The “On the Run” tour was too good to be true. In his review of the MetLife Stadium stop, Noisey’s Jeff Rosenthal wrote that Beyoncé and Jay Z’s perfectionism was something of a curse. “The show is so excruciatingly perfect that it comes off… well, like, whatever,” he writes. “Beyoncé possesses a strength that is otherworldly, and Jay’s at least in orbit. There’s no room for error which can be boring… The fog is perfect. The lights are perfect. Their marriage is perfect, TMZ video notwithstanding.”
Charlamagne Tha God asked in his rebuttal, “What’s wrong with perfection?” It’s a reasonable question because, well, who wouldn’t want to be perfect or at least try to create a visage of perfection? Beyoncé and Jay Z — hip-hop’s First Couple — have represented one or the other to many. Even if he’s now a temporary replacement for Crying Jordan, Jay Z is still Brooklyn’s greatest Horatio Alger story. Beyoncé is nothing short of royalty at this point; she gets cover stories without giving interviews and she’ll make you forget Christmas exists. And 2011 cemented them as peak black excellence: Jay Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne was a brilliant examination of black success, and Beyoncé — previously of “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Say My Name,” and “No, No, No” fame — spent 4 making hits in the name of love. Who could stop the reign?
Beyoncé and Lemonade’s marketing scheme was regal but it’s clear we’re a long ways from 4. The former is an intimate feminist manifesto revealing that hip-hop’s perfect union had cracks; on “Mine,” Beyoncé admits to “having conversations about breakups and separations.” The fissures have grown deeper and are at the center of Lemonade, which debuted as an hourlong special on HBO this past Saturday before being made available for streaming on TIDAL. Beyoncé’s interviews are rare and her extreme privacy makes every glimpse into Beyoncé the mother/wife/daughter/person more precious. So, this album (and Instagram) is the closest we’re going to get to any confirmation that Jay Z really did cheat on Beyoncé (as rumored) with fashion designer Rachel Roy, who’s the ex-wife of Hov’s former running mate, Dame Dash.
With Lemonade, Beyoncé throws Jay Z under the bus while forcing him to crawl back to meet her at the next stop. It’s also as feminist as it is deeply human, roughly progressing as the stages of grief — anger (“Don’t Hurt Yourself,” “Sorry,” “6 Inch”), depression and acceptance (“Love Drought,” “Sandcastles”), and moving on (“Forward,” “All Night”). “Formation,” the black-as-f**k single, is the closer. Because Lemonade is a personal rumination on the decline of relationships, it makes sense to wonder where would such a nationalistic anthem fit in the narrative arc. But making “Formation” the anchor contextualizes the album: It’s not simply a Beyoncé/Jay Z struggle, but also the struggle of the black woman.
I think that’s part of what Rosenthal was getting at: Beyoncé was so perfect that she risked losing that human connection. That she was so kingly that she became a satellite figure — above us, not of us. But her superstardom is a marvel because she willed it through severe work ethic and media savvy. Beyoncé isn’t some being kissed by the gods at birth. “GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT” flashes in bold text during the Jack White-assisted “Don’t Hurt Yourself”: Beyoncé is just as human and black as the rest of Black America.
The album’s accompanying longform visual samples a Malcolm X quote that’s five decades old and still sadly true: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.” This is why it’s important for someone of Beyoncé’s level of fame to speak on being unapologetically herself. There’s an inherent thrill when an enigma swings the doors open to her personal life. But when it’s rooted in blackness and womanhood, it doesn’t only excite. It vindicates.