“Sorry” is perhaps one of the most female centric songs on the Lemonade album; it seems to encourage women to shed negative male influences and make no apologies for it. Although the visual accompaniment may appear as a celebration of womanhood, critic Sarah Olutola argues that the video perpetuates a female hierarchy, instead of a communal image of black feminism. A central element of capitalism is the consumer. Therefore, we must consider whether the video is for all black consumers, as it seems to claim. Olutola posits that Beyoncé has created a brand that “both challenges and placates the demands of a neoliberal and white supremacist music industry (101).” If the consideration of a capitalist consumer base influenced the creation of Lemonade, it is necessary to evaluate how Beyoncé may implicate the facade of female empowerment for the wrong reasons.
Olutola situates Beyoncé, often hailed as a radical black political figure, within an oppressive capitalist system:
Beyoncé, as a pop star working for blockbuster fame, wealth, and success in the competitive American music industry, cannot be extricated from—and should not be decontextualized from—the larger white patriarchal heteronormative capitalist context within which she, her work, and her success exists.
In other words, considering Beyoncé’s success within the confines of a capitalist system is essential to a deeper understanding of her positionality as a feminist figure. Furthermore, Beyoncé’s acquired wealth is not happenstance; critics have accused her of catering to the consumer culture that perpetuates capitalism. For example, until recently, Lemonade lived exclusively on Tidal, a music streaming service of which Beyoncé has monetary stake. Therefore, because Beyoncé has achieved her level of stardom due in part to capitalist endeavors, it is difficult to judge whether her feminist stance is genuine or mere capitalist propaganda, meant to appeal to a more liberal consumer base.
Capitalism thrives because of competition and Olutola points out that Beyoncé perpetuates such rivalry in the “Sorry” video itself. Here, the competition is between two black women, despite the song’s underlying communal call for women to reject unworthy men. In the video, Serena Williams, one of the best tennis players in the world, dances at Beyoncé’s feet, as the singer lounges in a throne-like chair. This positioning creates a visual hierarchy that Olutola believes stems from a neoliberal mindset fixated on competition:
Beyoncé’s important work of prioritizing blackness and African identity falls in tension with the implicit subjugation of dark-skinned bodies to her own exceptionalness marked as such by a Eurocentric neoliberal regime of competition.
If we cannot disconnect Beyoncé from the dominant capitalist system, it is unlikely that “Sorry” can truly serve as a feminist track. As Olutola states:
The persisting element of white patriarchal capitalist self-elevation embedded deep within Beyoncé’s brand thus destabilizes the video’s intended message of black female solidarity, re-inscribing an aesthetic space in which black female bodies are called to participate in her celebrations of black identity–but not equally.
In Olutola’s opinion, the video is a hypocritical portrayal of female bonds and community. Instead of portraying the two wildly successful women as equals, the video encourages a hierarchy indicative of Beyoncé’s consumerist brand.
- Knowles, Beyoncé. Lemonade. Tidal. 23 April 2016.
- Olutola, Sarah. “I Ain’t Sorry: Beyoncé, Serena, and Hegemonic Hierarchies in Lemonade.” Popular Music and Society, vol. 42, no. 1, 2019, pp. 99–117., doi:10.1080/03007766.2019.1555897.