Expectation: If you listen to pop, you’ve heard Beyoncé before. If you don’t listen to pop, get over yourself and branch out; you don’t have to like it, but try to think about why you don’t like it.
- Pray You Catch Me – A very moving, somber opening track with a lovely minimalist arrangement and a great performance from Beyoncé.
- Hold Up – 2016 has been a huge year for reggae and dancehall in American pop music, and this song was both a cause and a symptom of that rise. The airhorns are ridiculously annoying and meme-y, but everything else here is solid.
- Don’t Hurt Yourself – Despite the Grammy’s nearly ruining this song for me by including it in possibly the most out of touch rock nominations ever (the other nominees include Panic at the Disco and Blink-182), this is still a decent song. If you ever wanted to know what Beyoncé singing a cut of Jack White’s solo material sounds like, this is pretty much exactly that. At the very least, maybe this will help young rock fans accept that its okay to like pop too.
- Sorry – On its own, this song is terrible: the lyrics are one dimensional and Beyoncé’s attitude plays like a 15 year old girl’s power fantasy. Fortunately, context is a thing and in this case, context makes ‘Sorry’ one of the best-written songs on the album. Beyoncé is lashing out at her ex, but her bravado seems shallow because it is: it’s a facade, parading a one-dimensional caricature of confidence that she herself doesn’t buy for a second. Even as she claims “I ain’t thinking ’bout you”, the entire song is about the person she’s speaking to, and its clear that he is still all she can think about.
- 6 Inch – I try not to concern myself with “honesty” in songwriting, as its usually based in completely arbitrary arguments and really has nothing to do with the quality of the music. However, I cannot get over the fact that Beyoncé wrote a song about female empowerment, could have put anyone on that hook, and chose The Weeknd. She could have given an up-and-coming female artist the opportunity of a lifetime; she could have chosen Grimes, FKA Twigs, Anna Wise, or one of literally countless others and changed their life forever, but she went with an already well-established male vocalist, as if she, Beyoncé, needed the additional publicity.
- Daddy Lesson – Despite the blatantly pandering “hoots and hollers” in the background, Beyoncé sounds great and its a pretty nice song. I’m especially fond of the horn breaks.
- Love Drought – It checks all the boxes for a good song (relevant lyrics, great production, adequate vocals, etc.), but just lacks personality in comparison with the other tracks.
- Sandcastles – An outstanding vocal performance makes for a heartbreaking ballad, and my personal favorite song on the album.
- Forward – At least this one isn’t literally a man singing about female empowerment (see ‘6 Inch’). Its a fine interlude, but I wouldn’t miss it if it were removed.
- Freedom – I love Just Blaze’s beat here, and I love Kendrick’s verse, but I just cannot get over the fact that its literally a song about empowering other women that could very easily have given a female artist the exposure they deserve. Get someone like Tokimonsta or Wondagurl to produce, let Rapsody or Noname or Kamaiyah spit a verse. Kendrick and Just Blaze are already on top, and its not as if Beyoncé needs the added exposure. (Rant aside, really great song).
- All Night – A great instrumental, and Beyoncé really flexes her vocal abilities on the bridge. The hook isn’t great, and the song could definitely be trimmed down a bit, but its still a great song.
- Formation – Actually the worst sample I have heard in my entire life. I hated it the first time I heard it; the second time I hated it more. It would be laughably bad if it didn’t piss me off. Its so bad that it makes it impossible to take anything else in the song seriously, ruining what could have been a fantastic closer. It makes Beyoncé’s confident anthem sound like an annoying joke.
Overall: I have a lot of negative feelings about things auxiliary to this album, but let me be clear: Lemonade is a good album. The lyrics are reasonably focused and socially relevant, the music dips its toes into numerous genres but nothing sounds out of place, Beyoncé kills her vocal performances as expected, and the production could hardly be better, though it is somewhat too safe. I genuinely wish that I didn’t know anything about this album. I wish I didn’t know that despite detailing her marital issues with Jay-Z, Lemonade is exclusively available on the streaming service Jay-Z owns and Jay-Z personally appeared in the short film version. I wish that Beyoncé had used her position to walk-the-walk and help female artists break into the mainstream instead of using female empowerment as a part of her brand while being the only woman to contribute to the album. However, none of that changes the fact that the music here is still good, and the music is probably the only thing that will be remembered in the long run.