Your Guide to ‘Lemonade,’ Beyoncé’s Deeply Personal Visual Album


Beyoncé serves Lemonade (Photo: Giphy)

Over the weekend, as many suspected, Beyoncé dropped Lemonade, her sixth studio album and second visual album. Making its premiere on HBO, then Tidal, and now iTunes, the album is presented as an hourlong film, as Beyoncé explores her own version of the stages of grief; each of the album’s first 11 songs representing one. “Formation,” the 13th and final track — the video for which was released weeks ago — plays over the credits.

Beyoncé famously grants very few interviews and, as such, tends to let the art speak for itself. Lemonade contains a multitude of various references to personal and marital strife, a stunning roster of collaborators and cameos, and instantly quotable lines — sorry, Becky. Here’s your guide to the whole shebang.

First of all, where did Lemonade come from?

Beyoncé fans and, particularly, the ever devoted Bey Hive, have been expecting a new Beyoncé album for some time now. In a series of captionless Instagram snaps, Beyoncé teased Lemonade back in September. She was also seen filming in New Orleans toward the end of last year. Then, a week before its premiere, HBO dropped a trailer for Lemonade, which never explicitly stated the project was a visual album, but the fans would not have been happy with anything less.


Beyoncé (Photo: Giphy)

Where does the name come from?

As revealed in “Freedom,” the name Lemonade is a reference to a speech Jay Z’s grandmother Hattie White gave at her 90th birthday party: “I’ve had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade.”

This is an apt metaphor, as the central theme of Lemonade is Beyoncé’s own ups and downs.

So what are said ups and downs?

Again, nothing is confirmed. But lyrically, Beyoncé refers to marital troubles and crises of confidence. It is a powerful vulnerability, one that Beyoncé urges us to connect with, but also makes it clear that no one but her owns her story.

And who’s Becky?

“You better call Becky with the good hair” has instantly become the most iconic lyric from all of Lemonade. It comes from “Sorry,” a certified banger and the album’s fourth track.

Becky is obviously a pseudonym, but to whom does it refer? This has been interpreted by most everyone as a reference to designer Rachel Roy.


Beyonce (Photo: Giphy)

Why have I heard Rachel Roy’s name in conjunction with Jay Z before?

Smart question, you’ve been paying attention. It was rumored back in 2014 that Roy, who is the ex-wife of Jay Z’s former business partner Damon Dash, was the cause of the Solange vs. Jay Z elevator brawl seen ‘round the world.

At the time, a source told the New York Daily News that “Rachel is a little too close to Jay Z. Solange doesn’t like it, and Beyoncé doesn’t like it.”

And so why’s everyone mad at Rachel now?

Soon after Lemonade dropped, Roy posted a salty, now-deleted picture on her now-private Instagram. The caption read: “Good hair don’t care, but we will take good lighting, for selfies, or self truths, always. Live in the light. #nodramaqueens.”


Rachel Roy’s now-deleted Instagram reaction to Lemonade (Photo: Instagram)

Like any good colony, sensing their queen was threatened, the Bey Hive attacked. Roy was not particularly happy about it.

Roy has never formally denied the rumors of a Jay Z affair, for what it’s worth. She also canceled a planned appearance at a seminar called “Mastering Your Métier” in New York Monday due to a “personal emergency.”

And how’s Rachael Ray doing today?

Probably not great! Due to similarities of their names, many of Beyoncé’s fans mistakenly went in on Ray. “Oh I loved hot chicken fajitas but I will never make them again after what you did to the Queen,” one person wrote on Instagram. Ray has not directly addressed the situation, but let’s not insult ourselves pretending Ray posting a recipe for lemonade lavender ice cubes on Sunday wasn’t a little wink to the mix-up.

What other meme-able moments does Lemonade provide?

While most of the collective Internet hive-mind is focused on Becky and her good hair, there is also a wealth of GIFs of Jay Z looking nervous, which have all come in handy in addressing the album’s lyrical content.

Also, Beyoncé carries around a bat branded with “hot sauce,” so that’s a cute nod to “Formation.”


Puts “got hot sauce in my bag” in a new light (Photo: Giphy)

What about this list of collaborators?

There is a stunning list of collaborators, both expected and not, on Lemonade. Beyoncé staples boots and The-Dream both have credits on the album. And then there are appearances from Diplo, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, and Jack White. Soulja Boy, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Father John Misty all have writing credits on “Hold Up,” the first two because the song “embodies portions” of “Turn My Swag On” and “Maps.”

Beyoncé herself holds both writing and producing credits on nearly every song. She’s also the co-director of the visual album.

Lemonade also contains samples from Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” Animal Collective’s “My Girls,” and Isaac Hayes’s “Walk on By” (which was written by Burt Bacharach).

And the visuals?

It’s pretty remarkable just how many people are involved in this. The first big cameo is Serena Williams, who spends “Sorry” twerking next to Beyoncé, as she recreates Williams’s Sportsperson of the Year Sports Illustrated cover.


Beyoncé and Serena Williams (Photo: Giphy)

The album also contains personal family videos featuring Beyoncé’s mother and father, Blue Ivy, and, of course, Jay Z, members of Jay Z’s family, and Beyoncé herself. (It seems she’s still finding subtle ways to shut down those surrogacy truthers.)

In the video for “Forward,” Beyoncé features Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, and Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown. Civil rights activist and the Queen of Creole Cooking Leah Chase is also featured. In “Freedom,” Fulton and McSpadden are back, as are Zendaya, Amandla Stenberg, Quvenzhané Wallis, model Winnie Harlow, ballet dancer Michaela DePrince, and Chloe x Halle, two young singers signed to Beyoncé’s label.


Beyoncé, Amandla Stenberg, Zendaya, Chloe x Halle, and Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz of Ibeyi (Photo: Giphy)

There is also a spoken word element to Lemonade, peppered throughout. That is an adaptation of the work of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire.

Alright so how are Jay Z and Beyoncé now?

Presumably they’re fine. Lemonade ends on themes of healing and redemption. The couple are seen together in the intimate “Sandcastles.” If gossip lays out a clear timeline, the events that inspired Lemonade happened sometime around 2014, so there’s been time to heal.


Jay Z and Beyoncé (Photo: Giphy)

OK, that’s good to know. So what do we do now?

It is art after all. Listen to it. Interpret it as you will. Make it personal. You can stream Lemonade on Tidal and you can buy it on iTunes.


Beyoncé Tidal promo (Photo: Giphy)