Beyoncé’s Lemonade Suckers

By David Himmel

“You have to get older to leave your legacy.”
— Lady Gaga

Since 1994, I’ve had the Oasis song, Supersonic playing in my head to some degree. That was when I first heard the band and immediately began devouring the music with a voraciousness only a teenager can display.

Oasis has been a favorite band since. Though I stopped buying the group’s albums after Standing on the Shoulder of Giants because I thought the quality had slipped, the first three albums and every B-side that came from those recording sessions remain in a place of fondness and reverence. So when the band released box sets of Definitely Maybe, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? and Be Here Now, I didn’t pause a second to purchase them. Well, my then girlfriend and now wife, Katie, bought me Definitely Maybe for my birthday but only because I made such a fanboy fuss over it that she would be remiss not to. She was a good girlfriend and that’s part of the reason why I married her.

These Oasis box sets were released to coincide with the 20-year anniversary of the original release of Definitely Maybe and then (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?. They came with a big black book of stories about the band and the making of the record, retrospective writings and photos, and collectible items like post cards, pins, tote bags and key chains, and 180-gram, remastered vinyl LPs, a few vinyl singles and a three-disk CD set with the remastered album as well as demos, B-sides, live cuts and alternate recordings. And, of course, digital downloads of all of this. Well, not the tote bags. You can’t digitally download a tote bag, ya goof.

Oasis crap by the box.

Oasis crap by the box.

Your opinion of Oasis doesn’t matter. These were fantastic purchases for fans who were still in love with the albums and had a feeling of nostalgia for what the music represents as well as an interest in how the music and the band holds up today. It would be a great purchase for newer Oasis fans, too, looking to get all of the band’s offerings in one fell swoop. All of this for the low price of $200 per box set.

Now, on the other side of my musical marital bed is my wife. Where I have attended services held by Oasis' Noel and Liam Gallagher, Katie is a cardinal in the Church of Beyoncé. So when Lemonade was released on April 26, 2016, she went, understandably, ballistic. She bought the digital album and watched the HBO film on repeat for several days. It was even part of the entertainment at her bachelorette party—naked dudes in the afternoon, black feminism in the evening. The film remains delete proof on our DVR.

Lemonade is a helluva work of art. The way Bey released it, the way the HBO film complimented and added to the album, the way it was so personally raw… Lemonade went on to collect awards and praise easier than my Roomba collects my dog’s hair and my wife’s hair ties and my Cocoa Krispie cereal crumbs. Regardless of what you think of the music or the film or of Beyoncé, it’s hard to deny the immediate impact of the album.

You see, this isn’t about the quality of the music. It doesn’t matter if you love or hate Oasis or Beyoncé. This is about the illusion of self-importance. And in the 1990s, there were no two men more obsessed with their self-importance than Noel and Liam Gallagher. In the 2010s, that title goes to Queen B.

Just 16 months after Lemonade disrupted the world of pop culture, Beyoncé released the limited-edition box set, How to Make Lemonade. It’s a behind the scenes look at, well, the making of Lemonade. A 600-page book weighing in at 15.8 pounds—yes, I put it on our bathroom scale. The book was hyped as having never before seen photos of the inspiration behind the album. There’s a double 180-gram vinyl LP as well as digital and visual downloads. No tote bags, however, unfortunately for Katie and her like-minded cardinals. She’ll have to keep using my Oasis tote.

When How to Make Lemonade went up for pre-sale, Katie logged on and paid the $300. She was excited to get the vinyl and the additional downloads. But when you consider the economics of commerce, the thing she and all the others really paid for was the 600-page, 15.8-pound coffee table book of which I am confident after a few flips, will become the world’s most high-end dust collector ever brought to market. I know this because we have a lot of heavy coffee table books that live nowhere near our coffee table. They live on the lowest level of our bookshelves—blankets of dust covering their hard covers, which protect their pages of glossy, beautiful art and history. Hell, that’s exactly the condition of my Oasis box set books. The dust is so thick on those things, the Gallagher Brothers could easily cut it, line it up and snort it like some kind of rock history powder drug.

But before I buried those books where they belong, I flipped through them and read the stories and took in the photos and enjoyed looking back on the past 20 years while listening to my favorite songs from a time when things were different. Very different. The music now, the retrospective now, provides new shape and new experiences and engagement. That’s the best part about those Oasis box sets—they are time capsules. That’s the best part about all box sets. Box sets bring in the best and more of your previous life and remind you of what you were and what you can be. Usually, by the time these things are released, we’ve forgotten ourselves. Maybe we’ve forgotten the songs and the bands who made them. We need these box sets all these years later.

Beyoncé’s How to Make Lemonade does none of this. And not because it doesn’t have the ability to do so but because it hasn’t given itself enough time to be able to do so. It hasn’t earned enough street cred.

This is not the album’s or box set’s fault. Of course, not. This is Beyoncé’s doing. And for a woman who understands the intricacies of brand and impact, she should have known better. But she also understands the intricacies of brand and impact, and above all, she understands how important she is. And she knows how her followers, like lemmings to the edge of the earth, will follow her anywhere and do whatever she says and buy whatever she sells. They are loyal, they are always hungry for more of what Queen B is dishing up, even if it is 15.8 pounds of gruel. Beautiful, glossy-page gruel.

How to Make Lemonade was a cash grab. And as a result of this grab, Beyoncé blew the opportunity to surprise and excite the world in 20 years when, in the case that it happens, she needs to remind the world of how incredible she was.

Yes, Oasis can be accused of the same thing—cash grabbing. But if that were true, and there may be some truth to it since there’s no way any of the guys are pulling down the dough they were two decades ago, they had good reason. Because, well, they aren’t pulling down the same dough they were two decades ago.

She's a queen and she knows it.

She's a queen and she knows it.

Or maybe she's a goddess and she knows it.

Or maybe she's a goddess and she knows it.

I’ve read through How to Make Lemonade. It’s rich with beautiful images and surely offers a look into the making of the album. For a superfan, it’s an orgy of joy and brilliance. For the casual fan or studious sociologist, it provides insight into the struggle of black women through imagery and Malcom X quotes. And it provides insight into the pride and relevance of the black woman through imagery and Hattie White Quotes. (Hattie White being Beyoncé’s husband, Jay Z’s grandmother—the woman who inspired the title of the original album.) And she’s made a case for the pregnant woman, too, as there are photographs of her on tour while pregnant with her twins. She makes that look easy. As if any woman could do it. And that’s what Beyoncé’s feminism has always been about. (“Who run the world? Girls!”) Of course, it helps if you’re Beyoncé. And it helps to have a perfectly curated photo album helping you make your case.

Although, the book isn’t all that perfectly curated. The foreword written by Michael Eric Dyson states in part: “Beyoncé pushed herself harder, and with greater velocity, and morw [sic] e [sic] force, under incalculable pressure, and with greater skill, arguably, than anyone ever.” I had to read it over several times to make sure that I was seeing what I was seeing. “morw e force.” Maybe it’s a Latin phrase I don’t know. Or maybe it’s French, I thought, giving Beyoncé and a Dyson and a pop culture blitz of this magnitude the benefit of the doubt. I looked it up in the dictionary and online, and came up with nothing. It’s not Latin or French. It’s a typo. The closest thing you’ll find to “morw e force” is in the Urban Dictionary, which defines only morw as: “to express that someone is fat in a specific area on their body. use hand gestures to signify where exactly this area is located. usually used when somone [sic] walks by with a weirdly huge ass, or abnormally huge area of body fat usually hanging off body due to force of gravity. also usd [sic] to make fun of people we don't like.” So there’s that. But if that’s what Dyson intended to convey, it doesn’t work.

How to Make Lemonade was a cash grab. And as a result of this grab, Beyoncé blew the opportunity to surprise and excite the world in 20 years when, in the case that it happens, she needs to remind the world of how incredible she was.

Full disclosure: I’ve published plenty of writing that has gone to publication and print that has typos. It’s not often, but it happens. Mistakes happen, even to American Royalty like Beyoncé. But this is Beyoncé we’re talking about here. This project had more people involved in its ideal perfect design than any book I’ve worked on or any magazine or newspaper article I’ve ever written. The worst part is that Beyoncé herself is listed as the book’s editor in chief and creative director.

I can’t help but think, having been in the position of editor in chief and creative director—yes, on smaller scales—had Bey not rushed to get How to Make Lemonade out the door, she might have caught that mistake. Thing is, there’s not a ton of text in the book either so it’s hard to blame text-eye fatigue. It’s unfortunate. It's the price of rushing—forcing—legacy.

I recognize that Lemonade carried with it a message of importance—engagement, public unrest, blackness, feminism—and I applaud that, especially when compared to—by my own doing—Oasis albums about being a rock star, doing cocaine and drinking. But impact and influence, when true, only become more so with time. Bey has not given Lemonade time. Whatever fruit Lemonade—and Beyoncé as a whole—may go on to bear, what she has to give us right now is only just barely ripe.