Beyoncé is having a moment. “Lemonade,” the pop star’s most recent work, was released last weekend as a standalone album and an hour-long music video. In it, the singer narrates a series of visually stunning vignettes about infidelity and black female identity. It’s a masterful telling of pain, healing and redemption set against Southern cultural and physical landscapes.
The work takes on some of the most essential cultural issues of our time, including marriage and cheating, black women’s lack of agency, the taboo against sex work and police brutality. Not bad for an album that raked in more than 750,000 views in one weekend.
Beyoncé is both propelling and profiting from these conversations about black women’s place in the world. And that’s what makes her so interesting for music fans and cultural critics alike. Here are some great sources for understanding both the phenomenon that is Beyoncé and the conversation she’s a part of.
“We should all be feminists,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TEDxEuston
In this talk, Nigerian writer Adichie explains the ways society fails young women. “We teach girls,” she says, “to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.’ ” Beyoncé sampled part of the speech in her 2013 song “Flawless.” Listening to the whole thing may offer insight into the musician’s own views on women and feminism.
“Beyoncé Holiday Spectacular,” the Read
This hilarious and often NSFW podcast focuses on pop culture, race and identity. Hosts Kid Fury and Crissle are incisive, probing and just plain good listening. They’re also big fans of Queen Bey — their mantra reads, “No star is safe from Fury and Crissle unless their name is Beyoncé (Or Blue Ivy.)” In their “Beyoncé Holiday Spectacular” episode, they scramble to buy one of her albums, then talk through their listening experience.
“Suga Mama, Politicized,”
Daphne A. Brooks, The Nation
Brooks, a prolific scholar of black women and performance, offers an intriguing analysis of Beyoncé’s second solo album, “B’Day,” calling it “one of the oddest, most urgent, dissonant and disruptive R&B releases in recent memory.” In “B’Day,” Brooks hears an emerging social critic. “Instead of mistaking ‘edge’ . . . for raunch as her peers often do,” Brooks writes, “Beyoncé finds different emotional notes to sound: spiritual discontent, romantic pessimism and self-control.”
“Babylon Girls,” Jayna Brown
Brown’s groundbreaking study explores how 19th-century black female performers shaped modern pop culture. These burlesque and cabaret dancers traveled the world and pushed viewers to question their own assumptions about race and gender. These women, Brown argues, turned feminism into art. Their efforts offer historic insight into Beyoncé’s projects.
“Life Is but a Dream,”
In this 2013 Beyoncé-produced documentary, the performer explains her creative process and personal life in her own words. We see footage from her wedding to Jay Z and learn about the challenges of her pregnancy with Blue Ivy.