In case you forgot, before Lemonade, there was Beyoncé’s self-produced and self-directed documentary, Life is But a Dream. The film was Beyoncé’s first attempt to show us that she’s just like the rest of us. During the documentary, which was double the length of Lemonade, we saw several sides to Beyoncé. There was “happy Beyoncé”, “sad Beyoncé”, “pensive Beyoncé,” “authoritative Beyoncé” and of course, “diva Beyoncé.” But it lacked an intimacy that made it fall flat.
In the 2013 documentary, the singer uses her laptop as a video diary. Life is But a Dream begins promisingly with Beyoncé speaking openly and honestly about the infamous parting of ways between her and her father and former manager. But just as the audience is prepared to see a more intimate side of her, the film veers to the same type of footage that we’ve seen of her countless times before: Beyoncé as a performer. It feels like entertainment rather than vulnerability.
Lemonade succeeds where Life is But a Dream did not. Where Life is But a Dream felt overly produced and contrived, Lemonade is a tour de force of powerful imagery and spoken word. It feels as if we are reading pages out of Beyoncé’s personal diary. It’s an album about grief and growth. Grieving the girl that you thought you were verses the woman that you’ve actually become. Grieving the loss of your dream of what a perfect relationship is supposed to be like. We have never seen the songstress this open.
What works so well in Lemonade is that she uses her performances to express a deeper, more intimate side of herself. She is quite explicitly telling her audience how she has personally had to face and deal with some universal hardships and truths… the same hardships and truths that are endured by all women on a daily basis. I think that one of the things that I appreciate most of all is the fact that here we have a married woman speaking truthfully about her spouse’s shortcomings and her marital disappointments. I’ve never been a big fan of poetry and imagery in pop music (or anywhere really). It’s very easy to come off as being pretentiously deep. But Lemonade contains some of the most powerful imagery that I’ve ever seen. My favorite scenes are the moody, misty shots set on the water. Perhaps it’s my New Orleans roots (much of the film is set in Louisiana and contains many shots of bayous and Antebellum-type homes), but I think that even without music the imagery would still be just as emotionally powerful.
“Life is like a puzzle,” Beyoncé says in her 2013 documentary. “As we grow, we take the next step and the dots get connected and we eventually become what we are supposed to be.”
People are complicated and nobody is just one thing, which is what makes Lemonade a very brave piece of art. It triumphantly succeeds in showing us vulnerability in a performer who is known for her guardedness and shrewd image control.