In 2016 everything went wrong. Correction, nearly everything went wrong. Everyone died, the United States elected an orange as President (a death of sorts), and then more people died. It was literally the worst of times. However, amid that horror came the domination of Black femininity in music.
The movement, spearheaded by Rihanna’s ANTi, gave insight into the complexities of Black womanhood and offered several incredibly different accounts of all that it encompasses. Less than two weeks after the highly anticipated release of Rih Rih’s 8th album (and arguably her best body of work), Beyoncé nearly ended the world as we know it with the surprise drop of the Formation video. Her most obviously Black work at that time, Formation was an ode to the beauty of New Orleans and the importance of listening when the South has something to say. Our beloved Texas ‘bama proudly boasted about the magic that occurs when you mix that Negro with that Creole and Black girls across the world rejoiced. Then, almost immediately after, she took BGM to a level that we foolishly thought could not be topped and graciously allowed the NFL to host a game during her performance. A performance that doubled as a tribute to the Black Panthers and a “fuck you” to anyone who ever made the mistake of saying that Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, daughter of Celestine Ann Beyincé, had “transcended” race.
Before we could gather the pieces of our existence, the Great One announced the Formation World Tour and began hinting at an upcoming album. Then on April 23rd, 2016, our Creole goddess demanded that we all get in formation (aka add HBO to our cable packages) and bestowed upon us her most beautifully constructed artwork to date–LEMONADE. Lemonade was many things. It was picture perfect Beyoncé begging the men who had inflicted the most pain for mercy. It was her channeling Black deities whilst donning Roberto Cavalli and joyously swinging a louisville slugger. It was her, again, giving a finger to those who ever assumed that they could limit her artistry by playing with genres in a way that only a child of Destiny, first of her name, of the House of Deréon could. I could spend all day talking about Lemonade and the magnitude of its power–but that’s not why we’re here. I also cannot address anything about 2016 without acknowledging (see also: appreciating) the seat at the table kindly offered to the world by the baby of the Knowles clan–the incomparable Solange. I don’t think we bring enough attention to the bravery required to have even released an album in the same year as a superstar big sister, let alone the caliber of work required to be considered her only rival for the given time. I don’t care what the Grammys said; Black girls showed up, showed out, and showed all what can happen when we are given complete artistic control.
Before I begin, it is important to note that I joined the Beyhive long before it had a name (or a reputation for wishing death upon those who do not accept Beyoncé as their lord and savior.) I know that I will have to answer for that last sentence on Judgement Day, however, if the Lord is not a Beyoncé stan then maybe heaven isn’t the place for me. Moving on. Over the last year I watched women, specifically Black women, support and consume Beyoncé in a way much differently than ever before. Sure, we all loved Party and maybe even Who Run the World? but never had Beyoncé been regarded as a champion of Black womanhood by the masses. With the release of Lemonade came also the introduction to the previously unseen version of the superstar. Beyoncé was no longer a pop princess–she was a Black woman completely aware of her power and the possible blowback. She took a chance on us, and we made sure to “YASSS” for her at every award show, performance, club, and everywhere in between because that is simply what we do.
A few weeks ago I sat at my desk having a forgettable day when my coworker got up and yelled, “EVERYONE, THIS IS IMPORTANT. BEYONCÉ IS PREGNANT WITH TWINS.” Immediately after every single message thread in my text inbox exploded with her maternity photos and social media completely shut down. Regardless of what was happening in our respective lives, we all stopped and felt a genuine sense of happiness for a woman who publicly detailed her struggles with fertility. A woman we will probably never meet, but will praise God for her blessings anyway. Again, this is simply what we do.
When accepting her award for AOTY last night, a teary eyed Adele thanked Beyoncé for her contributions and explained why she simply could not accept it (plot twist: she still did.). The most important part of this speech was the singer praising Beyoncé for her work and how she made her Black friends feel. While I’m sure that soundbite will be taken out of context and discussed for days, it resonated with me. As a Black woman and “Black friend” to many–I know how Lemonade made me feel. I’ve prayed for the undeserving to catch me. I’ve taken my frustration with infidelity out on cars. I’ve put my finger up to situations that no longer suited my needs. I’ve had to remind people of my power and the woes to come from having me fucked up. I’ve accepted the ending of broken relationships and experienced the vulnerability of forgiveness. Lemonade wasn’t just a video; it was my life. It was Beyoncé telling me and every single other Black girl that she saw us and still does…and we thank her for it immensely.