Who runs the world? According to Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter, its us, women. Often referred to as ‘Queen B,’ over the years Beyonce has most certainly and successfully made a place for herself in the music industry and in the hearts of many. The title ‘Queen B’ itself screams of authority, power and respect. Beyonce’s songs and lyrics have long emphasized the importance of independence and confidence in each individual’s life, especially the lives of females. For the purpose of this essay, I have chosen to focus on Beyonce’s newest album titled ‘Lemonade’. After extensive research and detailed study of her work, I have gathered that Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter stands tall as a role model for women all over the globe as well as a confident feminist. Through the course of the paper, I will explore different ideas and perspectives that support my claim. I have decided to focus on the question: “How and to what extent does pop icon, Beyonce Knowles stand as a symbol of female empowerment and a source of inspiration through her lyrics, videos and images” and how ‘Lemonade’ is associated with secondary readings from our class involving race, gender, and intersectionality.
Many critics say Lemonade solely focuses on “the state of her marriage rather than the state of the world.” However, I believe that the album is Beyonce’s way of expressing her political stance in society through the story of her marriage. Lemonade is also seen as a celebration of women, feminists, and people of colour. The album has been increasingly popular amongst black women, as Beyonce elevates and inspires them through her status of ‘Queen B.” Throughout the album, we see her beliefs in ‘black girl magic’ as she dances amongst globally known celebrities, activists and inspiring black women. By doing so, she is seen as part of them, and them of her, so by standing together, with choreographed moves and ‘in formation’ they radiate extremely powerful messages.
The album portrays Beyonce’s long-term association with black southern regionalism. It brought back black women to their brutal, historic and regional pasts by making them the ancestors and rightful successors of the southern gothic tradition. Lemonade suggests that black women are ‘alchemists’ and ‘metaphysicians’ who are at once of the past, present and future, changing and healing the physical, chemical and spiritual world around them. The short film begins with Beyonce’s soothing voice reciting a recipe given by Jay Z’s grandmother Hattie. While she recites, it seems like she is sharing and giving us the secret recipe to make Lemonade because her “grandmother, the alchemist” helped her and she wants to help us. *when life gives u lemon make lemonade
Lemonade is a portrayal of Beyonce moving from isolation to strength through amalgamating black women together by leading them, guiding them and teaching them. The implication behind making lemonade could be a message to black women to work, survive and thrive and to learn to make something out of nothing – lemonade. Throughout the harsh pasts black women have come across, they have triumphed, paved paths and made lemonade out of lemons.
She is seen as a religious figure as she leads and gathers a group of famously known women known for their daring actions and beliefs who have been victimized by the media. This gathering of women happens several times throughout the short film, in “formation” the black women assemble together in a living room in what looks like a rich Victorian house hold. The women are dressed in white Victorian gowns whilst fanning themselves; this portrays them as wealthy and of upper class. The scene goes against black history as it puts these black women in roles of rich white families who owned slaves. Another scene, to further explain my point is in the song “All Night,” which stars “Zendaya, Amandla Stenberg, Ouvenzhane Wallis, and Chloe and Halle.”
All these women have been subjected to harsh criticism solely focused on their skin color. One scene looks like a utopian feminist cult, where the women are sitting on porches, wearing long flowing colorful clothes. The houses resemble plantation homes and their attendant slave quarters. The scene after includes the cameo appearances of the same women, but wearing different white clothes. These scenes are very dream-like as it conveys the fantasy of an all-black, utopian bliss where women dress up, take photographs and perform shows, not for their ‘masters’ but for themselves. It goes to show that all these women, each influential in their own way, have made lemonade out of lemons that were thrown at them and became stronger out of that. They were strong as individuals and they are strong together. By having these empowering women stand together, they inspire women all over to fight for themselves.
It is interesting to note that while on the face value, the black women in Lemonade portray themselves as confident and evoke a strong sense of pride, stature and freedom of expression. On the other hand, the audience can simultaneously observe and sense their internal feelings of vulnerability, hurt and pain. Lemonade celebrates juxtaposing powerful emotions such as blackness, heartache, love, pride, pain, sexism, racism, feminism, black feminism, and black history in the south and therefore contributes to the mixed feelings of confidence and vulnerability. These contrasting emotions project black people’s beauty, resilience, and strength, yet still display their battle with marginalization of being black and their oppressed past with racism. Nonetheless, they still look proud and strong as they have overcome every obstacle and managed to make lemonade.
The album captures several iconic black images as Beyonce pays a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement in “Freedom.” We see a heartbreaking scene where the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown are holding photographs of their sons who were victims of police brutality. The blank stares on the women’s faces speak volumes as it could represent years of being forced to remain quiet in spite of abuse and mortification. The images of the mothers are painful and heartbreaking making the viewers feel grievous and saddened, as we are not able to help these mothers with their heartache that has already been inflicted on them. By including these moms in the video, Beyonce sent a haunting and evocative reminder of the injustices these moms went through, and will be going through for the rest of their lives. Not only she gave them a powerful platform to let their stories be heard, but also to raise awareness to viewers that police brutality is still happening right now.
Not only Beyonce is a strong advocate for black empowerment, but she also takes a very strong feminist stance and looks to empower women all over the world. She is very articulate with her opinions on gender inequalities as she encourages women to have ambition and confidence. She is a woman who has been hurt, angry, in denial, and everything between but she wants the world to know she\’s still here, still strong and still a powerful force who is just as influential as any man will ever be. In the music videos, she’s not always at the front leading the dances, but they are all synchronized in ‘Formation’ as each member of the group has their own individual importance. This implies how not only Beyonce should be seen as powerful but every woman is too, but we are stronger and more dominant together.
In the song “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, she displays female empowerment through three words; “love God herself.” By giving female attributes to God, she is breaking through the predefined notions of society and religion by giving God a female gender. In the same song she emphasizes on the fact that if women do not fit the stereotype of importance and beauty, they are forgotten. The sentence “Who the fuck do you think I is? I am the dragon breathing fire,” inspires women to stand up for themselves, as we should never be forgotten for who or how we are. “I am not broken, I’m not crying” teaches us that these injustices are not worth our tears.
In “All Night” the gathering of the women has a very witch-like atmosphere, which could be related to Yoruba Societies, where men claimed most positions in politics and in households. However, women claimed the power of ‘witch craftery’ where they ‘used that power against the institutions of society” and “militate against male dominance.” Since witch craftery was the only way for women to feel powerful back then, Beyonce made her whole album very witch-like to subtly connote how females are still being degraded, but we are in fact, powerful.
In an interview with the Guardian, she says “humanity requires both men and women and we are equally important and need one another. So why are we viewed as less equal.” Beyonce looks at how the world needs freedom of oppression and equality for both men and women; yet, throughout the album she contradicts herself as she is solely establishing her power over men and not making them equal. Beyonce’s overly sexualized image in her performances, videos, and in Lemonade has been criticizes by a number of feminists for contradicting her public declarations as a feminist. She has been accused of performing for the male gaze and objectifying herself in the exact way feminists have fought against for decades, while presenting it as an empowering choice.
In the song “6 Inch” Beyoncé narrates the life of a stripper. The stigma that surrounds strippers generally depicts the image of a woman who usually dresses risqué. Beyoncé saying “she’s worth every dollar” does not convey the message of empowering women, but the latter; this message directly degrades these women and their profession by attaching a monetary value to themselves based on the way they look. Beyonce sings about this girl to depict an image for the listener, of a woman being degraded to the essentially a ‘money making machine.’ In turn, this song can be interpreted as the direct opposite of female empowerment and associated with the objectifying of women, especially those in prostitution.
Furthermore, for Beyonce to be a role model, she must maintain a consistent image of herself and her beliefs, yet Lemonade is the only album where she is constantly representing feminism and empowering women. Her previous hit video “Run the World (girls,) includes a several amount of female degradation as implies that through her body and sex appeal she can convince the men around her to fulfill her wants. Other subtle connotations of female degradation are when the men surrounding her confront her, and she goes on her knees in between one man’s legs. Also the short cameo appearances where women were presented through sexual animal-like imagery made women looked domesticated by men.
Lastly, the album itself only stars black women and men, and stands up and protects their rights, however, all over the world, there are women and men who are experiencing the same problems, yet she doesn’t speak for them. By having only black people in her album, it could be understood that she is only appealing to one type of audience – black people. She is trying to inspire people globally, and advocate change for these injustices, however she should be advocating for change for people of all races.
On the other hand, one could interpret these criticisms under a positive light where in “6 Inch” Beyonce could be emphasizing women’s power and acceptance for whatever profession they choose. She uses metonymy by using heels to symbolize a woman as a whole. “By describing her wardrobe, we get a sense of feminine empowerment as high heels elevate a persons physical appearance as well as emotional stability.” Moreover, Beyonce’s “Run the World” could suggest that she is encouraging women to embrace their bodies, be sexually liberated and force the world to be more accepting of each individuals sexuality. Lastly, Beyonce’s advocacy for black people could not be seen negatively as black women, are the biggest victims in America. As Malcolm X said at the beginning of the album “the most disrespected woman is America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
Overall, coupled with intense images and stimulating lyrics, Beyonce produced a masterpiece that enabled viewers to look at the faces of ultimate pain: to understand and listen to everyone’s stories, and to respect all people regardless of the stereotypes. By creating this album she effectively empowered women all over to be strong, and raised awareness to the experiences black women all face from racially motivated violence. Her last few words were “Look. Listen. Their voices matter. Their emotions matter. Their lives matter.” Every woman in this visual album flaunts their intersectional identity by standing proud amongst Beyonce, as she might be one of the most prosperous black women in the world to defy marginalization.
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