Questioning What We Love: Why We Should Critically Re-watch Lemonade
As Beyonce fans, we seem to think we know everything. Despite the meticulous literary analyses that have been written for her latest visual album drop, Lemonade, a lot of us missed one of the most explicit messages in the entire project. While we were enamoured with Queen Bey’s extravagant fur coat and edges-snatching lyrics in “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” our eyes glossed over the black and white text that flashed across the screen for a split second: “God is God and I am not.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that, but the “Bey-hive” appears to be very resistant to criticism regarding Lemonade because we’re too busy idolizing her as a god.
Feminist theorist bell hooks took a sip of Lemonade and then took the internet by storm with her “sour review.” hooks, whose name is lowercase because she believes that the “substance of [her] books” are more important, has made numerous contributions to feminist literature from the 1970s onward. Today, hooks references pop culture in short essays published to her blog. hooks published “Moving Beyond Pain” this month, which rubbed a lot of Beyonce fans the wrong way.
As an adamant anti-imperialist, hooks has previously labeled the artist as a terrorist for her “[negative] impact on young girls” and recently cited the overwhelming images of “scantily-clothed” Black women as a commodification of the body, because of the money Beyonce makes off her music videos. Readers interpreted this as hooks proclaiming herself as anti-Beyonce. After tweeting my support at Ms. hooks, I found myself battling a swarm of members from the Bey-hive. I had no idea I was a “dumb bitch” for questioning Beyonce’s utilization of the Black female body.
I don’t entirely agree with every argument that hooks makes in “Moving Beyond Pain.” For example, her negative comments about the way the women were dressed seemed entirely anti-feminist to me. In an age where we can plug our phones into sticks to take aesthetically appropriate selfies and celebrate each other for it, I don’t see the problem with Beyonce placing Black female bodies at center stage. Because of colonialist, imperialist and capitalist systems, African Americans have never had ownership of their bodies. For Serena Williams to twerk beside a seated Beyonce and fearlessly proclaim “I Ain’t Sorry” is a groundbreaking turning point that hooks is missing. The more African-American literature I read, the more I see poetry, song and dance as necessary outlets for expression among the Black community.
I too find myself writing poetry when my heart aches and my identity feels lost. Similarly, song and dance allow me to celebrate and take a deep sigh of relief. That’s what Lemonade felt like for me and many other Black women - a sigh of relief -because the album blends the kind of spoken word, music and dancing that makes us feel liberated. For hooks to reduce the women featured in Lemonade to “scantily-clothed” is to reject the way that Black feminists find solace in the 21st century.
Beyonce herself knows that she is no deity and she is therefore accountable for the mistakes she makes. This is not to say that Lemonade was a flop by any means; the album paid homage to the historical act among circles of Black women of making lemonade and, as many fans stated, “was dripping with womanism.” It chronicles the trials and tribulations of Black women, with Beyonce’s personal journey at the center, and humanizes them. Lemonade reiterates the idea that Black women are allowed to feel, long for their partner’s affections, turn to each other in the face of adversity and utilize poetry as the most important form of communication. With its release, the world is reminded that Black women are human.
What Hooks and every critic of Beyonce offers is not hate, but analytical thinking we often leave behind. Lemonade is meant to be questioned, celebrated and internalized in bite sized pieces. Every time I watch the visual album, I find new traces of symbolism and have even more questions. The first time I watched it, I cried, laughed and felt as if the color purple had taken over the room. Its complexity allows us to be critical; its message serves as an anchor to remind us that Beyonce is not a god. Once we allow ourselves to think critically, we have another excuse to re-watch Lemonade.