A Writer's Response To A Review Of Beyoncé's Lemonade

by Agnes Emeney

Recently, a fellow PearShaped writer published his review of Beyoncé’s new visual album ‘Lemonade’ on this site. Unfortunately, I found that his article crossed the line of what is usually required of a music review, and ultimately I felt it was ill-informed and unnecessarily offensive.

This article, is my response to his.

Let’s start at the logical place - the first paragraph. The writer goes straight to the conclusion of the album and asks: “is this a fiercely independent woman taking second best, or a fiercely independent woman making pragmatic amends with a challenging situation?” Already, I was concerned that perhaps there had been a misunderstanding of the purpose of the album. From where I was listening, it was quite clear that by the end of the album we realise that this “fiercely independent woman” (that bit was accurate) did not “settle for second best” or forgive her husband’s infidelity for “pragmatism” but because ultimately, she loved him. This, to me, symbolises the strength of a woman who was brave enough to stand in the face of her own pain as well as what inevitably would be a shit-storm from media, critics and fans alike and be proud of the decision she made, by herself, to forgive and stay with her husband whom she loved.

So let’s move to the discussion of the song Formation. To begin with, everything seems a-OK; Formation is described as “brilliant”. However, then comes this disturbing statement: “disappointingly…the hilarious Messy Mya samples have been cut”. This throwaway sentence is extremely careless and indicative of a potential lack of research. For those of you who don’t know, Messy Mya was an African-American comedian and rapper who was known for his YouTube channel which he used to make often unsettling jokes about violence in New Orleans and the dangers of living there as a young black male. In 2010 Messy was shot dead as he left the baby shower of his unborn son. Beyoncé included Messy’s words in the video for Formation in order to create awareness of the hostility that black people living in New Orleans have to cope with and to open up a discussion about the Black Lives Matter movement which she revisits throughout Lemonade. Not only does this review not actually mention the discussion of black lives in today’s society, nor the reclaiming of black heritage that is present throughout the album, but I fail to see what is “hilarious” about any of this.

The next paragraph expresses disbelief at there being thirteen co-writers on the track Hold Up. He uses this fact to embroider his personal distaste for the song. Whilst I am not about to criticise anyone’s personal taste, it is important to note why there is such an extensive list of co-writers on the song. Hold Up includes quotes and samples from three songs, that’s eight co-writers; plus Beyoncé; plus a very respectable four more co-writers which brings us to our total of thirteen writers altogether. It does not take great effort to write an adequately informed album review, but, as was the case with the comments about Messy Mya, neglecting to do so can be very harmful.

Later on in the article, a discussion of Formation is revisited in what I found to be the most offensive paragraph of the piece:

“Its matriarchal militancy manages to avoid becoming offensive by virtue of the medium – it’s a pop song, not a manifesto scrawled in blood and pinned to the naked, swinging corpse of a politician.  Nobody likes a second-wave, “kill all men” activist, so for that reason Formation works. It’s a palatable reminder that equality is an issue we shouldn’t ignore – a healthy outlet for gender extremism so that liberalism might do its work in the real world. This in itself though, is another reminder that clumsy lyricists can’t spearhead the next gender revolution.” 

This paragraph seems to be saying that pop music is incapable of causing any real waves of change because it is “just pop music” and not part of “the real world”, therefore easily ignored. To me, this seems like a very strange thing to write in an article for a magazine that celebrates music, pop included, on a daily basis, and therefore presumably values its place in “the real world”.

While it is stated that equality is an important issue, he also doesn’t want any “gender extremism” (I believe the word he’s looking for is feminism) spilling over the edges of music streaming sites into “the real world”. Furthermore, the suggestion that Beyoncé’s attempt at activism was somehow half-arsed or lacking in conviction is not only a patronising attack on Beyoncé’s feminism, but I would argue is simply, incorrect.

Consider Beyoncé’s performance of Formation at the Super Bowl half time show back in February, which saw her and her dancers dressed in uniforms inspired by those of the 1950s Civil Rights group the Black Panthers. The performance received savage backlash from those who felt she was heightening racial tension in the U.S. and attacking U.S. police. I find it very difficult to believe that this twenty-times Grammy winning female was not prepared for this carefully choreographed performance to elicit this kind of reaction. I think the artistic mastery and consciences writing on Lemonade is enough evidence to tell us this woman is very intelligent.

Lemonade is ballsy. It is the marker of the moment a black woman decided she had finally had enough of watering herself down for white audiences and decided to stand up and speak from the perspective of a black woman, for black women globally. This album highlights centuries of persecution, the like of which is still going on today, and celebrates the resilience of black women through it all.

Read the original review here.