In pop music, the word “genius,” is often only associated with the likes of John Lennon, Elvis Presley, or Janis Joplin—dead, but not forgotten because their works continue to resonate with the living. We’ve heard people delegate such a lofty praise to Michael Jackson, Prince, or Amy Winehouse when they were still alive, and we still constantly see it being juxtaposed with living legends Elton John, Morrissey, and Lenny Kravitz; therefore, to give it to a not-even-forty-years-old pop diva with saccharine monikers—Beysus, Queen Bey—is a case that will always make it a subject of debate.
The release of Beyoncé’s sixth studio album last April 23, 2016, rekindled this unsung debate. Memes on her being a genius are all over the web, and articles saying that she’s always been one or already had the makings of becoming an ingenious singer-songwriter continue to resurface days beyond the release date. Some, on the other hand, (the non-fans maybe or hip-hop-RNB haters perhaps) say it’s exaggerated.
However, for most music journalists—Lemonade has confirmed Beyoncé’s worth and stature as a songwriter: They may not blatantly proclaim her as the new Einstein or Stephen Hawking of pop music, but their words have it that the new album, or everything that makes it, is way beyond fresh, courageous, and experimental.
Its marketing alone is exemplary. Apart from the album itself, Lemonade also came with a film version—not a series of music videos a la her 2013 eponymous album but a one-hour standalone movie—that addresses the issues essential to the Black Lives Matter movement. At some point, it will remind you of a Lars von Trier film as it is divided into chapters focused on one-word nouns and adjectives suggesting millions of meanings both vague and frank.
It’s all replete with poetry and music from revered black artists, Somali poet Warsan Shire, among others, hence, the marketing gimmick managed to surpass gimmickry by tapping real issues significant to the artist herself. In other words, a powerful pop star successfully utilizes her influence and fame to catapult such a widely ignored campaign to the mainstream.
Going beyond the mainstream means even outside the black community.
It immediately went global both on and beyond the Internet, broke records set by legends living and dead, and sold millions despite doubts of a physical album being buyable and appealing. Still, the most important thing is it has reached even the non-loyalists, the not-so-lovers of the genre, the whites, and the non-blacks.
“Lemonade was not made for me, either,” admits Consequence of Sound writer Karen Gwee. To her, it would be a big lie if she rides on the bandwagon where everybody claims they understand the Black battle cry, but it helped her to think beyond who she is, her situation, her own advocacies. “But as a non-American, non-white woman, what I am familiar with is appreciating art that is not and will never be made with me in mind.”
However, the true mark of a worthy piece of art is if it makes the erudite and all-knowing critics guessing and continuously insinuating. Many say, among them Pitchfork senior editor Jillian Mapes, that Lemonade could be Beyoncé’s diary, as every song not only talks about the general issues concerning black women but her own life—to wit, Jay Z’s infidelity, her motherhood, her life as a celebrity.
John Pareles of The New York Times agrees and calls it “[a way out] of marital strife,” while Rob Sheffield of The Rolling Stones simply says it’s “an album of emotional discord and marital meltdown…a major personal statement from the most respected and creative artist in the pop game.” Kitty Empire of The Guardian shares the same opinion, topping it with equally insinuative labels such as “political,” “gossip rag,” and “an actual dynamite.”
Is this enough to call her a genius? Indeed, it will divide music fans anew, and there will be those who’ll say it’s just a marketing buzzword to manipulate listeners and those who will spend all their time on listing reasons why such is irrefutable.
Thanks to the Internet, it made every one of us attentive to what the folks from the digital world are saying about such a once-in-a-blue-moon pop music phenomenon. Yes, and we mean everywhere, in places where online users depend on the likes of 5BARz International and where there’s connection everywhere. But, at the end of the day, it’s for us to judge whether Queen Bey deserves the moniker.
Maybe, Beyoncé herself doesn’t really care. She makes music and money and generates attention—and for all we know she’s just somewhere in the Bahamas, caring about nothing else but being happily ensconced on her 1936 Alvar Aalto Chaise Lounge 39, sipping her, well, lemonade.
Or maybe she cares, but not as much as we do. Isn’t it a given?