Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade was shrouded in mystery — as is usually the case with the queen of surprise albums — up until it premiered on HBO on Saturday. But it didn’t take long for Beyoncé to set her agenda with opening track “Pray You Catch Me,” which kicked off an hour-long cat-and-mouse tale of infidelity, revenge and, eventually, reconciliation that spans a dozen tracks. The singer, who embarks on her Formation World Tour later this month, is famously tight-lipped about her personal life, but Lemonade, just like 2013’s game-changing Beyoncé, seemed to crack it open for audiences to examine and interpret. Here are some of the standouts moments:
“How did it come down to this? Going through your call list/ I don’t wanna lose my pride, but I’ma f–k me up a bitch.” (“Hold Up”)
We’ve come a long way from the Beyoncé in the “Telephone” video, where Queen Bey wouldn’t drop an uncensored curse word, even in the explicit version. But Beyoncé’s in the middle-fingers-up stage of her career now, if you couldn’t already tell, and she’ll happily take one step toward coming off like a Gone Girl scorned in the window-smashing video for Lemonade’s most summery track.
“Let’s imagine for a moment that you never…[were] labeled as a king…never had the baddest woman in the game up in your sheets.” (“Hold Up”)
Listeners looking for signs that Lemonade is about Jay Z’s rumored infidelity can fixate on lyrics like these, which establish Bey’s betrayer as some some kind of celebrity royalty. They also seem to reference that time he bragged about having the “hottest chick in the game wearing my chain” on “Public Service Announcement” years ago.
“Just give my fat ass a big kiss, boy/ Tonight I’m f–king up all your shit, boy.” (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”)
Beyoncé’s been fiery before on songs like “Ring the Alarm,” but what’s so shocking here isn’t so much the actual words she says but the fury with which she delivers them. It’s one of Beyoncé’s most expressive vocal performances in her catalog.
“This is your final warning / you know I give you life / if you try this sh-t again / you gon’ lose your wife.” (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”)
Emphasis on final warning here: whoever wronged Beyoncé has clearly tried to get away with it before. All of Beyoncé’s other songs about cheating suggested she had a one-strike policy when it comes to going behind her back (see: “Say My Name, “Irreplaceable”), but the message of this Jack White collaboration might be that, in relationships, rarely is the drama so black and white.
“Suck on my balls.” (“Sorry”)
You think a surprise album caught you off guard? Try hearing Beyoncé shout these words on this synth-frosted declaration of independence.
“Looking at my watch he should have been home/ Today I regret the night I put that ring on.” (“Sorry”)
“Sorry” feels like the sequel to Beyoncé’s “Jealous,” another song that saw Beyoncé get stood up and seek revenge by going out on her own. Yet it’s details like this one, the image of Beyoncé contemplating the removal of her wedding band, that keep it from becoming a retread of the 2013 track.
“He better call Becky with the good hair.” (“Sorry”)
It’s one thing to allude to the other woman in a song about cheating, but it’s another thing to call her out by name. Sure, “Becky” could just be a Beyoncé writing exercise, a character invented for a little drama, but identifying the threat to her marriage feels more significant than that—just ask the members of the BeyHive trying to track down the true identity of Becky.
“Daddy was no fool/ and right before he died, he said … take care of your mother/ watch out for your sister.” (“Daddy Lessons”)
Beyoncé’s father and ex-manager, Matthew Knowles, is still alive, so “Daddy Lessons” means either that fans shouldn’t assume the lyrics are pulled directly from her life…or that Matthew is “dead” to her after he split from Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles, and after Beyoncé cut professional ties with him.
“I made you cry when I walked away/ and although I promised that I couldn’t stay, baby/ every promise don’t work out that way” (“Sandcastles”)
If we’re taking Lemonade as an autobiographical work —- and considering how many references to Jay Z show up, it’s hard not to -— then the album’s most breathtaking ballad suggests that Beyoncé did, in fact, try to pull the plug on her marriage before eventually reconciling.
“So many people that I know, they’re just tryna touch ya … kiss up and rub up and feel up on you/ Give you some time to prove that I can trust ya” (“All Night”)
Okay, Jay Z, now let’s get in probation: just because she couldn’t walk away for good doesn’t mean everything is hunky-dory in the Knowles-Carter household, as Lemonade’s poignant penultimate track shows.
“If he hit it right, I might take him on a flight on my chopper…might get your song played on the radio station.” (“Formation”)
If Beyoncé showing off her upper hand seemed a bit telling when she released “Formation” ahead of the Super Bowl, the song takes on a whole new meaning when it arrives at the end of the Lemonade odyssey. Perhaps it wasn’t supposed to be a statement about an equal partnership; maybe all this gloating is someone’s punishment.