Beyoncé's LEMONADE Isn't the First Time She's Used Divorce to Play with Our Emotions

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So by now, you've either seen LEMONADE, heard it or just read all about it on Twitter. In addition to being a bold feminist exploration and celebration of what it means to be a black woman in America, the visual album is also a raw look at distrust, infidelity, and the limits of love. Two-thirds of the album deal with grief and anger over being cheated on, and the specter of divorce looms large. While watching, one expected Beyoncé to surprise drop divorce papers right afterward.

If all of this feels familiar, it's because we've been here before with these two. The year was 2014. The couple were in the midst of their joint On the Run tour. And Beyonce was not happy (or so she wanted us to believe).

Every night, she would appear on stage wearing a wedding gown and would tearfully sing a song called "Resentment," which featured lyrics like "I’ll always remember feeling like I was no good / Like I couldn’t do it for you like that wack bitch could” and “Been ridin’ with you for 12 years / I gotta look at her in her eyes and see she’s had half of me. She ain’t even half of me. That bitch will never be.” She also covered Lauryn Hill's "Ex Factor", mournfully singing its mantra of  “It ain’t workin, it ain’t workin.” And Jay Z got in on the action too with a line from "Song Cry": “I can understand why you want a divorce now.”

Everyone was convinced a divorce was imminent and fans clamored to buy tickets to the tour to witness the most prominent marriage in the world crumble before their eyes. We had been there to see them strut their young love back in 2003 in the music video for Bey's debut single "Crazy In Love," we were there when they revealed the Blue Ivy pregnancy at a live awards show, we watched them love up on each other on yachts every time they went on vacation. So it was only natural, in a twisted, parasitic way, to also be there for their undoing.


But it all ended up being a marketing scheme. They're still together two years later. And they're still together, despite the insane breakup rollercoaster that is LEMONADE. While manipulating us with this same narrative twice seemed cheap to me at first, ultimately, there is crafty artistic brilliance underneath it all.

Back in 2014, I wrote the following and it still stands:

This entire divorce thing is part publicity stunt, part performance art. Messing with the idea of their marriage and family for profit [is] a cynical move, but perhaps there are two marriages at work here, the one they live at home and the one they live for us on stage. Maybe they feel fine messing with our conception of them because, at the end of the day, we don’t know them; it’s all fiction. And what makes better fiction than a plot twist or a heartbreaking betrayal? As much as we are obsessed with happily ever after, we sure do get bored of it pretty quickly.

Maybe the fantasy they package and present to us holds no real value in their day-to-day reality; maybe they are just playing characters in a modern day opera, putting on the show they know we want to see.

And LEMONADE definitely delivered in that regard, putting on an operatic spectacle that'll be remembered as a defining moment in music history.

So is this the real life? Or is this just fantasy?  Who knows and who cares, when it's this genius.


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