When Beyoncé debuted her hour long Lemonade “visual album” on HBO almost two weeks ago, everyone in the world seemed to lose their minds.
It wasn’t just the Beyhive — as the mega star’s obsessed fans are called — who drank the figurative musical Kool-Aid: several critics hailed the album as Beyoncé’s best work to date, her Purple Rain, her Thriller.
But of course anything that’s met with that much praise will also attract as much negativity: soon after Lemonade was released, think-pieces were published about why Queen Bey is overrated, racist and a terrible role model for girls and women.
Typical societal double standards: why are we always so concerned with who should and shouldn’t be a role model for girls, but we speak less about the male role models that boys are exposed to? Are females the only gender that is highly impressionable and needs guidance from pop stars?
It’s strange that the only time society seems interested and invested in women’s “wellbeing”, it’s about telling us what to do, how to do it, when and why. A woman can’t log on to the internet, walk down the street or pass a magazine stand without being told what’s good for her and what isn’t.
Beyoncé — for all her money, Grammys, albums sold and influence — is no different to the average woman in this regard. From the moment she broke away from R&B girl group Destiny’s Child a decade ago, she was criticised for everything she did: why her shorts were so short, why she was light-skinned, why she had a blonde weave, why she sang about single ladies while she’s married, why she was a fembot …
Since she released her self-titled surprise album in 2013 — and especially since Lemonade —the Beyoncé criticism has intensified. First because her content was deemed “too sexual” (what is it t h at ’s so shocking about a powerful woman in her 30s singing about giving her husband a blowjob?) and now because the singer has melded sociopolitics (and especially racial politics) into her music.
The Beyoncé of Lemonade is a far cry from the woman who wore a black leotard while singing “if he liked it then he should have put a ring on it” in the popular wedding reception jam Single Ladies. The feminist demigod bell hooks famously called the singer a “terrorist ”, saying she was “antifeminist” and one of the leaders of pop culture’s “assault ” on feminism. I call that bullshit.
This was a classic example of an old-school feminist caught in their feelings because the movement had moved on without them, and they could no longer control it or influence it the way they used to.
It’s no different to Piers Morgan penning a post-Lemonade piece in which he accused Beyoncé of “suddenly ” profiting from the same blackness she was initially reluctant to claim. She’s no longer palatable to him, because she’s reclaiming and reaffirming her blackness, and that makes him and several other writers who have attacked the musician recently, very uncomfortable.
It’s naïve to expect one of the wo r l d ’s smartest pop stars —who is black and female — to ignore the resurgence of feminism and black pride of the past few years. The hottest topics in American sociopolitics are sexism and racism, and like tens of millions of black women across the world, this is a struggle Beyoncé is familiar with.
Inspired by Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief theory, in Lemonade Beyoncé explores the phases and emotions someone goes through after being cheated on. The stage her critics have chosen to zoom in on is anger. But what’s an appropriate reaction to being cheated on? An album about roses and sunshine? Of course not.
We all get angry and have violent fantasies — even if we don’t act them out. When Beyoncé says she wants to wear the other woman’s “teeth as confetti”, she’s not encouraging us to act out our Buffalo Bill tendencies. When she boasts to her cheating husband that she’s pretty much the best he can do and it doesn’t get better than her, she’s showing her disdain because all of the things society has told women can “keep” a man — good looks, independence, good sex and smarts — turned out to be a lie.
Th at ’s the true beauty of Lemonade: Beyoncé is not just speaking to her own situation, but for all women who have experienced infidelity. Because if it can happen to Beyoncé, it can happen to anyone.
Lemonade is empowering because it’s helped many women realise that they aren’t the only ones whose confidence has been ripped to shreds by a wayward lover — and that there’s no shame in choosing to forgive, as Beyoncé has. It doesn’t make you weak or stupid — if anything, choosing to believe in someone again can be the bravest thing one can do in a relationship.
Why do we expect a woman scorned to handle a betrayal gently — yet Eminem keeps getting away with threats to kill the women who hurt his fragile male feelings? Why do we give male artists so much more leeway than we do their female counterparts?
The status of role model isn’t one Beyoncé declared ownership of: like most people in the public eye, it’s something that’s been bestowed upon her. If you think she’s a bad role model for your daughters, that’s fine — but remember it’s not her job to parent your child — it’s yours.