I should probably preface this post by confessing that I decided to go with a 2 for 1 format to save us all some time... and also because I'm sure I'm not the only one who felt conflicted as to what to feel given recent events in pop culture. So let's just dive in, shall we?
Two surprising events happened over the brief course of April 21 to April 23, 2016... one of which, I have no problem saying, had far more of an impact than the other. I make that statement purely on the foundation that for the first of these two events, I didn't even need to seek out news about it. The news came to me from multiple sources who were equally stunned and dismayed. The other event was more of an 'anticipated surprise'... if that makes sense. Like, we kinda sorta guessed it would happen, but we couldn't say for sure.
PART I: LEGEND
The first event to which I'm referring is the shocking passing of musical legend, Prince on Thursday, April 21. While I was working away at my desk that day, my coworkers came back from a lunch outing and were whispering to each other about news online that Prince had died. It being 2016, I naturally chalked their banter up to good old' fashioned "internet gossip/trolling". But then, no more than a minute later - my phone started blowing up with messages from friends and family, either asking me or telling me (or both at the same time?) that the news about Prince was true. So, that's when I decided to "do my Googles" (as one of my fave podcasters would say). And low and behold, credible new sites began to flood the internet, confirming that Prince had died unexpectedly, at his home in Minnesota. It's now almost a week later, and although it's been reported that Prince has since been cremated and that a private ceremony was held in his honour - I still don't think I've fully accepted that he's no longer with us. A tweet by radio and TV personality Charlamagne Tha God, pretty much encapsulates, I think, what most of us who grew up listening to Prince, were probably feeling when news of his death surfaced:
And so, I find it nearly impossible to traditionally mourn the loss of such an unconventional human being. A legend unlike any other. Instead, I'm remembering and making a mental list of all the things I loved most about Prince. Here's my top 5:
- Prince was like a good 5'3" (sans heels) and probably weighed 115 lbs soaking wet; so whenever he spoke in his natural low tone or hit those bassy/baritone notes in his songs, I was always taken aback (in a good way) by his quote unquote 'masculinity'. Despite his outrageous stage presence, in real life - he was really just a shy, reclusive person.
- The style. MY. GOD... THE. STYLE! From ruffle blouses, to heeled-boots, to ass-less chaps, to immaculate guy-liner, to versatile hairdos (Shirley Temple curls, natural afros, ponytails, etc), to the most body-hugging of unitards imaginable. Add to all that, his sexy and precisely groomed 5 o'clock shadow and sideburns, and walla... androgynous magic!
- Purple Rain (the movie). Never in my life have I found a movie so utterly and completely terrible and yet so freaking fantastic; and I probably never will again. Seriously - I mean terrible in the truest sense of the word. This movie had zero skilled actors (including Prince himself; and he'd probably admit it too) and the story line left nothing to the imagination. The funny moments fell flat, and the serious moments were almost always the most laughable ones (again, due to the terrible acting by all involved!). And still - it will forever be one of the very few movies that I actually enjoy watching over and over again. The enigma that was Prince, along with the stellar soundtrack, is what carried that movie to cult classic status.
- Prince's unparalleled vocal and musical performance. Prince had a way of injecting you with a certain amount of discomfort in his lyrics and performances; but his taboo tales somehow managed to transcend judgment. He was so authentic in who he was (and perfectly clear about who he wasn't). I mean... who else starts off a song with a lyric like: "I'm not a woman. I'm not a man... I am something that you'll never understand." (see Prince's "I Would Die 4 U")? His songs gave you the feels in the most undeniable way... He knew exactly how to push your buttons and tap into emotions through his tone, his instruments, his softness, and his general understanding of the human experience. Every time I listen to his song "Purple Rain", I get inexplicably emotional inside. Something about the ferociousness of those electric guitar riffs and the haunting echo of his voice in parts of the song... BRUH!!! The hair on my arms raises every time.
- Prince's unexpected ability to laugh at himself. Though his acting ability was non existent, he would still do random cameos on shows like The Muppets, and most recently, New Girl. But who could forget the EPIC Prince-themed Dave Chappelle sketch by Charlie Murphy that gave us oh so many great internet meme-ready moments? Never one to be outdone, Prince of course extended the joke by releasing a a single called "Breakfast Can Wait", for which the official cover art was Dave Chappelle dressed as Prince, serving pancakes. Prince knew comedy and knew how to use it sparingly and effectively.
Man, will he be missed! But, thankfully he's inspired new generations of artists who will continue to push the musical envelope when it comes to entertainment and creating fresh sounds.
... Speaking of caramel-toned hard-working musicians with superior vocal range and a penchant for laying low... Let's quickly discuss the powerhouse that is BEYONCÉ and her unrelenting ability to leave us drooling, with our collective jaws on the floor.
PART II: LEMON(ADE) DROPS
By now, many of you will have heard and/or seen that Beyoncé dropped yet another surprise visual album on Saturday, April 23 - by way of an hour-long HBO special. Secretive teasers for the project, called Lemonade, popped up on on social media weeks in advance, but no one knew exactly what "Lemonade" was going to be until it dropped. Was it an album? A video? A single? A movie? The answer was basically... all of the above! The new album was of course exclusively available on Tidal for the first few days, but has since been made available on iTunes as well.
Just like she did back in December 2013 with her self-titled visual album, Queen Bey "stopped the world" again with another great visual project - a deeper look into, what many of us perceive to be her personal life. After digesting the full album from start to finish, it seems to me that Beyoncé has some truths to tell, some tea to spill, and some 'splainin' to do - not that she owes us any parts of her life. Major themes throughout Lemonade include: the cause and effect of infidelity; daddy issues; finding forgiveness; owning your self-worth; and the power of unity among women - particularly women of colour.
The visuals for every song on the album are stunning and bold and diverse. The ordering of the tracks/videos definitely takes you on an emotional journey (anger to revenge to indifference to suffering to introspection to love and beyond).. Plus, between each song is a spoken word interlude that leads you into the next track. (I must pause here to note that although the spoken word is voiced over by Beyoncé on the album, the poetry itself actually belongs to Somali-British writer/poet Warsan Shire. And if I'm being honest - I kinda wish it was Warsan's own voice that we heard narrating the poems on the album instead of Beyoncé's. I get that for continuity purposes, Beyoncé's voice made more sense, but still...)
Lemonade is an interesting ride that leaves you trying to fill in the blanks of Beyoncé's personal life. It's refreshing to see her set aside her poise and openly relate to some of the fundamental struggles that women in general face on the daily. Why? Well, because many women view Beyoncé as some sort of unattainable gold standard. A poster girl of perfection. GOALS, if you will. And, since she hardly ever gives interviews or lets us into her personal life - many see her as inauthentic or lacking a genuine personality. Me, personally? I just think the girl knows how to play her cards right. She's a strategic thinker. A savage when it comes to her business. She could have aired out some of the dirty laundry found on Lemonade months and years ago, by giving the public an immediate human reaction. But instead, she chose to compile her struggles, turn them into music and release it all in a way that made the most business-sense, and in a way that fans would appreciate and understand.
Now all that being said, I actually didn't find many of the songs themselves particularly noteworthy. In fact, only 3 of the 12 tracks actually made it onto my iTunes playlist. They are: the Rick Ruben-esque "Freedom" (feat. Kendrick Lamar), the reggae-infused "Hold Up", and the beautifully stirring "All Night". Overall, I definitely feel like the visuals and powerful cameos (see Serena Williams, Zendaya and some of the mothers of black men who were slain by police), are what made Lemonade 'pop'. Had the album been released as a stand alone audio project, I don't think it would have garnered nearly as much attention as it has.
Sorry to say it Bey - Lemonade was cool & all; but for now... I'm still stirring in my bitterness of the loss of Prince. He was truly one of one.