Editor’s note: Beyoncé has become the voice of women everywhere. Her activism, music, and actions in which she breaks through social boundaries have shown us what it means to be free. Two nights ago, Beyoncé performed “Freedom” from her new album Lemonade at the BET Awards and once again demonstrated what freedom looked like. Below, spoken word poet Tayllor Johnson reflects on Beyoncé’s new album and what it means for women everywhere.
When I first heard about Beyoncé’s Lemonade, social media was abuzz
with gossip. All I saw were posts speculating if Jay Z cheated, or whether this
was all a ruse to get more people using Tidal, a music streaming site founded
by Beyoncé and Jay Z. I knew then I was in no rush to see Lemonade.
Beyoncé is a brand, I thought; it’s her job to keep us curious and engaged in
her content. The public knows nothing about Beyoncé’s life besides what she
wants us to know and even then, the public can only guess. What was going to be
different about this album? All of a sudden she was going to share herself with
all of us, revelations about her marriage, of all things? HA! Not a chance!
I’ll pass on that publicity stunt. When a good friend of mine invited me to a Lemonade
listening party to watch and discuss the film among other women, I must admit that
I finally conceded to seeing what the hype was really about.
After experiencing Lemonade (and it is an experience) as a film and
an album, I saw less of a confession of fidelity to the public and more a
testimony to the complexity of a woman’s world; the acceptance of that world in
all its seasons and forms. Yes, we had some confirmation that Jay Z and Beyoncé
had marital problems, but in Lemonade we witness a woman’s perspective,
exclusively. The three male features on the album, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd,
and James Blake, are nowhere to be seen in the film. Jay Z is also missing in
action until the end and even then, does not utter a word. Lemonade is
not about a man cheating; it is about a woman being, which is apparently
much less exciting to the general public.
Beyoncé takes us through 11 states of emotion during Lemonade:
Intuition, Denial, Anger, Apathy, Emptiness, Accountability, Reformation,
Forgiveness, Resurrection, Hope, and Redemption. I not only witnessed her
expressions of those emotions, but my own as well. These emotions existed in me
and they were just as powerful, dynamic, and colorful as she was in portraying
them. From the shameless glee of denial to the absence of my own father’s sound
advice, I saw Beyoncé provide a mirror to my own womanhood, as complex and
messy as it can be. She told me it was okay, okay to be complex, to fall, to
cry, to love… as long as I got back up. It was comforting to see her break
windows, swim in her own madness, become the tormented mistress herself, and
heal her wounds in mother nature’s bath. My womanhood became a mosaic of
experiences stuck in my throat, mixing with the tears on my face. She was not
speaking to her own isolated existence but to all of us woman who exist on
multiple realms of being at any given time. In Lemonade, Beyoncé shares a
narrative of mothers, daughters, sisters, and grandmothers.
It was clear to all of us watching the film that day, among pie and
lemonade, that this project was for us. The dancers were women, the poet
featured in the film was a woman, the community of women gathered for the song
“Freedom” were all women–Lemonade embodied the epitome of womanhood,
down to the very end when we witness womanhood as a community effort. We were
transported to a different time, a community of women living in wooden cabins surrounded
by willow trees, as if in the deep South. A time when women ate together, laughed
together, planted together, and unapologetically stood by each other’s side. The
tears started up again as I knew so many women, myself included, who were
striving for that sisterhood–-that utopia of women showing up for women, just
because it was our pleasure to do so.
It says a lot about a society when a woman opens her mouth to speak her
truth—and all too many see is a man on her tongue. How did we miss the
positive symbolism of sisterhood and womanhood only to ask whether or not Jay Z
is cheating? Jay Z remains voiceless in Lemonade for a reason. Do not be
confused: Beyoncé’s womanhood is the only muse here. Images of trees, the
ocean, the moon, fire, dirt, and sunlight were the only transitions Beyoncé
needed between songs to make it to the final track, “All Night.”
Just like she did not need a man to verify her process, I did not need a
confirmation of Jay Z’s marital commitment to be moved by her healing. All I
needed were other women who sat with me, crying, laughing, and snacking on
guacamole together, as we witnessed some facets of our own womanhood via the
big screen. Lemonade is the space for a woman to be; and through
that vessel we too gain access to freedom.
Beyoncé speaks for all of us women who sometimes get tired, get sexy, get
defiant, get angry, get insecure, get heartbroken, get confused, but most of
all, must heal in order to keep moving forward. Lemonade is a
declaration that all of our emotions deserve space in a woman’s being, just as
Beyoncé gave herself an hour to explore visually and through an album without interruption
of the male perspective. We as human beings and as women are allowed to be
complex in our own way, but society has failed to recognize that. We are either
bosses or we are worthless. We are either sexualized deviants or pure angels.
We are men’s puppets or their nuisances. But we are so much more than that, and
we have the right to declare and celebrate it.
This is Beyoncé’s Purple Rain. She cannot take the transparency,
honesty, and inspiration back from our eyes. I am irrevocably inspired and
can’t wait to see what comes out of me, when I too try to hold my womanhood in
my own hands. What will she say? What drink will she personify? How many colors
can my womanhood paint me in one day? How many windows will she break? I think
all of us should rise up to the challenge, and dive deep into our own womanhood
to see what we find, no matter how undefinably beautiful and complex it is.
Because freedom is sweeter than
[By Tayllor Johnson]
Since discovering her passion for spoken word at 15 years old, Tayllor
hasn’t stopped writing, performing, or teaching. Working with Get Lit, a
non-profit literacy advocacy group, and representing Los Angeles in Brave New
Voices 2010 taught her the healing and empowering force that was inevitable through
spoken word. She hopes to grow and reach new heights in her performance and
writing, always keeping in mind her mission to find new ways spoken word can
empower the voiceless, soothe the wounded, and disturb the status quo to set
all of us on a path to freedom.