From infidelity rumors to #BlackLivesMatter, Beyonce's latest album - also released on husband Jay Z's streaming service Tidal - remains faithful to her favorite topics. But it's also sparking some serious gossip.
What used to be a dozen home-made songs has long become an international event. While "the album" may be passé, album releases by big-name artists are only getting bigger and better. And US pop queen Beyonce is on the cutting edge with her new visual album, "Lemonade."
This past weekend, the 34-year-old star dropped her hotly awaited sixth studio album - a mix of videos, singles, a film and social media elements - live during an hour-long broadcast on HBO in the US.
Beyonce shook things up back in February already with her controversial Super Bowl song and "Lemonade" pre-release single, "Formation." The number promoted the #BlackLivesMatter movement, condemned police violence, and drew a backlash from police - so it's not surprising that the rest of "Lemonade" narrows in on the same issues.
The accompanying film shows the mothers of the three young African American men whose widely publicized deaths have triggered outrage across the US and beyond: Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin.
Weaving in the songs from the album and verses from Somali-British poet Warsan Shire, the film also takes a look at Beyonce's roots and the larger experience of African-American women. In one clip, civil rights leader Malcolm X is shown, saying, "The most disrespected person in America is the black woman."
The title of the album seems to be an inspiration from Beyonce's own late grandmother, Agnez Dereon, who is shown in a portion of the film, saying, "I had my ups and downs but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up."
She adds, "I was served lemons, but I made lemonade."
Any truth to the divorce rumors?
But "Lemonade" has also left fans speculating whether the album - released on Tidal, the streaming service founded by her husband, rapper Jay Z - is also an artistic way of announcing an impending divorce.
In the opening of the film and the song "Don't Hurt Yourself," performed with garage rocker Jack White, Beyonce sings: "You ain't married to no average bitch, boy." She continues: "This is your final warning / You know I give you life." At the end of the songs, she warns that if her husband's infidelity does not end, "you're gonna lose your wife."
Some, however, weren't just concerned about Beyonce and Jay Z:
On "Hold Up," which lays down an island beat, Beyonce smashes a bat on everything around her while reminding her man that other women "don't love you like I love you." And in the song "Sorry," which features twerking tennis star Serena Williams, she shows her man just how stupid he is for cheating on her: "Middle fingers up, put 'em hands high, put it in his face, tell him 'Boy bye.'"
But is there any truth to the rumors about Jay Z? Beyonce had often touched on infidelity in her songs, like "Ring the Alarm" and "Jealous." But at the end of the "Lemonade" film, in a chapter called "Forgiveness," Beyonce is seen hugging her husband of eight years. In "Sandcastles," Jay Z makes another appearance that hints at a troubled union - but also at a long one that can endure anything.
So, it seems unlikely that the divorce lawyers will be called anytime soon.
Not easy listening
"Lemonade" is not made for pop radio - both because of its explicit language and its non-run-of-the-mill sound - and certainly cannot be crammed into any conventional boxes. It mixes New Orleans-style bounce hip-hop with country, R&B, reggae, rock and many other elements.
Diplo, the Los Angeles-based producer behind Justin Bieber's new sound, partnered with Beyonce on two of the songs, while top artists like The Weeknd and Father John Misty were also involved.
Beyonce has come a long way since "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," her harmless but singable 2008 single. Let's just hope she won't be single herself anytime soon.
kbm/ss (AP, AFP)