Lemonade: A cautionary tale for men like you
Ever since Beyoncé premiered her new album Lemonade on Saturday evening, people have been diving in with their theories on who she is singing about. Is it her husband, Jay Z? Her father, Matthew Knowles? Perhaps an amalgam of both? All this sleuthing is fun and makes for good gossip fodder, but who Lemonade is about isn’t as important as what the album is about.
In the very first sentence of the first song, “Pray You Catch Me,” Beyoncé sings about tasting dishonesty and that is the trigger warning not because of the words alone but the way she sings them. The delivery is technically confident but emotionally shaky, which let me know the woman has been through something (or at the very least seen things happen to people around her), and she’s ready to talk about it.
I don’t need art to speak to me on a personal level to enjoy it, but the art I have always dug the most has been the work that looks or sounds the most familiar. In Lemonade I hear a woman singing about a man who sounds a lot like the man I used to be, and the man I sometimes am afraid I can become again.
If you’re a man who has lied, who has cheated, who has wronged, Lemonade isn’t easy to sit through because the guy Beyoncé is singing about isn’t getting off easy. Any man who has ever hurt a woman will tell you, the most ideal outcome is she decides enough is enough. She doesn’t stay. She keeps it moving and never comes back. Yeah, it sucks and maybe you even make a vain attempt to get back together, but eventually you realize you have to do as she has done and keep it moving too with hopes that the lesson learned will be applied to the next woman who comes along.
That’s how breaking up works, Lemonade isn’t a break up album. Lemonade is a leave-come-back-go-stay-I-don’t-know-I-think-maybe-fuck this shit is hard album. And that is exactly what relationships become when she doesn’t trust you anymore but still loves you.
There were women who left me immediately after they saw evidence of my scandalous ways, women who walked into my bathroom and when they came out, walked past me directly to the front door and left never to be heard from again. I knew why. I forgot to clean up after my last previous guest. What could I do? Keep it moving too, and maybe do a better job of cleaning up.
But cheating on a woman I loved and who loved me was a lot different. She didn’t leave, not right away at least. She wanted to stay and tried hard to do so. She wanted to fix me and fix us, which of course I appreciated, but what hurt me the most is she also thought she needed to fix herself so I wouldn’t mess up again when that was hardly the case. That’s why the song “Love Drought” made me wince when I first heard it. In the second verse when Beyoncé says twice, “Tell me what did I do wrong,” I knew those weren’t her first two times saying that phrase and I also knew the guy to whom she is singing has no answer because cheating sometimes doesn’t have to be provoked from within a relationship to happen.
There are other moments on the album that represent a woman trying to figure out how to stay with someone who might not be deserving. If “Pray You Catch Me” is about wanting to be told the truth, “Hold Up” is sung from the perspective of a woman who has just found out about it and is trying to keep it together. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is about begrudging forgiveness; “Sorry” is not meant as a noun but as an adjective for the man she’s forgiven; “6 Inch,” the song she sings to herself so as to not feel weak for staying with that sorry ass man she forgave for all the lying and cheating. And “Daddy Lessons,” about the other man in her life who is difficult to love and who, unbeknownst to him, conditioned her for men like you.
By the time I got to “Sandcastles” (the song that closes out the first two-thirds of the album), I realized Lemonade wasn’t a wake up call so much as it was a reminder of what happens to a woman when a man messes up. She is mad enough to leave him, but loves him enough to stay, and promises to do both. Lemonade is an emotional album but it isn’t about many emotions. Lemonade is very clearly about one: love and its depths.