If 3D films are intended to get bums back in cinema seats with the promise of a unique experience; then the visual album is designed to have audiences pay for an artist’s complete story. It has been years since I sat and listened to any album in its entirety. However, visual albums offer an elevated understanding of an artist’s work, in which many have fused their words with impactful imagery to show their fans their full intentions.
It is surprising that after the success of Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy” and R. Kelly’s inexhaustible “Trapped in the Closet” more established artists haven’t chosen to market their music with a visual album. Unlike concert videos and live performances, these innovative productions would reach more fans and have them paying for the music in a space where it is increasingly undersold and has little to no longevity.
Beyoncé is a veteran in the pop world and is clearly at a stage in her career where being her authentic self is more important than selling records. In April she spoke about the backlash following her politically moving Super Bowl performance in February. Her track, “Formation” sounded similar to her prior girl power performances, with lyrics such as “You just might be a black Bill Gates in the making. I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making.” However, the problem appeared to be her imagery. Her girl power squad was now in Black Panther getup, unapologetically black and unashamed. As a result, her performance was immediately tarnished with negative attention. Everyone from misinformed police officials, the right wing news media and Piers Morgan were asking for the old Beyoncé back.
Thankfully, Beyoncé is smart enough to know that some issues transcend wealth and status. In solidarity with her community, she touched on a real and relevant issue suffocating the positive vision of America today. Her performance was watched by over 100 million viewers, making it the third most watched broadcast in U.S. television history. In response to the criticism, Beyoncé said, "If celebrating my roots and culture during Black History Month made anyone uncomfortable, those feelings were there long before a video and long before me. I'm proud of what we created, and I'm proud to be a part of a conversation that is pushing things forward in a positive way."
After her performance Beyoncé doubled down by releasing “Lemonade”; a visual album that focuses on black women shines a light on unarmed black men being killed and touches on her pressure to be perfect. People may be thirsty for her drama and pleased to see her fail, yet her reaction to her critics has been reflective and honest. Beyoncé’s visual album is a brave championing on black women's inherited pain, struggle and the strength that connects us all.
“Lemonade” runs through her nine stages of grief, with songs linked to the themes of intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, forgiveness, hope, and redemption. This well-rounded account of her betrayal and love goes beyond her pain; using poetry, audio clips and home videos to highlight generations of healing. There are plenty of memorable pop tracks such as “Freedom”, “Sorry” and “Hold Up” for the old-school Beyoncé fan but it is the visual vulnerability and personal insight that will make this an unforgettable moment in Beyoncé’s back catalogue.