Surprise releases are a tired default, unless you’re Beyoncé. Everything Queen Bey touches turns to gold, only this time she’s spitting fireballs on ‘Lemonade’, her sixth album and the second to be dropped out of the blue.
An HBO special, billed since 16th April, was way more than your average telly show. In actual fact, it was the world premiere of a new visual album, each of the twelve tracks matched with a head-turning video.
Scrap Sunday roasts and weekend traditions. The music world and diehard fans collectively scrambled yesterday to renew their TIDAL subscription, soak up ‘Lemonade’ and make sense of a record that, in an instant, ranks as Bey’s most talked-about to date.
On first glimpse, this is a no-prisoners firestarter. High profile guest spots pale in comparison to the sheer level of truth on display here, a reality check for anyone who’d accuse Beyoncé of keeping cards close to her chest.
24 hours since release, here’s the sweet stuff you need to know about ‘Lemonade’.
Nobody can challenge Bey to the visual album throne
It’s been done before - not least by Bey herself. But with ‘Lemonade’, the visual album concept’s been taken to another level. Last time round, when ‘Beyoncé’ was dropped in December 2014, fans could download tracks on iTunes before opting to watch a video for each song. However extravagant, the visual side was a ‘take it or leave it’ offer. Either watch Bey cruise round on roller-skates and parade around as a monarch, or be a boring sod and just hit play on the music.
This time, fans had to absorb themselves in the full-length accompanying film before doing anything else. The visuals came first. And in a brief history of acts playing a similar card, this is the first time it’s happened on such a big scale. FKA twigs put out the ‘M3LL155X’ EP in the form of one seamless video, but at the exact same time, fans could download the tracks in one bundle. As for anyone else taking the ‘visual album’ route, the grand imagery tends to follow the music, like with Justin Bieber’s ‘Purpose’ or when Bon Iver put out a deluxe version of his second record.
Only a handful of acts can pull off the music-and-film trick, but Beyoncé is leading the way.
Christ alive, Jay-Z is in trouble
‘Lemonade’’s no-bullshit honesty is either the work of fantasy, a fuck-that-guy retort to cheating pricks the world over. Or it’s very, very real. The main talking point from the record, without pause, is that Jay Z appears to be in Bey’s firing line. And on a scale of lyrics that make you jump out your seat, hands clasped over your mouth in disbelief, “If you try this shit again, you gon’ lose your wife,” is right up there at the top.
There’s more, as ‘Lemonade’ swings from shock to sweet revenge. Bey’s making lemonade with lemons, obviously. On ‘Pray You Catch Me’ she sings about how “you can taste the dishonesty”, passed off “so cavalier,” before ‘Sorry’ comes clean with “Today I regret the night I put that ring on / He always got them fucking excuses.”
Without getting caught up in gossip, ‘Lemonade’ is a ferocious, politicised shock to the system - that much is definite. Beyond the lyrics - and let’s be honest, it’s hard to actually look beyond them - this narrative could be the stuff of fiction. It might be Bey telling someone else’s story, artistic licence and all that. Just stay out the way of her “hot sauce”.
It’s been in the works for years
Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig has a songwriting credit on ‘Hold Up’, a Diplo-produced bop making smart work of Soulja Boy and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Turns out, Ezra tweeted the lyric “hold up…they don’t love u like i love u” back in October 2011, just under five years ago. He followed it up yesterday with “slow down…they don’t love u like i love u,” suggesting the jammy git’s pretty good at keeping secrets for half a decade.
Under the radar producers are having their moment
Big guest spots draw the headlines, but Beyoncé also likes to shine a light on lesser-known producers.
With her self-titled LP, underground name BOOTS suddenly became a somebody, eventually working with Run the Jewels before releasing a solo album last year.
Melo-X isn’t quite so secretive. Nor has he gone without a moment in the spotlight. Last year’s ‘Curate’ EP found him working with Raury and Little Simz, backing music up with Bey-approved ambition by releasing a fancy app alongside the EP. Still, Sean Rhoden’s work on ‘Hold Up’ and ‘Sorry’ won’t go unnoticed, and he could easily be the breakout name from this big league release.