If there was ever an artist in the music industry that knew how to work the general audience, it’s Beyoncé. I saw a tweet the other day that said, “Beyonce has this generation in the palm of her hands”. They’re not wrong! Beyoncé had our attention since the beginning of her career, but she’s figured out how to transcend the attention drawn to her from strictly being about her music, to being about her and the image she creates. We were all stunned and mesmerized by the massive release of her self titled album in 2013: sudden release with no warning, songs written with some of today’s hottest writers ranging from hip hop jams to slow moving ballads, plus music videos to accompany every song. This was something that nobody had thought about doing, and it was something only someone like Beyoncé could do successfully. The only point in setting release dates for albums is promotion. When it comes to artists like Adele and Beyoncé, people are constantly waiting with bated breath to hear that new music is on the way, and relatively zero promotion would have to be done for the album to sell enough to become a commercial success by anyone’s standards. So to surprise release an album that debuts at #1? Yup, only Beyoncé could pull that off.
That being said, with the release of Adele’s 25 this past November, people were writing this one off as the year of Adele…until Beyoncé threw her own album into the ring, in yet another way that only an artist of her caliber could do. She took her concept of a visual album to the next level and partnered with HBO to premiere her entire album using an hour long video, featuring each of the songs to tell a story of infidelity, acceptance, repentance and forgiveness. Since she had already exhausted the tactic of surprise, she went for shock value. Now, I like everyone that watched the video, was sucked into the world that Beyoncé had created. Even if you don’t like Bey’s music or her image, you have to admit that the girl has style and a way of making her presence known in this industry. She wove a story that was told through visuals and music, while telling multiple messages throughout the entire thing. Visually, the project was stunning. It was raw, it was compelling, it held your attention, waiting to figure out what was happening next, and you didn’t realize that you weren’t watching a movie until the very end; essentially you were watching a huge music video. That, in itself, is impressive.
Putting all of that aside, Beyoncé’s strategy for this album was clear. No longer was she focused on surprise anything (the surprise release of her last album was huge, but also the exclusive extra set that came with it too had funs buzzing and the industry questioning if surprise releases for huge artists would become a growing trend). No, for this album it was to tell the story of Jay-Z and how she found out he was not being faithful. I know, WHAT? I myself asked the question that I feel that everyone was asking: When married to Beyoncé, what the (beep) are you not getting out of that relationship? She’s beautiful, she’s crazy talented, she’s got the world wrapped around her finger…why would you mess with that? Going on the journey that the Lemonade movie took you on, I actually felt that this happened. Why else would Solange be kicking the sh*t out of Jay on the elevator at the Met Gala a couple of years ago? The emotional take of the video was incredibly convincing and the music was compellingly good (as a fan of angry songs that are the perfect soundtrack to beating a punching bag, songs like “Don’t Hurt Yourself” with Jack White draw me in like a magnet). And of course, let’s not forget the roller coaster the world went through with “Becky with the good hair”. It was like a modern day Watergate over here! People were coming out of the woodwork in search of who this “Becky” could be and things went from entertaining, to just plain sad. It went from looking like cops on the search for a convicted criminal to looking more like kids looking for eggs on an Easter egg hunt (although the best part had to be when people mistook Rachel Ray for Rachel Roy. That poor woman was probably so confused, but it’s okay, she got some attention for however long it lasted).
Once again, I would like to admit that the album is musically, very, VERY good. For the rest of the month, I was hooked, listening to every song, feeling the vibe. Like I said before in my post about P!nk, Beyoncé is one of the few artists that is so gifted at singing with palpable emotion, so those voice breaks on “Sandcastles” just get me every freaking time. HOWEVER, this may just be my young naivety, but it had not crossed my mind at all throughout all this turmoil, that it was all so specifically a marketing ploy. I mean, do you think Adele wrote 21 knowing it was going to turn the world upside down and have people crying for hours, calling their exes and fixing their broken relationships? No, that was an unpredictable display of how music shapes the world. I gave Beyoncé credit (or should I say the benefit of the doubt, at this point) that this album was truly for getting through the emotions of a relationship that took a horrible turn. It was an honest depiction of love gone wrong, it was her way of owning the power and influence she has in the industry and getting back at someone who wronged her (if I had the power that she had, best BELIEVE I’d be doing some serious name checking). That all changed.
Someone pointed out to me that it was all pretty much for money, something skeptics, including my mother have said a lot about Beyoncé. I agree that the woman is a financial and entrepreneurial wizard if that’s the case, because she really knows how to give the public what she tells them they want (and don’t get me wrong, her music is fantastic). However, it was specifically the announcement that Jay-Z was planning a response album to Lemonade that threw me onto the side of the skeptics that this whole thing was for money and attention. Really? If the situation was as clear as Beyoncé was making it sound, Jay should have nothing to say but “I’m sorry”. How do you justify cheating on your wife? So there’s Problem #1. Problem #2 is that despite rumors that the two were divorcing, Beyoncé has pretty much done everything possible to convince everyone that their marriage is now fine. They have taken the time to see whoever they needed to see to reconcile their differences and make their relationship work. She’s publicly stated at her concerts that she dedicates her performances to her husband and that she loves him so much. At first, I was thinking, “Okay, good for them for working it out”. But hearing that their was to be a response album, in which Jay-Z, to keep his pride, is likely going to be dragging Beyoncé, who he’s supposedly on good terms with now, I changed my tune to, “Are you freaking kidding me?” Something is not right there. If you do something wrong, get dragged publicly for it by someone like Bey and then try to justify it when you know majority of the world is probably going to side with her, why would you bring that up again after spending so much time on reconciliation? There is no way he would start THAT fire.
I didn’t want to believe that this whole thing was fabricated because I thoroughly enjoyed the album as a whole. I thought it was well put together and impressive. However, it bothered me that there were 55 credited writers on the album. Taking into account there were samples added to some of the songs from other pre-existing songs, which means those writers had to be credited, but still, that’s a lot of writers. If someone was really feeling that strongly about those emotions, wouldn’t they and like, two other people be able to put down into words what they were really feeling? Not 55? That seems excessive to me, which again makes it look like a marketing ploy because a lot of time, thought and planning went into this. Really amazing albums can be written and produced with a team of four people. I doubt Adele had that many people working on her 21 record, or Michael Jackson on his Thriller record, Carole King on Tapestry or Amy Winehouse on Back To Black.
Overall, with all of these signs that this was very clearly done with the intention of absorbing attention from the use of shock value, all the news of Jay-Z’s response album does is ruin any shred of credibility Lemonade had at being the honest portrayal of their relationship’s biggest speed bump that it claimed to be. It might just be my personality, but I hate to think that someone could sell themselves so strictly to someone else for the simple reasons of making money. We all agree that Beyoncé could do better than Jay-Z. Even Jay would agree to that. So, when you see them together and you think that Jay of the two of them was the one that cheated, you start to doubt that their marriage is anything but for the purpose of making money. I am a person that doesn’t like to think that way. Maybe they do love each other, who knows? However, they both benefit from their union, Jay especially. For example, other than “Empire State of Mind” with Alicia Keys, “Crazy In Love” with Bey, “Umbrella” with Rihanna and his multitude of songs with Kanye, can you name me a song from Jay Z that is so incredibly successful that isn’t with a featured artist? Right. Because he needs other people’s star power to make him marketable. So why not attach yourself to one of the most powerful pop singers in the industry? Well, that’s exactly what he did. So of course, people are going to want to hear from him about this incident that has him on blast for the world to hear about. That’s what he wants. God knows that if Bey just released another album that was solid as all hell and then he just released another one with no drama behind it, people would practically ignore it. I’m not saying Jay doesn’t have a right to defend himself. I mean, anyone that has listened to Lemonade knows that he was put on blast like CRAZY. However, when the way you respond and defend yourself is with an album, it’s clear this was about money, and though I’m sure that realization is not going to stunt sales of the album, it disappoints me as a consumer and a musician that that is to be a ruling trademark of blockbuster albums: a fabricated, unauthentic product. Luckily for Lemonade, Beyoncé has enough talent that it’s still believable to listen to that this whole thing actually went down. But for other artists that attempt to do the same thing, it’s going to really hurt the integrity of the music industry and the concept of a original artist will continue to dwindle and be valued that much less than an artist who can bulls*t their way through a 12 song set of songs they don’t know how to relate to, feel or have ever been through.
So, in the end, it’s up to you as a consumer as to whether or not you want to buy this album. It’s honestly a great album, but for some people, the basis that could very well be artificial is enough of a warning sign not to indulge in the record. I will continue to jam to it, because like I said, it’s a fantastic record. But depending on the way this album was made, was marketed and the story surrounding it happened, this could have greater consequences than we think.