Albums of the Year: Beyoncé - Lemonade | reviews, news & interviews
Albums of the Year: Beyoncé - Lemonade
Albums of the Year: Beyoncé - Lemonade
In 2016's tribe of 'nasty women', there was only one Queen
When, back in October, Donald Trump sulked that his political opponent was being a “nasty woman”, little did he realise the cultural impact it would have.
Those two words – a fit of pique that was impressive even amidst an ever-lengthening line of cry baby incidents from the man who went on to become president-elect of the United States of America – have become a rallying cry of sorts for those of us unprepared to take the 12-month garbage fire that was 2016 lying down. Of course, you can get Nasty Woman mugs, T-shirts and baseball caps. The name has lent itself to essays and anthologies. But, more importantly, it’s a code word for like-minded souls.
It’s practically a modern-day reworking of Alan Lomax’s Archive of American Folk SongFinding the common thread that bound the music I listened to most in 2016 was easy: it was the year in which nasty women took over my record collection. Original riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna and her band, The Julie Ruin, demolished “token girl”-ism in the middle of an album containing some of her most personal, autobiographical songs. Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! got back to business as usual on another fierce, fearless album, while continuing to play the most inclusive, life-affirming shows you will ever see. Tacocat took on anonymous internet bullies (and lionised Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully, just a few months after an X-Files reboot so terrible that most people have already forgotten it happened). Jenny Hval made a concept album about periods and vampires, and Hinds and Honeyblood celebrated the girl gang. The Jezabels snuck a song about street harassment onto a pop album, while frontwoman Hayley Mary cooed “come and give a bitch a kiss” like a seduction.
But towering above them all, there was Beyoncé.
Was it a wronged wife’s revenge fantasy against a philandering husband? A meditation on what it means to be a black woman in an America that succeeded its first president of colour with a vote for white supremacy? Performance art? A publicity stunt? Whatever your opinion of Lemonade, Queen Bey’s sixth studio album seems such an obvious choice for album of the year from a December vantage point that it’s easy to forget how it felt seeing those flooded New Orleans streets recreated in the “Formation” video for the first time. Or that the biggest pop star in the world put her considerable cultural clout behind the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown during the album’s primetime premiere on HBO and again during her sold-out live shows. Or the sight of Beyoncé, resplendent in a yellow dress, seizing control of her own narrative with a baseball bat and a pair of six-inch heels.
Music-wise, Lemonade traverses so many genres across its 12 tracks that it’s practically a modern-day reworking of Alan Lomax’s Archive of American Folk Song: there’s hip hop, dancehall, R&B, trap, reggae, blues and even a full-on country song, plus prodigious sampling and reinterpretations across rock, pop and folk. With these disparate roots, the fact that every song stands strong alone is perhaps a given - but tie them together and what you have is a masterpiece that gets better with every listen.
Had it been released any other year, I feel that Lemonade would still have deserved its place at the top of every list going, but the wider cultural context makes this conclusion irresistible. I reviewed Beyoncé live in Glasgow, her first show after the murders by police of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. That she stopped the show to pay tribute to them and to hundreds of other victims of police brutality caught flak in the comments, probably from the same people who complain that nobody makes decent protest music anymore. In 2017, we’ll need all the protest we can get.
Two More Essential Albums from 2016
John K Samson - Winter Wheat
Gig of the Year
Joanna Newsom, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 2nd March 2016
Track of the Year
Mitski - "Your Best American Girl"
Watch the video for "Your Best American Girl" by Mitski
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?