- 29 Apr 16
As the Queen twists her stiletto heels into Jay Z's prone midriff, our man Ed Power judges the latest effort from the pop megastar to be her finest work to date
Of the many, many questions raised by Lemonade, Beyonce's surprise-released, deeply troubled new masterpiece, surely the most pertinent pertains to Bey's marriage to Jay Z and our collective investment therein. Who'd have guessed humankind had hedged so much on pop's most glamorous union staying the course?
Lemonade wrenchingly chronicles a tempestuous relationship seemingly plunged into a fatal tailspin by infidelity and doesn't really tell us what to do with the information. For the gossip-industrial complex the record is of course the gift that never stops of giving. The internet has across the past week worked itself into delirium speculating over the identity of "Becky with the good hair", a mysterious paramour called out by Beyonce in the closing verse of '6 Inch', her comfortably numb duet with The Weeknd.
Celebrity fashionista Rachel Roy and UK singer Rita Ora are among those accused of bedroom shenanigans with Jay Z (denied in both instances). But by the time Beyonce gets around to pointing the finger, she has already painted a portrait of a marriage as a smoking ruin and frankly we no longer care WHO caused it all to go south.
This is a fait accompli and there's little point getting all CSI on the specifics. "Who the fuck do you think I is/ You ain't married to no average bitch boy?" Beyonce banshee-wails on 'Don't Hurt Yourself'. "Keep your money, I got my own/ Get a bigger smile on my face, being alone."
Here Beyonce isn't so much washing her dirty laundry in public as sticking her used garments in your face and inviting you to sniff freely. You stagger away with the sense of having been party to one of the great break-up LPs, no matter that couple haven't technically broken up yet (though Jay Z is surely at the sleeping-on-the-couch point of his and Bey's slow fade-out).
This speaks to the great contradiction Beyonce embodies. She's an international superstar invested in increasingly challenging, even avant-garde music; an adroit manipulator of her own image who lays her big bleeding heart out on a slab. She isn't mingling art and commerce so much as forging a new kind of celebrity, blending unattainable glamour with an everyday vulnerability with which we can all identify.
Even if you could care less for the TMZ angle, though, Lemonade is worth losing yourself in. Collaborators such as Jack White, Kendrick Lamar and Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig are testament to Beyonce's creative curiosity (she draws from the ether without sucking the life, Madonna style, from her inspirations). Even the album's call-backs have a seductive lustre, with 'Hold Up' pinching the chorus from Yeah Yeah Yeah's 'Maps' and '6 Inch' sampling Animal Collective's 'My Girls'.
The mission to splice the artistic and the mainstream reaches its glorious zenith on 'Forward', an untethered hook-up with James Blake in which their vocals interweave in a disembodied swirl. It's strange and glorious and will floor you even if you couldn't give an airborne expletive whether Bey and Jay are on speaking terms this morning.