By Hayden Wright
Last weekend, Beyoncé and HBO released a trailer for the secret video project. The airing put to rest one week of fervent speculation—what was Lemonade? Well, it’s not a Carol Burnett-style variety hour, whatever hopes and dreams you placed in that notion. Lemonade is a longform music video providing context and narrative imagery to her bold, confessional lyrics. It’s political, suggestive, scandalous, and downright beautiful—here’s a rundown of everything you need to know.
Related: 5 Best Songs on Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’
Lemonade opens with Beyoncé leaning on the hood of a Suburban, draped in fur, a familiar image from the trailer. Cut away to dangling chains in black and white, a Civil War-era battlement, and hoodie-clad Beyoncé among stalks of tall grass. “Intuition,” the title card suggests: “I tried to make a home out of you, but doors lead to trap doors, a stairway leads to nothing…what a f—ing curse.”
“Denial” comes next. “I tried to make myself prettier—less awake.” Now Beyoncé is underwater, asking a man if he’s cheating on her, but emerges to the happiest warpath ever seen, raining fire and water upon retro cars, diners and bystanders. She gets behind the wheel of a monster truck to finish the scene—and this is just the beginning of “Anger.” This segment features fashions akin to Kanye’s Yeezy Season Three and provocative Civil Rights Era audio: “The most disrespected…neglected…person in America is the black woman.”
“Tonight I’m f—ing up all your s—, boy,” Beyoncé growls over the electro track. “If you try this s— again, you gonna lose your wife,” rather pointedly putting Jay Z on notice. In the next section, “Apathy,” Beyoncé muses about what the offending husband will say at his wife’s funeral—that he’s broken her heart, taken her for granted. We’ll soon find that this is deeper than a speculative allusion to real life events.
This is where the cameos take off. Serena Williams enters the frame—twerking around Beyoncé in a leotard, a perfect double act of black excellence. The Lemonade collaborations don’t quit when The Weeknd appears on the next, red-light district themed movement. In a poetic ode to her mother (featuring gymnast Gabby Douglas), Beyoncé identifies with the pain and anguish cheating and neglect caused them both, concluding—”am I talking about your husband, or your father?”
The acoustic track that follows credits her father with making her a “soldier,” with jangly guitar and wrenching lyrics about their complicated relationship: Welcome to Beyoncé’s first country song? Home movies featuring Beyoncé and Matthew Knowles together melt into a Baptist row of women treading through still water: “Baptize me now that reconciliation is possible.”
In a lovely ballad titled “Every Promise,” we finally see Jay Z, whose fidelity was put on blast during Lemonade‘s first two acts. With his appearance, the pair do not back away from a tabloid interpretation of “Intuition,” “Denial,” and “Anger.” The scene appears to say “all that mess happened, but we’re good now.”
But Beyoncé’s up to more than simply airing dirty laundry. A montage of portraits features mothers and families who lost black sons to police brutality.
The political Beyoncé fans and critics watched at the Super Bowl Halftime Show was back in force during the hour-long special. Extending the #BlackLivesMatter ethos of her video for “Formation,” Lemonade featured black Americans in various stages and stations of life. On “Formation,” Bey highlighted police brutality against African Americans in the same breath she declared herself a “black Bill Gates in the making.”
The black-and-white movement that follows contains a rousing fight song: “I break chains all by myself. Don’t let my freedom rot in hell.”
Lemonade takes those images and contradictions (not hers, but contemporary American society’s) even further. Those dual tracks—how far we’ve come, how far we’ve yet to go—are wrapped tightly in Beyonce’s cultural platform. On her last outing, Beyoncé keenly negotiated loaded themes like marriage, fidelity, feminism and motherhood. Just as she aimed to transcend those structures in 2013, Lemonade‘s Beyoncé seeks to rise above injustice…and perhaps to bring legions of followers with her.
“The past and the present merge to meet us here. What are you hiding?” she asks. “Why can’t you see me?” From extras clad in Antebellum lace to the question: “If it’s truly what you want, I can wear her skin over mine.”
In the final installment of Lemonade, Beyoncé shares an actual recipe for lemonade—and how it “found healing where it did not live.” Spanish moss and a rousing string instrumental connect the end with the beginning. Through the hell and indignity of marriage, prejudice and existential wandering, we learn that this is not a story of breakdown—it’s one of triumph. Lemonade is a brilliant piece of salesmanship, but it’s many other things, including Beyoncé’s most ambitious artistic statement to date.