Lemonade: Exposing Degrading Societal Systems Through Song

by Brooke Lee

When listening to Beyoncé’s Lemonade album, listeners can hear the range of emotions she feels in each song. These emotions correlate not only with her personal life but also with current societal issues. Each piece within the Lemonade album follows a different style/genre. Beyoncé also collaborates with multiple artists, including Jack White, The Weekend, James Blakes, and Kendrick Lamar. The range of her songs and the different collaborations exposes a wider variety of people to this album, which means that more people are made aware of the more significant societal issues she exposes: continuous gender and racial discrimination in our current society. 

Lemonade, though it was published four years ago, is still incredibly relevant in 2020 because racial inequality is still very present in our culture. This year, Black Lives Matter movement was much more broadcasted than in the past and brought much-needed attention to the daily social and systematic racism black people face daily and how black people cannot succeed because of this racism. In her song “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” Beyoncé incorporates some of Malcolm X’s, a civil rights activist, most famous lines from his speech in May of 1962, “the most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman” (1:05-1:30). Beyoncé references Malcolm X to bring to light the continuous racism throughout history and how it is still very much alive. This exposure to the black community’s constant oppression, especially black women, metaphorically starts to break, and literally (with her audible singing), or bring needed attention to this discrimination.

Beyoncé not only alludes to societal racism but also the gendered expectations of women and how they are expected to make themselves smaller to conform to man’s desires. At the beginning of Beyoncés song “Hold Up,” Beyoncé is submerged underwater, unable to breathe. The water represents the degrading influence of men, and she says, “I didn’t speak a word” (0:47). As she is submerged underwater, she is whispering and in a dark and gloomy space. She belittles her voice as she feels betrayed and unwanted after her husband cheats on her. She “tried to make herself soft – prettier” (0:10-0:16) to try to win him back. However, as soon as she walks outside, she is free of the water drowning her and can express herself. She destroys cars and fire hydrants, which gives the audience a sense of empowerment as she goes against the norm. However, as she is doing this, she is repeatedly singing “what’s worse, looking jealous or crazy” (2:43, 4:13, etc.). Even though she is much freer than when she started and is physically brighter with more color (both in the location she is in and the clothes she wears), she still is influenced a little bit about what men will think about her. 

One thought on “Lemonade: Exposing Degrading Societal Systems Through Song

  1. I love this, Brooke! I think it’s cool how you included both lyrical and visual aspects of Lemonade to make your interpretation.


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