Beyoncé’s agitpop: it’s really about what it means to be a black woman in America

David Bennun in More Intelligent Life:

Images“Lemonade” is about race and sex, subjects which are now at the forefront of the American political landscape, as the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum and women find themselves fending off those who would strip them of their reproductive rights. “Lemonade”, the visual album, combines these subjects: it is explicitly about female blackness. It isn’t a manifesto – it’s not that coherent, nor does it attempt to be – but it is by its existence both a kind of mutiny and a proclamation of solidarity. It is defined by who it is for: black women.

Yet at no point does Beyoncé fall short as an entertainer. This is agitprop with a sky-high budget; “Lemonade” is lavishly styled, immaculately shot and full of beautiful people. Often surreal, it taps deep into a psychosexual dream world, and borrows from the visual language of Buñuel and Dali.The effect is unsettling. Among the unsettled is Piers Morgan, who wrote about how uncomfortable it makes him, and how much he preferred it when Beyoncé was fun and apolitical. In my book, you should as a rule take note of Morgan’s opinions only to assure yourself they do not align with your own. But in this case Morgan is useful: he stands in for the kind of person Beyonce is trying to disturb, which is anybody unnerved or threatened by a black woman who doesn’t conform to their expectations. “Lemonade” isn’t meant to be easy going: it’s high-gloss art that’s disruptive and subversive (all the more so because it will probably sell in the millions). It’s no doubt clever and calculated, but so what? When, in pop music, did that become a sin? This record wants everything its own way, to be at once shiny mass-market product and gritty sedition – and it just about pulls it off. “Lemonade” lives up to its title: acid-sharp, amply sugared and mightily refreshing.

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