At last night’s phenomenal Beyoncé Formation World Tour show at a packed stadium in Seattle, I couldn’t help but notice that there was not one Beyoncé but two.
Despite all state-of-the-art production efforts to create a unified story, we the audience heard two stories. We heard the familiar narrative of the superhuman vocal and dancing talent rising meteorically out of Destiny’s Child and into the Beyoncé of a public celebrity marriage and unparalleled musical success — the Beyoncé of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” in her iconic black leotard, the sunny Beyoncé of “Love on Top” for whom romantic love serves as elixir. But we also heard a new story — the one told in her latest album, Lemonade, by a woman unflinching in her willingness to share the darker moments of a marriage. A story of infidelity, anger, sadness, apathy and, ultimately, of healing and reconciliation.
As a mother, a writer and a woman, it is this new voice-of-wisdom Beyoncé that I find the more compelling of the two. It is this Beyoncé who offers us a potent example of how we might be able to hold harder truths and our children at the same time. This is something women have been waiting for, perhaps without even realizing it.
With a history of live and recorded work that features montages of her coming of age as well as her life with her well-known husband, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, and daughter, Blue Ivy, Beyoncé has trained her audience to see and crave a direct link between her personal life and her public work.
Beyoncé offers us a potent example of how we might be able to hold harder truths and our children at the same time. This is something women have been waiting for, perhaps without even realizing it.
So when Lemonade dropped, listeners couldn’t help but read its story — a woman’s emotional odyssey spurred by her husband’s infidelity — as autobiographical. Curiosity about the true identity of “Becky with the good hair” flooded the internet, with both Lemonade’s “visual album” and its recorded one poetic enough to leave us plenty else to dwell on.
Whatever transpired in her marriage, Beyoncé has created a highly artistic and intimate story of infidelity and heartbreak that encourages an autobiographical read. (Shots of Jay Z and Blue Ivy horsing around as well as wedding images of the couple are incorporated into the visual album and booklet included with the recorded album.)
More significantly, she has produced this autobiographical gesture as a mother, albeit a very public mother. Public wives and mothers whose husbands transgress sometimes go the stony-faced route (see: Hillary Clinton). Sometimes they go the way of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man.” Sometimes the marriages dissolve.
This tradition of silence may have a number of sources, but one cause of tongue-holding for women has always been concern over how speaking out will impact their children. Out of worry over how their kids might be affected by the truth, many mothers struggle with how to answer questions about why their relationship broke up or even why they’re wiping tears away on the school playground. Mothers often feel like we have to protect not only our own kids but also their father. And just like the truth, the silence this protection requires costs us. Sometimes it costs us our power or our confidence. Often, the price is isolation.
Last night as Beyoncé let out the rhapsodic growl of a line “beautiful man, I know you’re lying” in that very public arena, I couldn’t help but think about Blue Ivy. Blue Ivy, who turns 5 in January, will grow up. She will listen to Lemonade. The knowledge of this story will catch up with her, and I wonder what she’ll do with it. Will she be better off than those who grow up knowing something is wrong but not knowing what? Some say our children sense all our secrets and internalize those that haven’t been named, blaming themselves.
What would it be like to have the hard stories of marriage just sitting out there in the open, another handful of photographs amongst the wedding ones and the family vacation snaps? This new Beyoncé, a fearless storyteller, makes me imagine families in which mothers share the stories of infidelity, anger and hurt like they do bread and butter. Or like lemonade, that ancient recipe for making out of something sour, something that can nourish us.