Friday, April 29, 2016

I reviewed Beyoncé's “Lemonade”, because like a Donald Trump presidency, it seems inevitable

I have only been marginally aware of the existence of Beyoncé. I knew that she was in Destiny's Child. I knew she was married to Jay-Z, whom I knew from his early 90s old-school hit “The Originators” with his first group, The Jaz. I knew she had a song about being crazy in love, which are two states I have found to be wholly incompatible. And that's about the limit of what I have known.

I was utterly content to remain in this state of relative not-giving-a-shit-ness, but then the internet reared up on its haunches this week and declared NO, CHISA, YOU ARE GOING TO CARE ABOUT BEYONCÉ NOW. And I said no, internet, it is the end of the semester and I have important things to do, and also I run a D&D group and don't have time for this, and besides which this is clearly just another thing like Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814, and nobody even remembers that was a long-form video now. And the internet said YOU THINK I'LL GIVE UP ON THIS BUT WATCH WHAT I DO TO YOUR FACEBOOK FEED. And I said fine, I'll give it a look if you'll just shut the fuck up already.

The video starts with that static-to-HBO logo thing I've come to associate with many quality programs over the years (Mr. Show, Game of Thrones, Last Week Tonight). Immediately we cut to a montage of scenes in a field juxtaposed against Bey kneeling on a stage while singing balladry over piano. I need to say this now: Beyoncé is a gorgeous woman. Not “gorgeous for a black woman”, which is what you'd expect from a middle-aged white guy; she is unqualified gorgeous.


I'm going to do my absolute best to not lambast this film just for the sake of it. The cinematography is amazing, but so far it seems to be WHAT THE FUCK DID BEYONCÉ JUST JUMP OFF OF A BUILDING?

I'm confused. I'm five minutes into an hour-long video and I don't understand anything I am seeing. Beyoncé is reciting poetry and swimming around a hotel room like some sort of adaption of The Little Mermaid by Sofia Coppola.

Then a characteristic reggae alarm effect sounds off in the far background and now Bey is singing in an affected Jamaican accent and walking down HOLY FUCK DID SHE JUST SMASH IN THE WINDOW OF A CAR WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

An ATV comes rushing into the scene doing a wheelie; the driver is wearing a shirt that reads: IN MEMORY OF WHEN I GAVE A FUCK. Ironic, since I am currently languishing in the memory of when I didn't.

What's worse, lookin' jealous or crazy
Jealous and crazy
Or like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately
I'd rather be crazy

Or, you know, you could try NEITHER jealous NOR crazy. So apparently this is a song about someone cheating on someone, which is a concept I find entirely foreign as a polygamist. Why people have so hard of a time simply being honest about their needs baffles the everliving fuck out of me. You want to fuck other women, say so! Work it out! Communicate! But no, people go behind each others' backs and lie about it and then we all have the nerve to wonder there's so much useless drama in our lives.

I can't tell at this point if the alleged cheater is supposed to be Jay-Z or not. Tabloids tell me it is, but art is subjective. Venetian Snares once wrote an entire album about raping and murdering children; it doesn't mean he actually did it. But let's assume it is; I dare suggest that Bey is not really that nuanced, and for evidence I submit aforementioned visuals of her Britney Spearsing parked cars.

So: Jay-Z, who has a net worth of 650 million dollars, and who is married to literally the most beautiful woman in the world (and let's be frank here, Jay-Z himself is not exactly a looker; his face is like a potato grown into the shape of Bill Cosby's stunt double), has to CHEAT? Why? For fuck's sake the man could buy his own personal Nevada whorehouse, and probably find a way to take it off his taxes as a deduction. How hard is it to say you'd like to try out more than one vagina?

Now Bey is apparently driving a monster truck down the street. I'm getting the distinct feeling she has some unresolved issues.


Back to the montage visuals and the spoken word pieces. “Why can't you see me? Everyone else can.” Yeah, that'll happen when you shove an entire album about one person down the rest of the world's throat.

Bad motherfucker
God complex

Motivate your ass
Call me Malcolm X

Uh, no, Bey. Just no. Malcolm X had an agenda, and that agenda was getting black people equal representation and respect under the law, society, and the world government. He was willing to see that agenda through with every weapon at his disposal, from his amazing mastery of oratory to his M1 Carbine rifle. You are a spoiled rich pop idol who is whining about dick. It's not even in the same fucking ballpark.

Yes, this video is visually stunning. So what? It's 2016; EVERYTHING is visually stunning. I have a fucking HD video camera on my shelf and all I ever make is stupid cooking videos every seven years. I'm sick and tired of the modern excuse that luxurious cinematography is sufficient condition for the “revolutionary” tag. Where's the goddamn substance? Where's the STORY? Christ, at least the aforementioned Rhythm Nation 1814 had something resembling a plot. This is just Bey's dream vomit thinly shellacked in a veneer of Afrocentrism. I refuse to believe that black people are stupid enough to fall for this bullshit.


Seriously, though: is this entire album going to be about cheating and how it sucks for the person being cheated on? I am already bored, and no amount of Beyoncé dancing like a robot in jittery fast-forward is going to change that.

Maybe I should call Becky With The Good Hair. She seems pretty chill.


Okay so I guess from all the red this part is about menstruation or whatever. That's cool. Or maybe it's about prostitutes in a red light district. Frankly I don't even care because that sample of Hooverphonic's “2wicky” is so goddamn blatant that I'm genuinely furious now.


Good Christ we're only halfway through this thing. How many of these weird-ass nebulous title cards are there going to be? SELF-SUFFICIENCY. TRUTHFULNESSLESS. LIKE ANGER EXCEPT MORE ANGERY. It's like a motivational video for a corporation that produces lunatics.

Now we're cutting back and forth between videos of little girls and videos of old women, of which Beyoncé is neither. I get that Beyoncé is a person with opinions and, yes, black family structures are a complex cultural thing and maybe some self-reflection is warranted and helpful there, and maybe if this video gets people thinking and talking about that it's a good thing. I also get that Beyoncé is a 450 million dollar property who is trying to push units in a world where record stores are archeological relics. It seems maladroit at best, especially when followed by a visual of Bey laying supine in a massive, empty football stadium that clearly cost a pretty penny to rent for a mere ten-second shot.


This is apparently the point where Beyoncé has decided to forgive the proverbial cheater for his actions and is working on healing the relationship. Which would be great, if not for all that nonsense in the beginning about how she didn't need him and how she'd be better off alone and how she's a strong black woman who bashes in cars and shit.

You can't have it both ways – Bey talks a good game but when it comes down to it she's falling into the same ridiculous battered black women tropes that she's apparently trying to shine a light to expose here. Mind you that's giving her the credit for having that complex of an intention in the first place, which I have seen zero evidence may be the case. Malcolm X fought for equality between the races, and if I truly want to honor his legacy, then perhaps it behooves me to consider Bey just as much of a vapid, posturing twit as all the white girl pop singers. Nobody seriously thought “Shake It Off” or “All About That Bass” were going to incite any cultural revolutions, either.


Okay. Seriously. JAY-Z IS ACTUALLY IN THIS VIDEO. What the actual fuck? Are we all being trolled here? Is this just an elaborate publicity stunt to get people to finally subscribe to Tidal? Does Jay-Z have some kind of weird public humiliation fetish? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS.


This would seem to be the end of the cycle of emotional metaphors. I'm not sure what could possibly come after “resurrection” – even Actual Jesus Christ knew to stop there. That said, we're 43 minutes in, and if the average holds that means there's at least two more following this one.

Even I am not enough of a dick to criticize the Black Lives Matter parts of this section so let's just leave that be.


Huh? Hope for what? I thought we were at the end of this story – boy meets girl, boy cheats on girl, girl notes cheating is indicative of the self-destructive black cultural paradigms, girl forgives boy, repeat (probably).

I guess the hope is that this cycle will break with the next generation? Maybe so, but I can definitively tell you that it's not going to unless people start realizing that the traditional ideology we have centered around relationships is frankly bullshit. Human beings are animals. We are hard-coded to seek out as many partners for procreation as possible. Traditional morality has vilified this animal drive for purposes of social control. Modern morality needs to do something better, or at the very least try something different. It's clearly not fucking working.


Good holy Christ! ONE PINT of water to a HALF POUND of sugar? THAT'S the lemonade recipe black people use? No fucking wonder Phife Dawg died from diabetes. I live with a woman from Tennessee who grew up drinking sweet tea her whole life and that shit would make her go “slow down there, Candy Crush.”

Finally we come to the metaphor for the album title, a poetic historical tribute to the tenacity and ingenuity of an oppressed people via the vehicle of alchemy. It's not a bad motif, if a trifle obvious. But lemonade is ostensibly for people who don't have anything else to drink, and that's not entirely true. You can't make lemonade without water, and water is far better for you. Lemonade is a pleasant lie. It takes a source of perfectly good hydration and supersaturates it with artificial sweetness and tang. I can't help but think that's really what this album is – an overwrought visual onslaught that drowns any useful effects in its deluge, and again, that's giving Bey the credit that she actually intended this to be anything more than a cheap ploy for sales in the first place.

As the post-credits trap beats implore the ladies to “get in formation”, a bee appears in my room. This has become a regular occurrence as of late; a local swarm has found that the bushes outside my bedroom windows are a potent source of pollen, and a few stragglers often get left behind after the daily haul. They buzz around the windows for about half an hour, and then promptly die, and I clean their harmless corpses up after.

By sheer coincidence, Beyoncé's fans are collectively known at the Bey Hive, apparently unaware of the implication that this casts them as mindless drones fit for unceremonious sacrifice.