By Sam Beaumont
When life gives you lemons, watch Lemonade
Unlike a hefty majority of the earth’s 7 billion inhabitants, I’ve never really had much time for Beyonce. First off, I don’t trust anyone who names their child after a 00’s boy band – it’s not on. And I’ve always thought she’s massively overrated. She’s made a few bone fide bangers for sure, but even Bieber’s managed to squeeze a few of those out. In terms of the persona and musical ingenuity that have made her the self-proclaimed ‘baddest woman in the game’ I just never saw it.
For those reasons and many more, when I was tasked with watching something that I’d never normally choose to watch, Beyonce’s foray into conceptual film making, ‘Lemonade’ seemed to fit that description pretty well.
As I started to watch it, I felt vindicated. Sitting there judgingly, I thought to myself that the long opening shots, cutting between desolate buildings and tall grass swaying in an ominous breeze had all the pseudo-symbolism of an AS-level art project. I rolled my eyes, annoyed by the self-centred subject matter and the fact that she and Jay-Z couldn’t just sort out their issues like the rest of us, by making passive aggressive comments over dinner. Then, as I patted myself on the back for being so superior and clever, I realised that my critique was total rubbish. I realised that I have no expert knowledge about film, or music, or relationship counselling. I realised that all of my haughty inner commentary was borne out of preconceptions and reading a few too many Guardian film reviews. That was lesson 1 that I took from Lemonade: approach things with an open mind if you want to learn from them.
As immediate proof of lesson 1, once I’d opened my mind, lesson 2 swiftly followed: not every element of a communication has to explicitly mean something. I guess it’s the balance between communicating specific messages or just a general mood. Sure the swaying grass and empty buildings were void of any real meaning, but with the echoing soundtrack accompanying the visuals, even I felt a bit of the loss and emptiness she was trying to get across.
Talking of loss and emptiness and all that emotional stuff, the third thing I took from the film was that the best way to create emotion is to write sincerely about things that truly matter to you. Maybe Bey-Z could have resolved their problems behind closed doors, but the fact that the anger and conflict was real, made it so much more engaging. I think that can apply to any piece of communication. If we really believe that what we’re saying, that comes through to the audience.
The final Lemonade lesson was that if you do something new it doesn’t have to be perfect. For me, large sections of this film are dull or overcomplicated. A couple of the tunes don’t really rev my engine. But, this feels like the first album (at least that I know of) that was produced as much for our eyes as it was for our ears. That makes it something special and bold and interesting. Maybe she’ll perfect the execution later, what I love is that she did it at all.
So there it is. Life gave me lemons, (who enjoys having to sit and watch something that they don’t really want to?) and I watched Lemonade. And though I wanted to hate it, I’m ashamed to say that I ended up loving it. Long live Queen Bey.
A thing I did in 2016 before it wasn’t 2016 anymore…
Ever since it started in September, the abstract expressionism exhibition at the RA was on my radar as a must see. A dot to collect. And though I somehow managed not to go for 3 months, when we were told that for a holiday assignment we should do something that we’d planned to do in 2016, I took that as the perfect excuse. Sod the £17 entry and the fact I had no-one to go with. The Royal Academy was calling.
While I loved loads of things about the exhibition it would take me hours to go through it. Also there were no cameras allowed so I can’t even pepper the post with visuals, i.e. the most important bit. Therefore I thought I’d just share 3 learnings from my visit:
1) The main thing I learnt was what the abstract expressionist movement was all about. It is kind of already in the name but looking around made it clearer that expressing pure emotions or creating those motions within the audience, without the use of concrete forms or symbols is what links all the artists. I thought that was interesting because while in advertising we focus on SMP’s and constantly ask ‘but what does it mean!?’, maybe sometimes there are opportunities to look at problems on a less rational level.
2) Another highlight of the exhibition was getting to see the slightly less famous work of Clyfford Still. I’d only really heard of Rothko and Pollock before I went, and while they were also amazing, they didn’t hit me as much as Still’s massive canvases. Visually, there’s definitely a future source of inspiration in there. I’m no art critic so I can’t quite explain why by trying to describe what they were evocative of or how the composition reflected the artist’s mindset and all that jibber jabber, I can just say that the scale of them all and the boldness of the blacks and bright colours clashing together made me need a sit down.
3) That leads me on to the third and final thing. The language of the art world. While the work on the walls was interesting and meaningful and accessible to everyone through it’s expression of emotions that we all know and feel, the descriptions on the guides and signs were anything but. Half the words I’d never even seen before and I’m convinced one or two were simply made up. It all just smacked a bit of snobbery. That, on top of the fact that in two hours of wandering around I didn’t see a single black person in there, highlighted just how inaccessible the art world still is to anyone who isn’t white and middle-class. I’m not sure whether it’s a mess or inspiration for a satirical sketch. Maybe it’s both.