In 2013 when Beyoncé released her self-titled ‘digital drop’, I remember just doing my routine aimless scroll on Twitter to find everyone talking about a new Beyoncé Album and I completely lost it.
Ever since Beyoncé I have been pretty much doing this.
I remember saying that I thought she should retire from music because I couldn’t imagine her doing anything better than it and boy was I wrong.
There is no doubt about it, Lemonade is Beyoncé at her best. Its been a little over a month since I first heard it and I am still captivated by its songs, the story and its accompanying striking visuals. Clearly so is everyone else, Lemonade peaked at number 1 in more than 12 countries and it still hasn’t left the top five in U.K. & U.S. since its release.
I have decided to look further into the psychology behind Lemonade to further understand why we just can’t get enough of this innovative exploration of race, gender, family, power and love.
Marketing is defined as identifying the needs of consumers and providing products that satisfy their needs. Beyoncé gave no interview, TV or radio appearances in support of Lemonade before and after it was released. Psychology Today interestingly states that to satisfy consumer needs, products should be marketed according to unconscious branding. We need to question not why consumers do what they do but how their behaviour informs us about how their minds process information unconsciously.
Here was the first preview advertising Lemonade on HBO.
This was a smart move, its Beyoncé, she doesn’t need to promote her album to her fans in an obvious way. What was obvious is how it connected with how visual a society we have become. From watching videos on Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat to the rising subscriptions to TV and film streaming services like Netflix we have become quite the society for consciously and unconsciously processing information visually.
The advert mentioned nothing about a new album or music, we didn’t even see her face (how did we know it was even her and not an impersonator?) Interestingly we must have unconsciously identified it as Queen B as soon as the visual appeared. Perhaps it might also have been the lack of information that created more hype. This is also described as the scarcity principle where the rarer the content or product the more valuable it is. It’s not like Beyoncé debuts events on HBO or on television regularly, so missing the event would be pretty much out the question. Did it work?
Well, Nearly 800,000 U.S. viewers tuned in to what they learned to be Beyoncé’s visual album, others watched worldwide resulting in 9.2 thousand tweets a minute recorded during the showing. Once it finished, she dropped 12 songs and its accompanying short film and I just had to subscribe to Tidal to experience it all.
Lemonade then reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 with 653,000 albums sold and she became the first female to chart 12 or more songs on the US Billboard Hot 100 at the same time. Beyoncé also set the record for the most streamed album in a single week by a female artist. It was streamed 115 million times through Tidal- the only streaming service that the album was on (scarcity being used again) bringing Tidal a total of 1.2 new million subscribers. It’s safe to say the people were satisfied, so job well done.
THE STORY OF LEMONADE
Lemonade presents Beyoncé enraged from learning about the infidelity of her lover. The oddly joyful reggae tune ‘Hold Up’ finds Beyoncé happily swinging a baseball bat around smashing up cars with fire ablaze as she sings “They don’t love you like I love you“.
My favourite Beyoncé is when she’s unhinged, (see ring the alarm) in the gospel rock tinged ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself‘ she yells “Who the fuck do you think I am? You ain’t married to some average bitch boy”. The message here- You think by being selfish you hurt me but you hurt yourself too because we are one, or did you forget?
The story then chronicles her varying emotions and decisions that eventually lead her to a crossroads where she must decide whether to forgive and stop this ‘Love Drought‘. She decides to forgive and appreciate the love she has for her family and sweetly walk along the hopeful path of reconciliation.
The story is such a part of this album that I actually don’t like listening to it in shuffle, I have to start from the beginning and listen to the end which is rare for me. The resilient story of being served bitter life lemons, but making sweet lemonade full of optimism has been used in the psychological study of resilience.
So why has it connected with so many people?
Research has suggested that there are neurons in the brain that make us ‘feel’ someone else’s pleasure or pain when you envision yourself in their shoes. They found that when you’re listening to an engaging story, the response patterns in your brain align to those of the narrator as if you’re on the same wavelength. Perhaps the people watching and listening to Lemonade empathised with Beyoncé’s strong narrative so much, they felt as if they were actually going through it, hence the strong connection to the songs.
THE BEYHIVE STINGS BECKY WITH THE GOOD HAIR
Fandoms like the Beliebers, Directioners and the Harmonizers have become notorious for going hard for their faves. The Beyhive is no different and this online community of Beyoncé fans like other fandoms are said to base their sense of self on their group membership called the Social Identity Theory. Research on this theory has found that people in groups have an increased loyalty to their own group (in this case the Beyhive) and their beliefs (protecting Beyoncé) and discriminate against any outsiders that threaten their group.
In this case the enemy of Lemonade was ‘Becky’, who Beyoncé happened to mention in her trap hit ‘Sorry’ where she tells her cheating beau to go bye bye and tell him…
It’s interesting to note, that at no point did Beyonce ever name Jay Z as the man she is singing about and yet there was this big media fascination about the supposed marital woes of Bey & Jay. The Beyhive armed with bee and lemon emojis and some choice words stung a few supposed Becky’s on their social media accounts. This made people aware of Lemonade without even having to listen to the music or watch the film.
So who is Becky and why is her hair so good?
Rachel Roy or nah?
Rita Ora or nah?
Rachel Ray or nah?
Did you notice a trend? Well, it appears that a bunch of females, purported to be the ‘other woman’ were vilified but Jay Z didn’t get much heat at all, noticeably his Wikipedia page remained untouched and memes did not call for his demise. This is well known as the sexual double standard where men are rewarded for sexual activity while women are slandered.
Even if the evidence presented is untrue because the woman being the manipulative homewrecker and seductive Jezebel who is unable to control her sexual desires aligns with people’s stereotypical expectations, it forms a confirmation bias. This is where someone ignores evidence that is inconsistent with their expectations. Feminist and cultural critic Candace Shaw sums it up “You look at a guy like Bill Clinton, a guy like Jay-Z — nobody’s yelling at them because, in a subconscious way, it’s considered something men do because they can’t help it.” It would be interesting to see if the roles were reversed and if Jay Z was rapping about Beyoncé’s supposed infidelity, would she still be highly favoured.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Social psychologists have studied minority influence where a small amount of people with an unpopular opinion paradoxically have an immense influence to change beliefs by presenting a persuasive alternative to the status quo.
Beyoncé features this Malcom X quote during Lemonade, which still holds some relevance today.
Lemonade alternatively celebrates the unity of black women especially highlighting that they come in many shapes and sizes and they posses different types of beauty, thus challenging the status quo perception of black females as just the angry black woman.
She features black women Willie Harlow, Amandla Stenberg, Zendaya, Serena Williams, and Quvenzhane Wallis who have either faced discrimination on the basis of their race or challenged typical beauty standards in the media.
Psychological research has found that common stereotypes of black woman are aggressive, overbearing and illogical. The threat of these stereotypes has been found to cause disidentification where one’s self and values are undermined. In this case black women begin to not care about their ethnicity in relation to themselves which negatively affects their relationships, educational and employment opportunities. Lemonade alone cannot cause all these stereotypes to disappear but its public positive representation of black women is a step forward.
Beyoncé also addresses the Black Lives Matter movement in the soulful ‘Freedom’ where she shows the mothers of Trayvon Martin (Sybrina Fulton), Michael Brown (Lesley McFadden), Eric Garner (Gwen Carr) holding pictures of their sons who died because of police brutality.
The movement is important as research has found that compared with whites, blacks feel negatively stereotyped and experience more racial profiling when interacting with the police.
Also, the visual for ‘Formation’ actively champions the black lives matter movement. A young boy is seen dancing in front of a police squad who surrenders to him when he puts his hands up which I find very powerful.
Beyoncé is also shown sinking on top of a police car, which may suggest that black people should no longer be seen as a threat and subsequently have their identity lost at the hands of police brutality.
With lyrics like “Earned all this money but they never take the country off me” and “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros” it is an unapologetic display of not changing to fit stereotypical standards of beauty. Simply get in formation and celebrate how powerful black culture is.