During World War II, Americans gathered around the radio, united in search of a leader’s reassurance, to listen to the fireside chats of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 2016, the world gathered around HBO, united in search of a leader’s reassurance, for the complete sensory rapture of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.”
The comparison might seem ridiculous at first blush. FDR was addressing the spiritual malaise of a nation still recovering from economic shambles, and the “Single Ladies” singer was … actually, also doing that, in its own way. Anyone near a social network the night of April 23, confronted with a pandemic of lemon and bumblebee emojis, knows that the release of Beyoncé’s new visual album dominated cultural thought from the first bar of the first song “Pray You Catch Me.”
For those who have avoided sentience for the past week: “Lemonade” — both the name of Beyoncé’s latest surprise album and the accompanying hourlong music video — was a startlingly naked airing of dirty laundry for the intensely private superstar, seemingly addressing the long-rumored infidelities of her husband, rap mogul Jay Z. True to Bey form, the project is stacked with T-shirt-ready catchphrases (“Tell him ‘Boy, bye’”), unforgettable looks (a canary yellow dress for the song “Hold Up”), sonic trendsetting (featured performances from Jack White and James Blake) and self-esteem swagger to spare.
But that aforementioned vulnerability and willingness to dish the dirt shocked pop consumers far beyond the singer’s Beyhive of fans. Searing, blistering and affirming, the visual album was hailed as a “revelation of the spirit” in the New Yorker. That same publication also called it an “unforgettable act of public shaming.”
And about that shaming. When “Lemonade” appeared on Jay Z-founded music streaming service Tidal after its HBO debut, it felt as if the rapper was being forced to bankroll his own divorce proceedings. Like the Tidal-exclusive releases of Rihanna’s “Anti” and Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo,” this album drove thirsty fans and curious bystanders to the struggling Spotify competitor, helping to shoot it up to the top of the app download charts.
Then there were the memes. Perhaps the most pervasive: the Internet witchhunt for “Becky with the good hair,” the other woman (or the metaphorical stand-in for multiple infidelities) alluded to on the song “Sorry.” Thanks to a maybe-related Instagram caption, enviably tressed fashion designer Rachel Roy found herself in the sights of vengeful Knowles devotees with a jones for detective work and a thirst for social media vigilantism. Comically, celebrity chef Rachael Ray received some of the fallout on social media, too, thanks to fans suffering from vowel confusion. Singer Rita Ora was also floated as a potential Becky. However, it bears mention that her hair is not that good.
The Internet thinkpieces swarmed as soon as that Sunday, delving past Becky and into “Lemonade’s” celebration of black womanhood, which began with the release of single “Formation” in February. CNN posited that “the theme of ‘Lemonade’ isn’t about a man, but black women’s relationship with a patriarchal society.” In Time, University of Texas professor Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley wrote that for the video project “to demand respect and reverence for black women is at once to work magic, and to call for a revolution of American values.” Other pieces analyzed the presence of various cameos in the video, from the mother of Trayvon Martin to the tennis champion Serena Williams. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones said “Lemonade” was a CIA plot to incite a race war.
Of course, the comparison of “Lemonade” to Roosevelt’s historic radio addresses is facetious, desires for a Knowles administration notwithstanding. However, it bears asking: When was the last time a media broadcast by a sitting president so thoroughly grabbed America’s collective attention, and kept it?
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Austin on Wednesday for the Vietnam War Summit at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, did what all dignitaries must do while in town. He chowed down on the most Texan food possible.
Like boss President Barack Obama before him — POTUS has famously visited Franklin Barbecue and Torchy’s Tacos — Kerry picked a local standby and visited Iron Works BBQ, according to Eater Austin. The website reported that the former U.S. senator’s drop-in was preceded by a Secret Service stop and that Kerry ordered beef ribs with green beans and coleslaw.
Eater also reported that the secretary stayed for more than an hour and mingled with customers before he left.
Doobie brother and sister
Despite an age difference of more than half a century, the friendship between neo-traditional country singer Kacey Musgraves and her hair-braided role model Willie Nelson just works. One would say it’s blazing.
Along with their mutual profession of making country music, the pair are famous marijuana enthusiasts. In an interview with Us Weekly, Musgraves told the magazine she framed a joint Nelson gave her. On April 20, Musgraves posted a series of Instagrams surrounding by tall marijuana plants, thanking Nelson for a tour and referencing his cannabis brand Willie’s Reserve in a hashtag.
Let’s look back on how the high times came to be. One of the first photos snapped of country’s oddest BFFs captures Musgraves planting a kiss on Nelson’s cheek. In fact, this snap had quite the run as Musgraves’ Instagram profile picture.
It seems where Nelson plays, Musgraves isn’t too far off, as the two have embarked on tour together. The two played a tribute to Waylon Jennings at ACL Live last year, among many other collaborations on both stage and album.
Mixing the sequinned glitz of Musgraves with the roadhouse style of Nelson, these Lone Star State natives make for some serious #squadgoals. As the ultimate sign of friendship, Musgraves even gave a shout-out to the country legend with the opening line “I’ve had my picture made with Willie Nelson” on her single “Dimestore Cowgirl.”
— Maribel Molina, American-Statesman staff
ABOUT THE WEBB REPORT
Catch up on the week’s viral headlines and entertainment buzz, brought to you by social media editor and pop culture writer Eric Webb. Read more ataustin360.com/webbreport.