Beyoncé and JAY Z have been sitting atop pop culture’s proverbial wedding cake for quite some time. You know, those perfectly perched figurines on an exorbitantly priced slice of happy-ever-after, grinning in quiet harmony and prepared to maintain a blissful marriage for the next hundred years. Or six anyway, since in 2014, Jay Z and Beyoncé’s sister Solange got into a physical altercation, which first catalyzed widespread rumors of infidelity and divorce. Apparently, Solange had been outraged at Jay as he overtly solicited another woman, which caused a dizzying cascade of rumors between the previously untarnished couple.
While TMZ and the tabloids enjoyed their fair share of clickbait fodder for a few months after the incident, eventually rumors of divorce simmered down and it was back to business as usual. Beyoncé and Jay went on to co-headline an international stadium tour, “On The Run,” which netted a cool hundred million plus and re-focused attention where it belonged: on the music, glitz and glamour. The sheer capital earned on that tour alone reminded us of the immense power that a couple like Beyoncé and Jay actually yield over the entertainment industry as a whole. They’re the world’s most famous entertainment couple (eat your heart out, Kim and Kanye) whose cumulative net worth is estimated to be close to one billion dollars. They’ve come a long way since Beyoncé was a member of Girl’s Tyme (the name of Destiny’s Child before signing to Columbia Records in 1996) and Jay was selling CD’s out of the trunk of his car circa 1995. As individuals, they’re superstars. But together, they’re supernovas.
Which is all the more reason audiences were initially jarred by the release of Beyoncé’s Lemonade in April, not just because it was a surprise release and a visual album at that, but more so, because of the candid and romantically tortured content of the album itself.
The project is dominated by a motif of marital strife and an almost public condemnation of Jay’s laissez-faire approach to their marriage. There’s been plenty of debate as to whether the album is actually autobiographical or not. At times, it’s hard to tell and you’ve got to read between the lines. But then again, at other times, you don’t: “This is your final warning/ You know I give you life/ If you try this sh*t again/ You gon’ lose your wife.”
Throughout the album, Beyoncé couples her approach toward modern feminism and women’s empowerment with personal musings that feel like they’re coming out of her very own diary. She oscillates between tracks and lyrics; weighing divorce versus dedication with a consistent uncertainty.
On “Sorry,” a single from the album, she states flat-out, “Today I regret the night I put that ring on.” But later on the anthemic “All Night” she’s found that her truest catharsis comes through compassion: “Nothing real can be threatened/ True love breathes salvation back into me.”
Beyoncé’s exceptional range is showcased on the album like never before in her career. Her remarkable capacity to bend genre throughout (renowned guitarist Jack White makes an appearance early on, while electronic UK singer James Blake is featured later for an angelic transition-track entitled “Forward”) is only accentuated further by her humanity and limitless emotional range.
Many will say that Lemonade is the best album of her career, and plenty more will wonder where it places Jay, who hasn’t released an album since 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail. And while it’s rumored Jay is working on his own response to Lemonade with a follow-up that gives his side of the story, it’s hard to imagine a rebuttal that can even scratch the surface of the musical range and stark emotional depth that’s already been showcased.
But then again, maybe a follow-up that retroactively addresses the marital issues on the album will have already missed the point. Beyoncé loves JAY Z endlessly, even if he doesn’t truly deserve it, and even if he can never really match her honesty and vulnerability. Toward the very end of the album, Beyoncé whispers a few short words that perfectly marry her force with her sensuality: “How I missed you, my love.” Forgiveness, longing and a shot at redemption all bundled into one; maybe Beyoncé is a one woman supernova after all.
Visuals by Richie Williamson