By Hannah Sweet
Beyoncé’s video album Lemonade is filled with dozens of visually stunning moments. Yet, the image of Beyoncé in her flowing yellow dress, pushing open a set of golden doors is what I believe to be one of the most powerful images throughout the album. The contrast between the beginning of “Hold Up” as Beyoncé is submerged in water, muffled sounds and slow movements, to the image of the water cascading down the steps, most certainly plays into the drama of the scene. But for me, what really stands out in the scene is the yellow dress.
I am not alone in viewing the dress as iconic. Instyle, Refinery, and Vogue are just a few of the number of fashion outlets that have reported on the iconic yellow dress. But besides being quite visually stunning, what is the significance of the color, particularly in Lemonade, a video album that outlines a black woman’s journey through knowledge and healing?
Ana Kinsella, a writer from AnOthermag.com explains the significance of yellow in art throughout history in their article, “The Significance of Using Yellow in Contemporary Culture.” Kinsella describes yellow in the Beatles’ famous song, Yellow Submarine as possessing an “innocence to it, a relentless optimism that can last long in the memory.” Yet, contrasting this take on yellow, the gothic novella The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, demonstrates the ugly side of the color, the yellow wallpaper driving the main character to madness.
The yellow dress in “Hold Up,” represents a mix of both takes on the color. In the video “Hold Up,” Beyoncé appears to represent the ugliness of the color. Anger is clearly present in the video as Beyoncé destroys cars, meters, and fire hydrants. Yet, the destruction in the video also appears to be quite freeing. In the midst of all the chaos Beyoncé is smiling, hinting at the optimism that Kinsella finds in the song “The Yellow Submarine.”
Another possible allusion is to the goddess Oshun of the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria. Oshun, often depicted in yellow dress, is the goddess of love, sensuality, and femininity. Often referred to as the goddess of sweet water and love. Oshun is considered one of the central figures in the creation of human beings, using her waters to bring life to earth. Like Oshun, Beyoncé brings about life as an artist and a mother Yet, in a number of myths Oshun is also known to take life away. Oshun would flood the earth, destroying crops, or withholding water when incensed by her devotees. Beyoncé’s channels Oshun in “Hold Up” not only donning the flowing yellow dress, but also in the destruction that she causes as a response to the betrayal and infidelity she experiences. The destruction that ensues as Beyoncé emerges from the building, the flooded steps and street, the destruction of the car and fire hydrant, closely mirrors the story of Oshun.
Yellow, like Beyoncé’s experience in “Hold Up,” can appear to be very contradictory. The color is ugly yet vibrate, sweet yet bitter. The prevalence of the color in the “Hold Up” video illustrates the internal conflicts that Beyoncé experiences as a result of the betrayal. Infidelity leads to destruction in the video but also freedom.