Anghus Houvouras reviews Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade….
Most people’s relationship drama turns into nothing more than a boring story you suffer through over dinner with friends while questioning our life choices. Beyoncé went and turned hers into an artistic sucker punch of sight and sound.
There comes a point in an artist’s career when they transcend traditional stardom and become more than just a performer. They become bigger than just the music they produce or the fashion line they inspire and become a pop culture force of nature. Someone who can set a trend simply by existing and can create generate a thousand online articles with a single sentence. Beyoncé achieved this feat a while back, taking a step beyond pop music purveyor and into a pantheon of icons that seem less capable of existing in a world where the internet spins like a gatling gun vying for our fragments of our attention span and the music industry is perpetually circling the drain.
The untimely passing of Prince this week brought the idea of iconography to the forefront. Prince came from a time where musical artistry produced a number of timeless icons vying for immortality. In the 1980’s you had massive cultural icons like Madonna, Sting, George Michael, and Prince as well as stars from the 1970’s who ascended even to even greater heights like Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen. As far as icons go, that era was an embarrassment of riches.
It seems more difficult to reach that kind of status in the internet age, when artists crest and crash with frightening regularity. Few seem capable of carving out the mass market success that someone like Beyoncé has achieved, which makes her achievement even more impressive. That’s why she’s been able to move past worrying about producing catchy pop confections and move into a more experimental phase of her career, one that is yielding some interesting results.
Lemonade, her latest endeavor, debuted this weekend and lit the internet ablaze. Within hours of release the project began to dominate social media. Most of the focus revolved around the antagonistic nature of the piece: was this a declaration of infidelity on the part of her very famous husband? Is her marriage to Jay-Z over? Who the hell is ‘Becky with the straight hair’.
For me, the drama is far less interesting than the art it produces. In this case, the ‘visual album’ which is really something of an achievement. The closet thing to art I’ve seen created in the realm of pop music since the industry stopped giving a damn about music videos. When you watch something lazy and uninspired like Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ (both the song and the video) become popular you have to question the integrity of the medium.
Lemonade feels like a statement. A work of masterful artistry that drifts from moment to moment like a dream. Spoken word segments that transform into melancholic musings and emotional performances. Unlike so much of the single-driven music industry right now, Lemonade feels like a singular work. An album that demands to be listened to from start to finish. There are some standout tracks, most notably the stark and salty “Sorry” and the so raw it hurts ballad “Sandcastles”. But for me, it’s hard to single out individual tracks with much enthusiasm, because I believe Lemonade is a piece that deserves to be seen as much as heard. An intriguing visual experience that makes the emotional journey that much stronger.
Lemonade is ridiculously indulgent. The kind of work that could have smothered a lesser artist. We all know Beyonce is light years beyond simple artistry, and with Lemonade she has once again proven that point.
Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker and the co-host of Across the Pondcast. Follow him on Twitter.
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