The film served up a mix of imagery and new songs that run the gamut from angry to defiant to celebrating the redemptive power of true love. The film arrived on HBO with little advance promo, just social media messaging from Beyonce that started last weekend.
Proving herself once again a master of marketing, Beyonce’s new set became available for streaming via Tidal, the subscription service run by her music-mogul husband Jay Z, just as the HBO special ended at 10 p.m. ET. The first song from the set, “Formation,” was released in February on the same day Beyonce appeared at this year’s Super Bowl half-time show with Coldplay and Bruno Mars. And Beyonce is launching her latest world tour on Wednesday in Miami.
“Lemonade” is billed as a “visual album” just like her previous set, “Beyonce,” which was released with no advance fanfare via iTunes in December 2013. That was before Jay Z launched his Tidal streaming service in March 2015.
The 12-track set features contributions from Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd and James Blake and samples of Led Zeppelin and Animal Collective tracks.
The special featured voice-over narration from Beyonce telling the story of a woman’s anguish over a romantic betrayal, interspersed with clips of Beyonce performing songs revolving around themes of anger, heartbreak and defiance. One sequence included a audio clip of Malcolm X’s famous declaration “the most disrespected person in America is the black woman” intercut with images of African-American women.
The strength and perseverance of women was the dominant theme. The quick cuts offered snippets of everything from New Orleans jazz funerals and Mardi Gras Indians to young African-American men riding in a car discussing death to Beyonce lying distraught on the gridiron in an empty football stadium.
As displayed on title cards, the storyline wound through themes that included “denial,” “anger,” “apathy,” “accountability,” “reformation,” “hope,” “forgiveness” and “resurrection” and “redemption.” In one sequence, Beyonce was seen walking down a New York street swinging a baseball bat at a car and a fire hydrant. In others, she was featured in elaborate costume dresses singing gospel-flavored material.
The special featured glimpses of Jay Z and Beyonce in a sensual embrace and what appeared to be home movie footage of their wedding as well as footage of the couple playing with their young daughter, Blue Ivy.
The closing sequence features Beyonce offering a recipe for lemonade (“strain through a clean napkin”) and paying tribute to her grandmother. It also included what appeared to be footage from the 90th birthday celebration last October of Jay Z’s grandmother, Hattie White.
For all of the raw emotions on display, the film closes on a hopeful note, depicting images of a diverse mix of happy couples, including a gay couple.
“We’re gonna heal, we’re going to start again,” Beyonce sings. “Pull me back together again the way you cut me in half. Pull the sorrow from between my legs like silk. Knot after knot after knot.”
Directors of the film were credited as: Kahlil Joseph, Beyonce Knowles-Carter, Melina Matsoukas, Todd Tourso, Dikayl Rimmasch, Jonas Akerlund and Mark Romanek.
Beyonce previously teamed with HBO for the 2013 documentary “Beyonce: Life is But a Dream,” which she co-directed with Ed Burke.
Full “Lemonade” track list: