Lemonade Is the Opiate of the Masses


I’m having some trouble coming up with political or even quasi-political topics to write about this morning, so instead let’s watch Chris Hayes risk his hard-won career in a single tweet:

A few tweets later Hayes is careful to assure us that he hasn’t gone completely around the bend: “In conclusion: @Beyonce is legitimately a genius and we’re lucky to have her in our shared cultural life.” Whew. Even in the polysyncretic, multicultural stewpot that defines modern America, there are still a few norms of required behavior left, and unqualified praise of Beyoncé is high on that list. I was relieved to see that Hayes was questioning only the meaning of Beyonce’s lyrics, not her unparalleled genius.

I suppose it comes as no surprise that I don’t care one way or the other about Beyoncé. I’ve read snatches of the lyrics from Lemonade, and they strike me about the same way most popular music lyrics strike me. “Middle fingers up, put them hands high. Wave it in his face, tell him, boy, bye. Tell him, boy, bye, middle fingers up. I ain’t thinking ‘bout you.” That really doesn’t do much for me, but de gustibus. I could name lots of stuff that’s meaningful to me but strikes most other people as puerile or just plain dumb.

Still, it really is kind of weird that Hayes is so obviously reticent about asking his question. For those of you who just returned from a trip to Mt. Everest, Lemonade is Beyoncé’s latest album, and the lyrics are all about the pain she felt when her husband, music mogul Jay-Z, cheated on her. Or so it’s universally assumed. It is very definitely not assumed that Beyoncé is capable of writing searing lyrics that have nothing to do with her own personal life. Odd, isn’t it? That’s almost the definition of a genius. Why couldn’t she do that?

For what it’s worth, I’d also point out a couple of other things. First, Beyoncé is famous for her almost fanatical control of her image. Second, as many people have pointed out, Lemonade is available for streaming only on Tidal, which is Jay-Z’s company. So that means Beyoncé is helping Jay make a lot of money off his alleged infidelity—and shoring up his faltering streaming service at the same time.

So then. Take your pick:

  • Jay-Z cheated on Beyoncé. She’s pissed off about it and wrote an album to exorcise her pain.
  • Nothing happened. It’s just an album on the subject of infidelity and other things, which Beyoncé captures with astonishing virtuosity. Geniuses can do that sort of thing.
  • It’s all part of Beyoncé’s endless pseudo-narrative, which she controls with about the same subtlety that Stalin used to control the Red Army. Art in the service of art may have a long and rich history, but art in the service of great riches does too.

And with that, I’m off to lunch while everyone tears me apart. Have fun!