Tunes for Tuesday: Beyonce’s Lemonade

Is there any way we would talk about anything else this week? Beyoncé’s Lemonade shoved everything that came out in the last eight weeks right off the map. Between Prince’s death and her album drop on HBO this past Saturday, there’s been no room for anyone else on the Billboard charts. Prince held eight spots posthumously last week. This week, Beyoncé already holds the top five slots in iTunes, and is Number 1 in 97 countries and counting. Every track is in the Top 40 of the Global iTunes chart, a feat that has never happened before now.

Lemonade has been compared to such other musical cultural events like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video debuting on MTV for the first time. I myself thought of the same–and that if this were 20 years ago, Beyoncé would have dropped this on MTV, not HBO. But times have changed, and MTV forgot to be a music channel. Meanwhile, HBO made a deal with the JayZ-Beyoncé juggernaut to broadcast their live tour last summer–clearly the ratings were such that they were happy to make a deal to do the same for her latest “visual album.”

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Speaking of Beyoncé’s “visual albums,” this is her second one in a row where the music is as important as the visuals, and the visuals as important as the music. Going with HBO has been a boon to her in the ability to control the content in this digital age–her last album was quickly uploaded to YouTube, and the music sold through iTunes, robbing her of control of either. Here, there are no uploads to YouTube, DailyMotion, Vimeo or any platform. HBO has the exclusive rights, and they are doing the work of keeping it on lock. Meanwhile, with no need for a video heavy platform with the HBO deal, Beyoncé was free to keep the tracks on Tidal, the platform her husband is heavily invested in, and serving to make it an increasingly necessary-to-have alternative to iTunes. I would not be surprised if there was a huge spike in the platform’s user base this past weekend.

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Lemonade has already been thoroughly dissected since Saturday night, and by women of color who are far more in tune to the very pointed love letter to them than I am. It is at once a step forward and of a piece with “Formation” that was released back in February. Deeply in touch and involved with social issues, while using her celebrity status and the gossip mill of the internet to drive a narrative with an album that could be about Jay-Z cheating on her, or could be a fantastic piece of performance art. The truth probably lies somewhere between the two. Still, concept albums are rare enough these days, and to have one from a pop star as enormous as Beyoncé rarer still. As I explained to my middle-aged white rock listening husband: This is Beyoncé’s “The Wall.”

But this is Tunes for Tuesday, and that usually means we listen to the tracks in question. Beyoncé has (unfortunately) done her best to make that near impossible. All I can do is tell you to go to Tidal, or go to iTunes and listen/watch for yourself.

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Highlights include:

  • Pray You Catch Me’s arresting visuals, with the underwater portion
  • Hold Up’s Caribbean flavor, plus a baseball bat called “Hot Sauce.” (Gives all new meaning to her having Hot Sauce in her bag.)
  • Don’t Hurt Yourself’s intense drum track and rock roots courtesy working with Jack White
  • Sorry, which is the track you’ve probably heard the most about, and includes the lines “Stop interrupting my grinding” and “Today I regret the night I put that ring on” which bookends to “Single Ladies” in one of the most bitter ways possible.
  • 6 Inch, which has a fantastic samples on the album, and includes The Weeknd
  • Daddy Lessons, which is Beyoncé goes country. If you ever needed to know what Nashville gave up on by allowing the word “country” to become code to “white artists only,” this is it.
  • Sandcastles, which needs the visual of Beyoncé playing the piano while she sings–one of the very few times we’ve seen her play an instrument.
  • Freedom, another that needs the visuals to be understood properly, including the mothers of Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner.
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