Who is “Becky with the good hair”? Why did Solange Knowles lose her temper with Jay-Z in that Las Vegas elevator in 2014? Can a show-business marriage ever really endure? In the days since Lemonade materialised in a figurative puff of smoke on the Tidal streaming platform (it is now also available on iTunes), Beyonce’s surprise sixth studio album has been picked over endlessly for gossipy nuggets, the mystery deepened by an accompanying video project brimming with surreal imagery
But even if you could care less for the state of Bey’s relationship with husband Jay-Z , Lemonade is an astounding document. Its greatest achievement is to humanise the most powerful woman in pop. Lemonade is alternately angry, self-admonishing and preachy — but above all it pulsates with vulnerability. Beyonce, that enigma hidden in plain sight, is showing us more of herself here than at any point in her career to-date.
Without parsing the lyrics too deeply, her personal life is evidently in a fraught condition and she lays her heart out on a platter on songs that combine unflinching honesty with impressive musical adventurousness. She has assembled top-rank line-up of collaborators, among them Kendrick Lamar, James Blake and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig while signaling her determination to push her music into new shapes by sampling Animal Collective and repurposing the chorus from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Maps.
The best moments are the angriest. She caterwauls on Don’t Hurt Yourself, a shin-kicking rock-out with guitar and backing vocals by Jack White. But it’s the brooding ballad Sorry that has drawn the most prurient response, the dirge concluded with the lyrics “He only want me when I’m on there/ He better call Becky with the good hair”.
Is Becky a person, a metaphor, a manifestation of Beyonce’s insecurities? It is possible she is all three at once (the internet has its own ideas). Whatever the truth, one fact is indisputable: Lemonade is Beyonce’s finest album yet, a conceptual rumination on heartbreak and insecurities that will speak even to those entirely indifferent to the travails of a multimillionaires hitched to a rap mogul.
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