It’s been almost two weeks since Beyoncé first unleashed Lemonade onto the world, and I still can’t stop listening to it. Or thinking about it. Or talking about it. Or wanting to write about it.
Lemonade—both the HBO special and the studio album that quickly followed—was an event, perhaps the musical event of 2016. One of our era’s biggest pop stars dropped her greatest work to date, morphing painful trauma into a fully-realized statement that explored universal themes while celebrating both the power of forgiveness and the strength of black women everywhere.
I’m so completely enthralled by this album that I couldn’t just write a few paragraphs; this required a full-tilt, no-holds-barred list so that I could properly organize my thoughts.
So here, for your reading pleasure: a long list of just some of the things I adore about Beyoncé’s masterwork. (I went in sequential order, so feel free to fire up the album right now and read along.)
“Pray You Catch Me”
- The “prayin’ to catch you whispering / I’m prayin’ you catch me listening” lines set the scene beautifully for the rest of the album. Beyoncé is showing the listener, not telling them, that this relationship is in a bad way. Of course, in the next few songs after this one, the creative subtlety switches to bold, direct declarations.
- The way she whispers, “what are you doing my love?” in the final seconds is perfect. The wife’s suspicions have been confirmed; her man has done her wrong.
- Lemonade is full of fabulous transitions from one song to the next, and the way things go from Beyoncé’s whispering to the beginning of “Hold Up” may be the best of the bunch. You can tell significant effort was put into sequencing these songs in the right way, and the end result is an album that demands to be listened to from start to finish, with no skipping around.
- Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig collaborated on this song, and his influence can be heard in the track’s bouncing, confident production. This is a song that seems to have been custom made for strutting down the street, wielding a baseball bat, and smashing car windows with a big grin on your face. And speaking of that …
- … that’s exactly what she does as the song plays in the short film.
- “Let’s imagine for a moment that you never made a name for yourself …” Wow! Beyoncé doesn’t beat around the bush here, and this verse makes it crystal clear that she’s referencing her husband, Jay-Z. Remember that slight bit of subtlety we heard in “Pray You Catch Me”? Yeah, you can go ahead and throw that out the window. “Hold Up” is the song that made everyone’s jaw drop when the HBO special aired for the first time. “Wow” we all said. “Whatever it is Jay did, she is not messing around!”
- I love the way she sings “I hop out of bed” here. it’s so playful and energetic.
- Oh yeah, and she drives a monster truck … which is pretty dope.
“Don’t Hurt Yourself”
- The most remarkable thing about “Don’t Hurt Yourself” might just be that it made me truly excited to hear Jack White again. I was borderline obsessed with the White Stripes in college, but since then, his music has been a little more hit-and-miss with me. Here, though, he plays his role perfectly. (Remember that Electric Six song featuring White from several years ago? That was fun.)
- The “I am the dragon breathing fire / Beautiful mane I’m the lion” lines are fantastic. Beyoncé’s strength is not to be questioned. She has been wronged, but she is not a victim who needs saved. She’s a freaking dragon, OK?
- Oh, and the way “Beautiful mane I’m the lion” leads to, “Beautiful man I know you’re lying” is just superb songwriting all the way around.
- The outro of this song is one of Lemonade’s finest moments. The crashing percussion, the “final warning.” Try to listen to this and not get pumped up. Go ahead, try …
- Another gif for the ages, again from the HBO special …
- I love this beat. Like, a lot. “I’m Sorry” has a layered, club-ready sound reminiscent of her last album, 2013’s Beyoncé.
- After watching the HBO special, how can anyone hear this song and not see Beyonce on her throne? What a visual!
- … and the clip gets bonus points due to the fact that she has Serena Williams dancing right beside her. Serena Williams of all people!
- This song seems like one memorable, meme-ready lyric after another. “Suck on my balls, pause, I had enough,” for instance, steals the man’s masculinity and uses it against him.
- And then we have, “tell him, boy, bye” …
- … and “Let’s have a toast to the good life,” (referencing two Kanye tracks at the same time!) …
- … and then the best of them all, the one that began creating controversies, memes and trending Facebook stories almost immediately: “He better call Becky with the good hair …”
- The Weeknd is on a hell of a run, isn’t he? After he dropped Kiss Land a few years back, I kind of assumed I was over the guy’s music altogether, but last year’s Beauty Behind the Madness was excellent, and now he’s made appearances on both Kanye’s The Life of Pablo and Lemonade.
- It didn’t think I needed to hear anyone take on “Walk on By” after Hooverphonic knocked it out of the park all those years ago, yet she made it work here.
- Without about 30 seconds left, Beyoncé delivers maybe her best vocals performance on the entire album. The way she sings that part, I actually thought it was Janelle Monáe when I first heard it, but it’s just Bey killing it yet again …
- Beyoncé goes country! And it works! There’s an exceptional amount of strong country music coming out at the moment, from modern-day outlaws such as Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton to the marvelous Kacey Musgraves, and hearing Bey go all in with this song makes me hope that some people who never normally go near country might give it a shot.
- We officially have harmonica on a Beyoncé song. What a wonderful time to be alive.
- Blue Ivy cameo!
- I love how this album is completely void of filler. “Love Drought” might technically be my least favorite track on Lemonade if I ever had to actually rank them all, but it’s still a lot of fun. A slice of modern Drake-esque r&b sandwiched by a country song and an all-out power ballad? I dig it.
- The way she says, “I’m so tough, wassup?” with all that attitude is so great.
- This beautiful imagery:
- We have ourselves a ballad! It’s a great one, too. Her voice is exceptional here, especially when she belts out, “Bitch, I scratched out your name and your face / What is it about you that I can’t erase, baby?”
- This is the kind of ballad where you can just imagine it performed live, with the singer alone on the stage, sitting at a grand piano. My early prediction for the next Grammy show—which, yes, is a long ways away—is that it will open with Beyoncé performing “Sandcastles” before things heat up and she switches to either “Hold Up” or “Freedom.”
- Putting a spotlight on Lemonade collaborator James Blake was an unexpected, but welcome moment. And I always forget that Bey shows up to sing with him, which means I always freak out a little bit when she starts to sing.
- This appearance should do wonders for Blake’s popularity. He’s already a big name, sure, but I would imagine a lot of fans had never heard his voice before “Forward.” By the way, anyone unfamiliar with Blake needs to listen to “Retrograde,” like, now:
- In the HBO special, it’s during this song that we see Lezley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother …
- … Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s Martin’s mother …
- … and Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother. It’s a touching moment, with all three mothers holding photoraphs of their sons.
- “Forward” and “Freedom” work so dang well together, don’t they? They don’t seem to necessarily be presented as a one-two punch, but to me, hearing “Freedom” without “Forward” would be a travesty. It’s like listening to Kanye’s “All of the Lights” without the instrumental interlude that comes before it. You could do it, but why?
- A beat from super producer Just Blaze! The sample he flips here is “Let Me Try” by Kaleidoscope, a psychedelic band out of Puerto Rico. You can read all about the sample on the Now-Again Records website.
- Speaking of Just Blaze’s production, this beat is absolutely monstrous, and I love it when Beyoncé goes all in and just cuts a straight rap song that pulls no punches. This is the type of song Jay himself would have ridden to glory when he was at the top of his game. (This is my favorite song on the album, by the way.)
- There is obviously a lot of fierce competition, but my vote for the single greatest lyric of the album comes from “Freedom” when she sings, “A winner don’t quit on themselves!”
- Oh, and then KENDRICK LAMAR shows up! Does this guy ever deliver a verse that is less than spectacular? No. No, he does not.
- Kendrick’s entire verse is great, but the two lines that stand out the most for me are, “Channel 9 news tell me I’m movin’ backwards,” which seems like a clear reference to the way Fox News attacked him last year, and …
- … “But mama, don’t cry for me, ride for me / Try for me, live for me / Breathe for me, sing for me / Honestly guidin’ me,” both because it’s incredible and because I love Kendrick turns things back to his mother, the woman who gave him life, on an album loaded with empowering statements about the tenacity and fearlessness of women.
- How fun is it to sing along with this chorus? Answer: really fun. A few days ago, I turned up the volume and pumped my fist to the beat, loudly singing while driving alone through a random antique mall parking lot. (Shout out to the old woman who was staring at me with her hands on her hips.)
- The closing “… I made lemonade” speech, which was featured in the HBO special and is spoken by Hattie White, Beyoncé’s grandmother-in-law. The audio is apparently from White’s 90th birthday party, and it’s a nice touch that you can hear Beyoncé join in at the tail end.
- That opening guitar party is outstanding. So much emotion there, and Beyoncé matches it with her delivery.
- Dig how the whispered “How I missed you my love” takes us back to the whispers that ended “Pray You Catch Me.” Three cheers for continuity!
- Lemonade the concept album seems to end with “All Night,” but Beyoncé closes things with “Formation,” giving us the bonus track of a lifetime. “Formation,” of course, is the bold, wondrous track she debuted at the Super Bowl, making a bunch of Lame-O McLamersons mad for numerous ridiculous reasons. I feel like everyone already knows how great this one is, right? I’m just glad she included it.
- It’s worth noting Beyoncé is getting better and better with each new album. She keeps evolving, so much so that you can’t wait to see where she goes next. Lemonade, her sixth album, is her best album to date. Before that, Beyoncé, her fifth album, was her best album to date.
- As I mentioned in passing above, Beyoncé angered a lot of people for a lot of silly reasons with her Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year. She made bold, proud statements, and was treated like she had done something horribly wrong. But instead of giving in—not that I ever thought she actually would give in—she hit back hard, doubling down on imagery that invokes the Black Lives Matter movement and giving voice to the pain, anger, and hopelessness so many Americans throughout the country currently feel.
All hail Queen Bey.