not in our stars, but in ourselves
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Beyoncé does not fucking care about your weekend plans, and will release whatever she wants in whatever manner she wants on an otherwise quiet Saturday. At least this time, she gave the world some warning: we got word, about a week ago, that she was going to premiere something called Lemonade on HBO on April 23rd at 9:00 p.m. For those listening to the buzzing of the Bey Hive, it seemed clear that this would be her new (and long-awaited) album. The question was just what it would be.
Well. Now we know.
Nabokov wrote in Strong Opinions, “Some of my characters are, no doubt, pretty beastly, but I really don’t care, they are outside my inner self like the mournful monsters of a cathedral facade—demons placed there merely to show that they have been booted out.” I bring this up because, of all the #hottakes I’ve seen on the subject of Lemonade, the vast majority seem to presume that it is directly autobiographical. The “I” of the songs sings about her partner cheating on her, and her rage and sadness and efforts to salvage their relationship. Is it possible, even probable, that Jay Z has been unfaithful to “the hottest chick in the game,” Beyoncé? Well, sure. People are people, and they fuck up royally sometimes. There have been rumors over the years, but who knows. It is simplistic (and unnecessarily nosy) to presume that Lemonade is specifically about her marriage. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t; it’s not the ultimate point, I don’t think.
What is the point? Throughout every song, throughout every spoken-word interlude between songs (most, if not all, courtesy of the poet Warsan Shire), one theme arises again and again: when you fall in love with someone who has fallen in love with a superficial version of you, what do you do when you realize he doesn’t love the rest of you? Do you keep that part hidden? Do you assert yourself? Do you resent him when he seeks the façade of you elsewhere? Do you leave? Do you stay? Do you try to change? I found it very interesting and very telling that, during one of the recitations of Shire’s work, a music-box version of the most famous musical quote from Swan Lake played in the background. What better mythic exploration of the tragedy of needing and falling in love with a man who falls in love with the wrong version of you? None I can think of.
Now, maybe that’s not the entire point of the album – Bey is large, she contains multitudes – but I think it’s one of the key themes. Certainly, there are other powerful themes; those that center around her experience as a black female are far beyond my ability to comment on, but they were pretty powerful, as far as I could tell. What I was able to connect with, however, was something I think most straight women in long-term relationships have struggled with: which version of me does he love? Which version do I want him to love? Why can’t he love all of me if I love all of him? It ain’t easy – but you can get through it. Somehow.