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How Beyoncé set the universe on fire and broke the internet

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By Je’Don Holloway Talley

Special to the Times

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Last week, Beyoncé set the universe on fire.

Queen Bey and HBO combined efforts to make the world “stop” and then “carry on,” breaking the Internet! Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” the superstar entertainer’s second surprise album debut, singlehandedly rewrote the rules of the marketing strategy of surprise and delight. A few artists have been brave enough to undergo this attempt, yet it has never been done with the caliber of Beyoncé’s artistic genius.

In December 2013, Beyoncé released her eponymous fifth studio album, comprised of 14 songs and 17 videos, exclusively on iTunes. And her latest release adheres to the same structure, allowing her audience to journey through her mind via a myriad of breathtaking cinematic pieces, soul-bearing poetry, and gut-wrenching spiritual anthems. What separates Beyoncé from other artists, however, are her dynamic presentation, showmanship, and exclusivity.

Beyonce’s sixth studio album—first released exclusively on Tidal, the subscription music app she and her husband, Jay-Z, own—features 12 songs and 12 intricate videos woven together with poesy interludes and an opulent Southern landscape. The natural grandeur of Spanish moss trees, the decadence of Old World New Orleans plantation-style mansions, and 19th century–inspired costuming blend perfectly to serve the world a tall glass of fresh “Lemonade.”

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Double-headed coin

There’s no way to simplify the complex body of work that is “Lemonade.” This album is as multidimensional as the essence of black life: love, pain, anguish, lineage, spirituality, culture, grief, sorrow, longing, retribution, consciousness, gratitude, understanding, resilience, perseverance, hope, resolution, redemption. It is a celebration of woman, God-consciousness, and freedom!

Lemonade is a double-headed coin. One side reveals the depths of the black female soul; the other, through visual aids and poetry, the heart of the black man and the crux of his tumultuous relationship with America.

It lifts the veil from the minds of slaves, as Beyoncé questions her servitude to a lover, as she dances with the thought of deception while exploring both Christianity and African spirituality.

It offers a glimpse into the insecurities of the black woman, as she romanticizes envious thoughts about another woman’s beauty. Beyoncé recites:

If this is what you truly want, I can wear her skin … over mine.

Her hair, over mine. Her hands as gloves. Her teeth as confetti. Her scalp, a cap.

Her sternum, my bedazzled cane. We can pose for a photograph.

All three of us, immortalized. You and your perfect girl.

It embodies the plight of the African American, with visuals of urban ghettos, majestic countryside scenery, still waters topped by the heavens’ sunset.

It is the Da Vinci Code to the female mind, a compass guiding the audience through the jungles of her multifaceted emotions.

It is the exploration of African deities, the goddess buried deep inside the hardened exterior of the black woman. Beyoncé declares with defiance that she has the “God Complex, Motivate your ass, Call me Malcom X, Your operator, or innovator,” further exemplifying the edification a wife adds to her husband’s existence.

‘Formation’

Over the span of her career, the songstress has shared how deeply intrinsic numerology and astrology are to her life and purpose. She plans most of her new releases to sync harmoniously with special dates and her favorite number, four.

Even Super Bowl 50 was part of Queen Bey’s grand scheme, as she performed her single “Formation” in conjunction with the Black Panther Party’s 50th anniversary in the very city the self-defense organization was founded. Like a force of nature, Beyoncé and her entourage of dancers in high-fashion leather jackets, black berets, and afros marched onto the field at Levi’s Stadium and straight into an “X” formation—a beautiful homage to black nationalist leader Malcom X. She used that performance to deliver an artsy political rhetoric that took America by storm!

But she actually stirred the waters the day before the big game with her surprise release of “Formation,” which truly revealed her position on police brutality and urban conditions. Using the devastation of Hurricane Katrina as a backdrop for the music video, Queen Bey perched herself atop a sunken New Orleans police cruiser and belted out the new feminist, bad girl anthem:

I see it, I want it, I stunt, yellow-bone it, I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it

I twirl on them haters, albino alligators, El Camino with the seat low, sippin’ Cuervo with no chaser

“Formation” offered the first peek at Beyoncé’s new project. In sync with the chromatic tone of “Lemonade,” the video for “Formation” displayed 19th century splendor, revamped vintage attire, and graffiti art that read “STOP SHOOTING US!” The most powerful and misunderstood imagery in the “Formation” video, though, was the assembly of a SWAT team brigade in riot gear with their arms raised in surrender at the demand of a dancing young lad.

Unapologetic

Beyoncé’s declaration of unapologetic blackness sent shockwaves through the media, as various thoughts and perceptions spewed from those in support of and outraged by her audacious performance. Immediately following her Super Bowl act, the saga continued as the business mogul dropped another surprise – the Formation worldwide concert tour. And Queen Bey didn’t stop there. In March, she revealed Ivy Park, her designer athletic apparel line in collaboration with London, England–based clothier Topshop. In hindsight, Beyoncé’s subtle business savvy had been priming us for the release of “Lemonade” since the start of the year.

It’s about taking a life that was meant to give you nothing but hardened, sour lemons as a means for survival, and turning them into “Lemonade” – a sweet concoction that cools the soul and quenches your thirst.