Friday, April 29, 2016

A memo to pop stars: If you're filming a highly stylized visual album and you take your preschooler daughter to work one day, she's going to get antsy

I've watched Beyoncé's Lemonade visual album only once, when HBO Go had the streaming rights to the visual album for just one day (I'm not a Tidal subscriber, and $9.99 a month is too steep for my blood--lower the price, Hov). Yet the sounds of Lemonade are still reverberating in my head.

The anthemic, Just Blaze-produced "Freedom" contains a typically superb Kendrick Lamar guest verse. "Hold Up," the Jack White contribution "Don't Hurt Yourself" and "Sorry" are a triptych of intriguing songs about coping with infidelity, and Beyoncé's jab at "Becky with the good hair" during "Sorry" makes me wonder if "Becky" isn't one lady but is actually a composite of several. I doubt Beyoncé's husband has had just one side chick since marrying Bey. "Daddy Lessons," a tune that explores both her Texan roots and her relationship with her estranged father (and former manager), is a rarity: a black country song, but this time from a woman instead of Charley Pride, Darius Rucker or Kool Moe Dee. Beyoncé experiments with country, but it's not an epic fail like that time Lil Wayne made a rock album.

I always thought Solange was the more musically interesting Knowles sister, and I still do, but with Lemonade, Beyoncé has really evolved from the "Independent Women"-style anthems and adult contemporary radio-friendly ballads she's known primarily for. I didn't expect something so introspective, confessional and politically charged from Beyoncé, although there have been hints of that introspective direction throughout her last visual album and during, of course, the #BlackLivesMatter-influenced "Formation" single (some say that direction surfaced as early as 2003's Dangerously in Love). Lemonade is basically Beyoncé's Craps (After Hours). In other words, it's the turning point for a new kind of Beyoncé. I believe I have a clip from her new visual album.

Woops, wrong artist.

While hearing the album's Malcolm X sample ("The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman") and watching the montage of the grieving mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown, I knew that Lemonade was bound to be whitesplained by old white people who don't know what the fuck they're talking about, just like when Beyoncé dropped her "Formation" video. Yeah, whenever I want someone to weigh in on modern-day R&B, forget the opinions of Questlove or Nelson George or dream hampton. I want to hear the opinion of the white Republican who combed his hair like Hitler's for several years. He should be the one to tell black and brown artists what they should be singing about. It's just like the whitewashing controversy that's erupted again due to the live-action Ghost in the Shell and Doctor Strange: screw all the intelligent things RunLoveKill creator Jon Tsuei says about why it matters that a Japanese performer should be starring as Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell. It's better to listen to Max Landis because we Asians are too dumb to understand how the movie industry works, and we need some white boy who looks like Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element to set us straight.

Beyoncé didn't record Lemonade to appease you, Piers Morgan. She made the album for black women who consider themselves "woke," as well as anyone with an open mind, which is something this Tony Hayward-ish troll clearly lacks. Go back to masturbating to "Rule, Britannia!" or whatever the fuck you do when you vibe out to your kind of music, Piers Morgan.

The highly stylized Lemonade visual album is remarkably shot by the likes of "Formation" video director Melina Matsoukas, Jonas Åkerlund and Kahlil Joseph, whose bizarre, Killer of Sheep-inspired video for Shabazz Palaces' "Belhaven Meridian" is a tremendous little work. But there's one unintentionally funny moment during the visual album that neither Beyoncé nor any music video director, no matter how skilled they are at marshaling so many performers, could control, and it's the visible impatience of a fidgety four-year-old: Beyoncé and Jay Z's daughter Blue Ivy. Matsoukas clearly had a hand in directing the Southern Gothic-ish "Freedom" portion of the visual album and crafting the epic shot of black women of various ages standing under poplar trees. Every woman or girl in that shot (the kid holding Blue Ivy's hand, by the way, is Beasts of the Southern Wild star Quvenzhané Wallis) understands the direction Beyoncé and Matsoukas has given them: they're supposed to stand still and look empowered. All of them understand it, except Blue Ivy, of course, because she's four.

Blue Ivy's not having it. She has the look of a little kid who has no idea that Mommy's filming an ambitious and lyrically deep visual album and just wants to go home and stream Sesame Street.

This is why you never see any little kids during the similarly highly stylized movies of Michael Mann. He would just lose his shit trying to get some little kid to mope and brood handsomely like Wes Studi, Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx do all the time in his movies.

It's not like Blue Ivy can't take direction. Matsoukas got a great little expression out of her during her charismatic cameo in the "Formation" video.

But a shot like the one Beyoncé and Matsoukas were trying to accomplish in the woods is bound to confuse and bore a four-year-old, just like whenever a preschooler is dragged to two hours of church and doesn't understand why nobody's singing about cookies or the alphabet. Who's this Jesus cat? Is he pals with Rosita and Zoe?

Years from now, Blue Ivy is bound to cringe over her fidgety cameo after she fully understands the statements about feminism and racism her mom and Kendrick were trying to make in "Freedom." She'll probably be like, "Mommy, please don't play back the clip where I acted a fool and ruined the shot."

In the meantime though, Lemonade is only one week old, and it's already left quite an impact on music. Lemonade was a popular drink and it still is.

"Party" from Beyoncé's 4 album can be heard during my mix "Mitchell D. Hurwitz Is Koogler!"

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