6 Ways Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ Turns Jay Z Vulnerable and ‘Formation’ Into a Footnote

by Damon Brown 10:40 AM PDT, April 25, 2016
Playing 6 Ways Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’ Turns Jay Z Vulnerable and ‘Formation’ Into a Footnote

A burning mansion, a supposedly cheating Jay Z and a dancing Serena Williams: Good luck trying to escape the Lemonade conversation this week. Beyonce’s mysterious, hour-long video premiered on HBO this weekend, but the original salvo was lobbed at the Super Bowl with her take-no-prisoners hit, “Formation.” While the first video alluded to her southern heritage, the 12 songs featured in the new movie frame an even more personal journey of her lover’s alleged affair.

To celebrate the release of her visual album, here are six ways Lemonade blew our minds:

1. It is not until you finish watching Lemonade that you realize it is unabashedly black, as there seems to be no one in the film who isn’t African American. And it is beautiful, from the sepia tones as Beyoncé sets her antebellum mansion on fire to the ultra-vibrant outfits as the heroine walks down Main Street twirling a baseball bat. For decades, photography has had sets, images, and even equipment designed based on white skin tones. In Beyonce’s world, it is clear that black beauty is a priority -- and the gorgeous imagery brings us all into her vision.

Photo: Parkwood Entertainment

2. It is Beyoncé sitting in a king’s throne, one leg up a la Serena Williams’ controversial Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Year cover, while the tennis champion herself dances next to her in a leotard a la “Single Ladies.” You’d be hard-pressed to find two other young black women more on top of their game, just as it would be difficult to find a bigger pop cultural celebration of black excellence. And as she sits prone on the throne -- a wink to her husband’s power pairing with Kanye West -- Beyonce is making it clear that she is still both queen and king of her heart.

3. It is Jay Z showing up -- in a segment called Forgiveness -- when the movie is darn near over. Actually, you don’t see him at first, just his arm playing with the singer as they laugh in bed, lazy Sunday style. You’re pretty sure it is him, at least. (Considering the musical journey thus far, you would be worried and relieved if it was her husband.) You only get two significant glimpses of his face: One where he is looking directly at you, almost out of camera shot, as his wife kisses him on the cheek, and another where he is lying next to her feet, likely seconds away from giving her a massage. The first shot is her forgiving him. The second shot is him asking for it. There is no telltale smirk, big swagger, or words spoken. It is Shawn Carter, the former drug dealer realizing he is still flawed.

4. It is Jay Z’s cameo followed by a series of women quietly, somberly, holding a photograph of a relative that died at the hands of aggressive white men. These were black boys and men who were not given the opportunity to correct errors, like Mike Brown being gunned down over stealing cigarettes, or even the opportunity to live their lives, like Trayvon Martin being shot for walking on the street in a hoodie. They were not forgiven for making mistakes. They were not forgiven for being born. Unlike Beyonce’s love, they cannot be resurrected. 

Photo: Parkwood Entertainment

5. It is the young Mardi Gras Indian dancing in full New Orleans regalia, alone, around a long, empty dining room table. She occasionally leans over the place settings and bangs her tambourine, as if to shake away the evil spirits or to, perhaps, bring dead ones back to flesh. The scene flips back-and-forth to a gorgeous outside dinner party with plenty of love, laughter and sunshine. Which one is real, the lonely dance or the loving community? They both are.

6. It is the oh-so-controversial first single, “Formation,” relegated to an instrumental during the end credits. You wait for the smash to pop up segment after segment, but it won’t. After watching Lemonade, the Super Bowl halftime Black Panther-era precision and accoutrements make perfect sense, but that was an introduction that doesn’t need to be repeated -- like saying “Hello” after you’ve been talking to someone already. The uniquely personal topics of lover betrayal, painful lineage and black identity go much deeper across this 12-track journey.