Last weekend, Beyonce’s sixth studio album Lemonade debuted to overwhelmingly positive reviews. Described as “defiant,” “brave” and “powerful,” many felt the visual album was one of her strongest to date. Critics seemed to share the collective impression that the world was seeing an unguarded part of Beyonce she never felt comfortable revealing before. If that holds true it would seem that we are all engaging in a passive act of voyeurism, a condition that makes the idea of reviewing the album feel a bit ironic. It follows that despite the cinematic drama of the videos, what she set out to create was more of a personal conversation presented to the world.

Lemonade feels like a lot things to a lot of people: it feels like a journey of self-exploration; it feels like a generational love letter to women of color; it feels like a political statement; it feels like a steely, unapologetic admission of vulnerability; it feels angry; it feels hopeful. Essentially, it’s layered with about as much complexity as the idea of making lemonade out of life tribulations.

Here’s what some of the leading publications had to say:

Pitchfork

Pitchfork was understandably torn between the apparent sincerity of the album and Beyonce’s tightly-controlled image and well-recorded desire to get everything just right.

They briefly pondered what was real and what wasn’t, before offering up the notion that perfectionism and realism can be difficult bed partners – what’s real often isn’t perfect, and vice versa. In the end they seemed to decide the music delivered enough truth that it didn’t matter much.

“Beyoncé even kind of sells it, surmising with a tear-inducing sincerity on relaxed-fit soul jam “All Night” that “nothing real can be threatened.” It’s an easy platitude to make, but it’s also an extremely Beyoncé way of looking at things. For a perfectionist who controls her image meticulously, Beyoncé is obsessed with the notion of realness. That’s the biggest selling point of an album like Lemonade, but there’s a quality to it that also invites skepticism: That desire to basically art-direct your own sobbing self-portrait to make sure your mascara smears in the most perfectly disheveled way. But who cares what’s “real” when the music delivers a truth you can use.”

Pitchfork

Read the full review here.

New York Times

New York Times structured the framework of their review to spotlight the album’s overt allusions to marital infidelity. They came away with the observation that by working through cycles of rage, sadness, betrayal and apathy, Beyonce successfully removed the lifestyle barriers that might otherwise make listeners feel as though they couldn’t relate to her.

“Will it work out? No one knows. But in the meantime she sings wholeheartedly, encapsulates deep dilemmas in terse singalong lines and touches on ideas and emotions that so many people feel. She is a star whose world is vastly different from that of her listeners. But in matters of the heart, with their complications and paradoxes, Beyoncé joins all of us.”

New York Times

Read the full review here.

Rolling Stone

After briefly wondering what it meant for Lemonade to be released so soon after the loss of Prince, Rolling Stone handed the album a coveted 5-star rating. As for Mrs. Carter, the publication praised her for being more sonically adventurous than ever before, rounding out commentary with the wry observation that Jay Z just may be living the hard-knock life these days. They ended with the observation that despite Beyonce’s newfound vulnerability, she managed to remain a superhero in the collective gaze.

“She’s always aspired to superhero status, even from her earliest days in a girl group that was tellingly named Destiny’s Child. (Once upon a time, back in the Nineties, “No No No” was the only Destiny’s Child song in existence – but make no mistake, we could already hear she was Beyoncé.) She lives up to every inch of that superhero status on Lemonade. Like the professional heartbreaker she sings about in “6 Inch,” she murdered everybody and the world was her witness.

Rolling Stone

Read the full review here.

The Guardian

Although put off by the album’s “conceptual project about the journey of a woman” description, The Guardian eventually came around, rating the project 4 out of 5 stars. Overall, they felt the themes of vulnerability and defiance were easy to trace and that the album as a whole was a cohesive if not eclectic effort.

“She’s obviously not the only major pop star willing to experiment and push at the boundaries of her sound: that’s clearly what Rihanna and Kanye West were attempting to do on Anti and The Life of Pablo respectively. The difference is that those albums were at best a bold and intriguing mess: the sense that the artists behind them were having trouble marshalling their ideas was hard to escape. Lemonade, however, feels like a success, made by someone very much in control. “This is your final warning,” she scowls on Don’t Hurt Yourself, “if you try this shit again, you lose your wife.” You rather get the feeling Jay Z should heed those words: on Lemonade, Beyonce sounds very much like a woman not to be messed with.”

The Guardian

Read the full review here.

NPR

NPR observed that Beyonce would perhaps not have made an album so blunt or defiant as little as two years ago. Unlike many of the publications that viewed Lemonade’s central message to be about the toils of infidelity and marital strife, NPR saw it as a product of a time of political upheaval. To them, it is a multilayered testament that explored every aspect of the journey of black women.

“With this album, Beyoncé is telling us that she’s made it this far in spite of the system in place; you know — the overtly sexist, subtly racist one. She was served lemons. And she made the most fire, refreshing, delectable, thirst-quenching lemonade ever known to man. Actually, scratch that — ever known to woman.”

NPR

Read the full review here.

On a separate note, see how the internet reacted to Lemonade.

Words by Stephanie Smith-Strickland
Contributor