On April 23, Beyoncé dropped her highly anticipated visual album called “Lemonade,” causing the internet to officially go insane. The album, which she had assumingly been working on since September 2015, contains a number of songs preaching about infidelity, feminism, black culture and personal strength. The Queen features a number of black women throughout her video in various settings: young women draped over the bared arms of trees in a Southern setting, the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner holding up pictures of their dead sons, and a line of girls tied together with cord at the waist as a powerful embodiment of black, female lineage. This imagery echoes a much larger message that even her lyrics can’t quite say: #BlackLivesMatter. But how much value does that message have, if you’ve waited, not eight months, but 13 years to say it?
Beyoncé has been a solo artist since 2003, years before the Black Lives Matter movement was even coined. However, that doesn’t mean that something didn’t need to be said, despite a lack of a trending hashtag. Granted, this album is not the first time Queen B has addressed the movement or civil rights equality — her performance of “Formation” at the Super Bowl made references to the Black Panthers and the Black Power Movement. But that was only a few months ago. She could’ve used her power to effect change years ago, yet is only choosing to speak up now when it’s popular. It doesn’t make much of a difference when you are capable of wielding all the power but hesitate to use it.
Neither album – 4 or Beyoncé – focused on black rights despite being released in the midst of increasing racial tension in the country. Instead, like a smart business woman, Beyoncé waited until she could capitalize on the movement with an album like Lemonade that’s steeped thoroughly in black empowerment. But her decision to speak up through her music is ultimately based on opportune timing and the ability to make a profit on current events, not the weight of the message.
Now, the grassroots nature and sheer emotional fervor that characterized the height of the Black Lives Matter movement have moved beyond passionate large-scale protest, focusing more on smaller acts of political subversion. Beyoncé could have made a much more powerful statement had she participated in the discourse of the 2012 passion even in the smallest of ways, but that would not have been the profitable thing to do; so instead she “surfboard-ed” right over a black rights tsunami.
Clearly, Beyoncé is still incredibly influential. Her music has always stood behind female empowerment, but she uses her capital — in this case, musical talent — like she’s a stockholder waiting for the right moment to sell. And when you have a “Beyhive” full of impassioned black, millennial men and women it is both a duty and a responsibility to speak up while you can. Giving a token doesn’t mean much when you’re sitting on a ton. Not many black people have the kind of platform that Beyoncé has to voice their opinion and make a difference. In light of the visibility and genuine support black rights have gained, Beyoncé’s pleas feel like they’re too little, too late.
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