-die, we canceled it afterwards. I know, I know). I don’t usually buy CDs any more, what with streaming apps and what have you and me usually liking only one or two songs on any given album, but this? Oh, this? I had to purchase.
Every single “chapter” spoke to me, spoke to where I had been months ago, a year ago, two and three years ago, and even to where I had been at the present moment of me listening and watching. It let me know that – despite the strides I had made (or thought I had made) – in terms of healing my emotional self, I still had a long, long way to go (think: still in the anger phase, although, not nearly as warrior princess-y anymore).
I know many an analysis has been done about Lemonade, by numerous bloggers and authors, some probably better or more talented than me, but I decided to throw my own two cents in: from the perspective of a black woman finding her way back to her ancestors, from the perspective of a pagan stumbling along this crooked path, and from the perspective of both a wife and mother: a wife healing herself from her husband’s infidelity and a mother that wants her daughter to inherit – not the broken, jagged jigsaw puzzles of my soul – but the triumphant celebration of self: in magic and loss, love and redemption.
(That was a bit poetic, wasn’t it?)
The past and the future merge to meet us here. What luck. What a f*cking curse.
–Beyonce reading Warsan Shire, Lemonade
The drama opens with the song: Pray You’ll Catch Me, and the visual is impactful in its desolation and loneliness. In one instance, it captures the loneliness of this path: the path of a scorned woman, the path of a woman that is about to embark on a life-altering, life changing course: should you continue forward? Or should you stay in the dark, willfully hide you head in the sand and hope things get better?
For me, it spoke – not only in regards to the loneliness that was soon to ensue at finding out about my husband’s infidelity – but also to the long, arduous path of extracting myself from being so wrapped up in the lie of a life I had been living: the lie of being a “good” wife, a “good” mother, a “good” believer; struggling with the reality that I had no control over my husband’s actions or the tumult that my life was taking against my very own wishes and desires, clawing to keep up with the normalcy of my husband and I being that couple; you know the one: everybody looks at us and thinks we’re perfect.
That idea was blown completely out of the water; torn and burned to the ground. The pieces of my life lay strewn around me, dust and smoking ruins. The path that I had always followed – more like meandered along really – was broken. I was completely lost.
And so, I was to taste the dishonesty like a bitter pill, the smiles my husband gave were indeed very painful to witness; I was to ask, just like Beyonce asked: “What are you doing, my love?”
Underneath these powerful lyrics, however; underneath the coils of pain and heartbreak, the visuals also speak of a different path. It opens with haunting music, like voices dancing among the reeds, eerie and persistent. On a stage, Beyonce kneels in supplication. In a field of reeds and tall grasses, she is like a new initiate, passing from one world into the next, one state of existence into another. And that this transition is not an easy one, will never be an easy one, if it is to be worth it in the end: her face is a face of serenity, but her eyes are a tumult of emotion: sorrow, pain, fear.
The path of a scorned woman and the path of one embarking on a new belief system, a new way of thinking and living, mirrors one another, almost as if they are twin sisters, birthed in the same way, from the same mother: their progenitor is pain, is trauma, is a significant life event that alters the course of one’s existence entirely. It doesn’t have be huge or massive; it can small and insignificant, but with it, you feel the whole of the world change. You must take the rocky, often twisting and turnings of this path. You have to ride this roller coaster to the end. Most of the time, you have no way of knowing where it’s going to lead.
Images in the first chapter (and throughout the visual album) abound of this transition: the grayed-out remains of a stone tunnel, the exit filled with light; the field of dead grass and overwrought weeds as she traverses through them, the world strange and familiar all at once; an empty stairway, opening up to a lonely path among cypress trees; and, a ghostly woman standing on a porch, an otherworldly shade, springing forth from the spirit world as she stands.
Spanish moss, long associated with folklore and conjure, hangs from trees. Beautiful brown-skinned girls and women stand in silence in white, the color of purity, the garb worn by women in Voudun, during ritual. The silence is deafening as the words of Warsan Shire are read aloud, as if all of nature is pausing, waiting, listening.
It was in the first few moments of Lemonade that I couldn’t help but feel a deep resonance in my soul, of something lost finally coming home, of echoes, of voices, of whispers. I’m not necessarily a Beyonce fan – I respect her as a performer and an artist – but her album resonated deeply; it impacted me on an emotional and spiritual level: I saw the generations of women that came before me, the generations of women in my family watching me with eyes of sorrow and of triumph, of defeat and of infinite compassion. I was starting on my path of joining their ranks of womanhood; I was only beginning to scratch the surface of the mysteries of heartbreak and soon my joining of this altar-circle of women would come full-circle and be complete.
I whipped my own back and asked for dominion at your feet. I threw myself into a volcano. I drank the blood and drank the wine. I sat alone and begged and bent at the waist for God. I crossed myself and thought I saw the devil. I grew thickened skin on my feet, I bathed in bleach, and plugged my menses with pages from the holy book, but still inside me, coiled deep…
–Beyonce, reading Warsan Shire, Lemonade
I do find it a wonder that – in the end – I didn’t return to the religion of my birth.
I tried to.
After all, despite the elements of mysticism, the exploration of other religious systems and the sometimes contradictory themes of secularism vs. non-secular belief, I was still raised Christian. I was still taught to lay my burdens at the Lord’s feet. I was still told to pray, that everything would work out so long as I put my faith and trust in the Lord. I was told to pick up my Bible and read. I was told to believe, have faith.
We tried marriage counseling.
One of the first two we went to were Christian-based: one rejoiced in my usage of the word “help-mate” even though that really wasn’t what I wanted to be (I was struggling to figure it all out, struggling if – in being a not-so-devout Christian was this my punishment? Was this my fault?), and the other was all about angels and ill-fated choices. Neither of these two sat well with me; their words burned in my throat like bile and I died a little on the inside listening to them. We went to another counselor, this one counseled couples as a group. This one made me angry, made me spitting mad. He used words like “submissive”, that wives needed to be “lead” by their husbands, that we were to be “helpers”.
We didn’t go back to that one after the second visit.
We tried a church that allowed alternatives in terms of piercings and tattoos, rock music for Jesus and bus tours that seemed to harken back to Woodstock, but it was also a mega church and preached of conversions of homosexuals to straight-laced heterosexual purity, and the conveyor belt feeling of their public baptisms never sat quite right with me. I longed for a communion with something else. Something that kept calling to me from somewhere deep inside, but I couldn’t quite reach.
We tried Buddhism, and that assuaged the feelings within for a while, but eventually even that grew tiresome: trying to keep up with the meetings, the people, the practices and the dogma that came with those practices, the sneaking suspicion of snake-oil salesmen even among the ranks of the “enlightened”.
I was told that my husband hadn’t “meant to”; that he had made a “mistake”. I was asked: “do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” and “Why do you want to know?” I was told that I was crazy. I was told to bury it deep if I wanted a lasting marriage. I was told not to ask questions. And – of course – to pray.
I grew tired.
I grew exhausted.
And the fighting between myself and my husband didn’t seem to abate; it grew in intensity as his fear and denial swallowed him, as he drowned in his own self-loathing, doing more harm than good, and me trying to understand, trying to make sense of a world gone mad.
What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy?
Jealous or crazy?
Or like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately
I’d rather be crazy
And that was when I snapped.
I added to the drama, of course; added to the layers of pain. I was driven mad with the pain, crazy with guilt and rage and hurt, and I sought revenge. Appeasement. Sekhmet gone wild with bloodlust; Kali, death. It was years in the making anyway.
This is not an excuse, nor does it justify what I did: I hopped on the crazy train and rode that bitch to hell. Jealousy can drive you to strange places, down even stranger paths, pushed and pulled by stranger tides. Emotion becomes an overwhelming deluge. Darkness drowns you. Voices of low self-esteem, low self-worth and low self-respect grab hold of you with claws that dig deep into your psyche and pull you, drowning, underneath an undertow of self-destruction and you let it, you let the feelings rush over you and take you. You feel like you have no other options left.
In this way, Oshun – driven mad by her husband Shango – was a perfect fit and when I watched the segment for “Hold Up”, I understood which goddess I had been channeling at that time. It was powerful medicine watching Beyonce in her yellow dress, come flooding out of the building, the ocean’s tides surrounding her, welling and swelling and frothing with her own raw emotions. Watching her twirl and dance as the world was chaos around her, and her adding to it, putting her own unique touches in every single place she danced.
It was powerful. It described in visuals exactly what was going on inside of me: a woman in transition, but still resisting the transition, lost in a world of denial, reveling in chaos, driven mad with the overwhelm of love and hate, jealousy overtaking reason, ego bruised and damaged.
I resisted the tides, or tried to. I tried very hard to recapture the old relationship, but it was dead. Deader than dead. It was limping its way to its early grave and I was a woman in black raiment weeping and gnashing my teeth after it.
And still, deep within, a tiny whisper of a voice, a small little thing, was telling me to come home. Come home.
I resisted still.
Come home. Come home?
What home? Everything that I knew and held dear was ripped away from me. Everything I had thought was real was a lie.
Come home, said the little voice.
Okay then. Deep breaths.
I started the arduous process of picking myself; the process of trying to figure this shit out. The process of figuring out what the hell that little voice wanted and what the hell it meant.
Come home, indeed.
Analysis of Lemonade (other articles):
How Beyoncé said ‘boy, bye’ to black respectability
Lemonade: The Black Woman’s Guide To Understanding What You Saw
Beyoncé’s Lemonade Is Black Woman Magic
After the Storm: A Meditation on Beyoncé’s Lemonade
Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’ Is The Epitome Of Black Girl Magic