Beyonce's second surprise album


NEW YORK • She did it again.

Beyonce, who in 2013 changed the rules for how pop superstars deliver music with the surprise simultaneous release of a self-titled album and corresponding videos, has returned with a follow-up in the same vein: Lemonade, her sixth solo album. It arrived last Saturday night after the HBO premiere of an hour-long, conceptual short film based around the music.

The new album and its accompanying visuals - which describe, in sometimes brutal detail, the tribulations of Beyonce as a scorned lover - were made available to stream last Saturday exclusively on Tidal, the music streaming service owned by her husband Jay Z. The album is not yet available for sale as a download through any digital retailers.

Lemonade is "based on every woman's journey of self-knowledge and healing", Tidal said in an announcement.

The album's 12 tracks feature contributions from The Weeknd, James Blake, Jack White and Kendrick Lamar; the songs sample from a varied slate of artists including Led Zeppelin, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Soulja Boy and Animal Collective, with production from Just Blaze, Diplo and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend.

The HBO special, which was shot primarily in New Orleans, featured cameos from Serena Williams and Jay Z, with spoken-word interludes from Beyonce, residents and others. In one section, Malcolm X intones: "The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman."

Elsewhere, the mothers of black men killed by police, including Michael Brown and Eric Garner, appear on screen holding photos of their loved ones.

Beyonce has spent most of this year so far dropping hints about the Michael Brown and Eric Garner release. Instead of merely repeating the 2013 stunt of the surprise album, she deftly exploited the expectation that she would do it again, with cryptic hints on social media, including photos of herself with lemons.

In February, ahead of her second Super Bowl half-time appearance - she headlined the show in 2013, 10 months before her first surprise album - Beyonce released the single Formation. The single, also on Tidal, raised fervent fan speculation about what would come next.

After that performance, in which she easily eclipsed Coldplay, the nominal headliners, Beyonce announced the Formation world tour, which is to begin on Wednesday in Miami and will end on July 31 in Belgium.

The 2013 album, Beyonce, sold 365,000 copies in the United States on its first day before debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. Artists such as Drake, D'Angelo and J. Cole have followed Beyonce's lead by relying on the wave of social-media excitement that comes with an unexpected release.

Lemonade, with songs such as Don't Hurt Yourself and Daddy Lessons, may be Beyonce's most outwardly personal work. The videos, heavy on Southern gothic imagery, are broken up with title cards that play on the Kubler-Ross model of grief - intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, reformation - as she addresses years of tabloid speculation about her marriage.

"Are you cheating on me?" she asks at one point. "Big Homie better grow up," she adds at another, using a nickname used in the past by Jay Z. However, she concludes the Lemonade film with a love song featuring footage of the happy couple with their young daughter, Blue Ivy.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2016, with the headline 'Beyonce's second surprise album'. Print Edition | Subscribe