LEMONADE A Rhetorical Analysis of Beyoncé's "Hold Up" by Taylor Bishop

I grew up listening to Destiny's Child, and when she went solo, I loved jamming out to Beyoncé. I have every album and have purchased many of her songs from iTunes. I've never been to a concert, but I've seen plenty of her performances online and on television. I'm a huge fan and I appreciate her voice, style and beauty. However, Queen Bey's most recent work, her visual album titled, Lemonade, was a piece that I, like many, was not expecting from her. She is talented in multiple aspects, but the album was about more than music, lyrics of heartbreak and forgiveness, and creative, colorful videos. The songs and videos paint a picture of racial tension and stereotypes, gender inequalities, black excellence and empowerment, African heritage, and most obviously infidelity. There isn't just one intended audience for this work, which makes it so much more fascinating and multi-layered in meaning. Art and music is made for anyone that needs it: whether they need inspiration, are looking for comfort or community. African Americans, women, underrepresented groups and Bey fans around the world can gravitate to this album and find some kind of connection, which makes this work so special. The rhetorical elements in every song are outstanding and one could write pages upon pages of analysis on each track. I have chosen one of my favorite songs from the album, "Hold Up", to observe and discuss important rhetorical details.


Each song on Lemonade has a subtitle associated with the song. "Hold Up"'s subtitle is "Denial" which is the focus of the piece. Every track also begins with a poem, all of which are written by writer/poet Warsan Shire. To get the full experience from this particular song, you would have to listen to the album in full. "Hold Up" is chapter two of eleven emotionally intense tracks. Chapter one begins with "Pray You Catch Me," subtitled "Intution" where we find Beyoncé sitting in a bathtub, questioning her partner's faithfulness. At the end of the video, she jumps from a building to what seems to be her death...

Until chapter two, of course.


Bey doesn't die, but instead is found plummeting into a bedroom full of water. We see Beyoncé floating, tossing and turning violently in the water as her haunting voice reads the poem. She tells us her story in an alluring and chillingly poetic way and the reader feels a sense of sadness or pity, evoking pathos.

I tried to change. Closed my mouth more, tried to be softer, prettier, less awake. Fasted for 60 days, wore white, abstained from mirrors, abstained from sex, slowly did not speak another word. In that time, my hair, I grew past my ankles. I slept on a mat on the floor. I swallowed a sword. I levitated. Went to the basement, confessed my sins, and was baptized in a river. I got on my knees and said 'amen' and said 'I mean.' I whipped my own back and asked for dominion at your feet. I threw myself into a volcano. I drank the blood and drank the wine. I sat alone and begged and bent at the waist for God. I crossed myself and thought I saw the devil. I grew thickened skin on my feet, I bathed in bleach, and plugged my menses with pages from the holy book, but still inside me, coiled deep, was the need to know ... Are you cheating on me?

Water is a common theme throughout the album. Water is an extremely useful symbol in books, stories, videos and artwork, as it can represent drowning, cleansing, awakening, or rebirth. In this case, the water Beyoncé's submerged in represents all of those elements. She is drowning from feeling betrayed and trying to change herself for her partner. At the same time, she is being cleansed, awakened and reborn as she comes out of the water and bursts through the doors, stronger than ever and seemingly happy or at the very least, satisfied. She even claims to be "baptized in the river." She continues to reference confession, praying, God, the devil and the Bible to show the viewers that she turned to a higher power to counsel her grief. Throughout this poem, she is occasionally breaks from her prayer or calmness and is shown writhing and distorting her body in agony, while she screams. This could be symbolic to what she was doing in her life externally, contrasted with what she was feeling internally.

The heartbroken author of this tale is seen folding her hands in prayer throughout the reading of the poem, as she looks up to a light. The light is most likely a representation of God, because the Lord is often associated with being the light and the truth, which Bey is seeking while she discusses her emotions and her attempts to become enough for her wandering partner.

The "Holy Book" is seen floating through the water in her room. As she reads, she searched the book and her heart for answers but still coiled deep was the need to know if the one she loved wasn't being faithful. The words alone are chilling, but to see a powerful book and a shattered woman floating in water is a heart wrenching moment.

And then, grand doors open, water floods down the staircase leading to the outside and out comes the star, beautiful, powerful, and smiling as she enters the town before her...



Setting: The location

The setting of "Hold Up" is a neighborhood lined with shops and fairly busy with people. The vehicles are dated and the graffiti can be found on buildings, street signs and mailboxes, indicating that the area isn't in the best economic bracket. There are probably a number of reasons that this location was chosen for the video. One reason may be to negate the stereotype that black/colored communities are depressing, dark and dangerous places. Kids are seen running around, playing together, women are out laughing and socializing and businesses are running. She uses this video to bring light to a community that may be looked down on because of blemishes or lack of wealth.

Setting: Onlookers

Most of the onlookers in the video are black. Again, this is mostly likely to continue with her theme and reinforce to her audience that she is representing people of color in a positive way.

Appearance: The outfit

In the video, Bey rocked long, flowing hair and and a gorgeous, ruffled mustard yellow dress. She has always been a style icon, but the purpose of her outfit is not just about making an entrance. As stated before, one of the singer's themes was to reach out to the black audience and incorporate African culture. She did so by emulating the African water goddess, Oshun. Oshun represents "sweet water", sexuality and wrath (sound like anyone?). Beyoncé is not only seen at the beginning of the video floating through water, but she walks around smashing fire hydrants, while laughing and dancing in the water. Her outfit is an imitation of the goddess' signature look.

Oshun or "Osun", goddess of water

Appearance: the smile

Have you ever heard anyone tell a man, "Are you upset/angry? Why aren't you smiling?", "You should smile more!", "You look so much better when you're smiling." The answer is most likely that you have not ever heard that said to a male. Women and young girls, on the other hand, are always told they should smile or that they have a case of "Resting Bitch Face Syndrome". While this is a laughing matter to many, it seems absurd that women are typically appreciated and judged solely off of their physical appearance. Bey goes from anger to laughter and smiles, back and forth, periodically through the video. When she's smashing a bat into glass windows and cars, she looks fierce and angry, but while she casually strolls and dances through the streets, she seems happy. This dynamic allows her to prove their is more to a woman (like her emotions and actions) rather than the smile or "bitch face" she's working with.

Bey's smile also provides a contrast to the "Angry Black Woman" stereotype. Almost anytime a black women shows anger or frustration, she'll be judged and known as "sassy" or "bitchy" where as an angry Latina may be called "fiery" or sexy. The artist allows us to see multiple sides of a woman: What she's experiencing externally and her internal emotions are mixed and depicted in different ways throughout the video. Anger is not always a bad emotion to have, although black women have timelessly been impacted negatively due to the stereotype, even though anger and frustration is what motivates revolution and change.

In this video, Beyoncé smiles and laughs but also mixes in a more serious demeanor. She attempts to relay the message that women don't need to smile all of the time and that the stereotype about "angry black women" is offensive and incorrect. And even if a black woman is angry, she probably has a good reason to be...(like having a cheating partner).

The Lyrics

The song is upbeat and reggae almost, yet the lyrics are quite the opposite of bubbly. "Hold up, they don't love you like I love you," and "what a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you" are emotionally packed lines. However, the rhythm of this track is one that provides a "bobbing of the head" vibe, and instead of feeling pity for Bey, we start to understand how her emotions might be mixed around and how we might feel in the situation. We might be going from happy, to sad, to angry to feeling crazy in a matter of moments if we were faced with this situation.

"What's worse, lookin' jealous or crazy? Jealous or crazy? Or like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately. I'd rather be crazy." We'd rather be crazy, too, Bey. Her repetition of crazy and jealous in these lines makes her conclusion agreeable. Instead of embarrassing herself with feeling unworthy of her partner's devotion and loyalty, she'd rather tear up the streets and smash windows. She puts us in her shoes in this video, and we believe we'd act the same way. Many can connect with her words and actions. She reassures herself and her audience that she knows that she's not the problem, and she establishes her ethos. "Know that I kept it sexy, you know I kept it fun, There's something that I'm missing, maybe my head for one." Love can make anyone crazy, and she embraces that craziness and emotions in this song and video.

As previously mentioned, the only way to truly appreciate this song is to watch the album in order, in full. The tracks and accompanying videos tell stories of racial and gender oppression, infidelity, and black excellence. In less than six minutes, Queen Bey is able convey a multi-layered message while entertaining us with an upbeat rhythm (that one wouldn't expect to hear with the paired lyrics) and a simple, yet colorful and powerful image of a betrayed woman's rage.

"Hold Up" ends with Beyoncé smiling as she walks up to the camera. She stares into it for awhile, and lifts up her bat and.... THWACK.


Photos & Videos provided by

Beyoncé. "Hold Up." Youtube. 4 Sept 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeonBmeFR8o.

The Gnostic of Dread. 31 May 2015, http://thegnosticdread.tumblr.com/post/120359624792/orisha-rulers-of-the-zodiac.

Vega, Melissa. "Beyoncé – Lemonade: The story of pain, loss, and rebirth." Bearded Gentlemen Music. http://beardedgentlemenmusic.com/2016/04/27/album-review-beyonce/.

Additional Information provided by

Bakutyte, Justina. "Beyoncé Channeled An African Goddess In 'Lemonade,' And You Probably Didn't Even Notice." Konbini. Apr 2016. http://www.konbini.com/us/entertainment/beyonce-lemonade-oshun-african-goddess/.

Bastein, Angelica Jade. "Breaking Down Beyonce's Musical Epic 'Lemonade'". Thrillest Entertainment. 24 Apr 2016, https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/beyonce-lemonade-movie-references-connections-and-secrets.

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