An illustration of pop and R&B singers Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Illustration by Olivia Woolfrey, Ringling College of Art and Design

Beyoncé and Jay-Z Perfected the Art of Storytelling on Their Late-2010s Trio of Albums

Looking back on the power couple’s trilogy of albums — ‘Lemonade,’ ‘4:44’ and ‘EVERYTHING IS LOVE’ — inspired by their alleged marital struggles.

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An illustration of pop and R&B singers Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Illustration by Olivia Woolfrey, Ringling College of Art and Design

Looking back on the power couple’s trilogy of albums — ‘Lemonade,’ ‘4:44’ and ‘EVERYTHING IS LOVE’ — inspired by their alleged marital struggles.

Superstar power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z are no strangers to attention. They are both visionaries in their respective musical genres and genuine artists at their cores. So, what happens when the two run into marital issues? A musical trilogy. All released roughly a year apart, “Lemonade,” “4:44” and “EVERYTHING IS LOVE” tells the story of their sometimes stormy romance. These three albums have set records and marked new territory for the artists.

To understand the context of these records, and specifically how monumental Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” was, we must go back to the beginning.

On May 5, 2014, Beyoncé, her husband Shawn Carter, known by most as Jay-Z, and her sister Solange Knowles attended the annual Met Gala. The evening started out perfectly normal but ended much differently, which became apparent when leaked footage from the now-notorious elevator ride hit the internet.

In a blurry yet still distinguishable clip, Solange charges and punches Jay-Z. Beyoncé remains in the corner of the elevator, not wanting to get involved, almost as if she had an inkling the footage would get out to the public. That brief elevator ride spurred countless rumors on news sites speculating the reasons behind the incident. The general consensus remains that infidelity in Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s marriage prompted Solange’s attack. In a joint statement from the three celebrities, they claimed, “We’ve put this behind us and hope everyone else will do the same.” The Carters have never outwardly stated the reason behind the fight, and they likely never will.

Just a little over a month after the altercation, the Carters embarked on a stadium tour titled “On The Run.” The show offered an intense gangster-themed experience that showed fans the aggressive sides of the performers, but also their compassion for one another. Large screens on the stage flashed the message “this is not real” to remind fans that both artists were only adopting personas. The concert tour did not aim to promote new musical projects but functioned more as a greatest hits show. The main message sent to fans was that the couple seemed to be more united than ever, performing over 40 songs together nightly. However, some fans couldn’t shake the memory of that tumultuous night at The Met just over a month prior to the tour. Were things actually resolved between the couple? Was the world wrong to assume Solange’s anger with Jay-Z had something to do with his supposed unfaithfulness to Beyoncé?

On April 23, 2016, Beyoncé gave fans answers to some of those burning questions when she released her sixth studio album, “Lemonade.” The 12-track project was accompanied by an hour-long “visual album” of the same name, telling the story of a marriage riddled with cheating and betrayal. Fans went wild for this look into the A-lister’s marriage. Whether it was fact or fiction, the record gave fans all the juicy marital gossip they’d been longing for. The album is a towering moment in Beyoncé’s career, and its genre-spanning contents showcase her raw talent. The record follows the arc of someone who comes to terms with her partner cheating on her, going from “Denial” and “Apathy” to “Forgiveness” and “Redemption.” “Lemonade” continued to grow in recognition and critical acclaim during Beyoncé’s massive “Formation World Tour” spanning most of 2016. “Lemonade” was not just another album, but a pivotal moment in pop culture that still resonates with audiences.

Beyoncé took the following year off to give birth to twins, and Jay-Z took his turn to tell his side of the marriage story. On June 30, 2017, Jay-Z released his 13th studio album, “4:44.” The album is less of a full narrative, but each song highlights a fragment of supposed truth about Jay-Z’s life. The song “Kill Jay Z” directly references the rapper’s fight with Solange, saying, “You egged Solange on / Knowin’ all along all you had to say you was wrong.” The very next line of the song addresses the infidelity rumors surrounding his marriage to Beyoncé: “You almost went Eric Benét / Let the baddest girl in the world get away,” referencing the 2004 high-profile divorce of Eric Benét and Halle Berry, caused by cheating. Jay-Z also embarked on his own tour to perform songs from his album, the fall “4:44 Tour.”

By the time 2018 came around, most fans assumed that Beyoncé and Jay-Z had quit the talk of their marriage and would drop the subject. In March of 2018, Beyoncé headlined the Coachella music festival, and anticipation for her follow-up to “Lemonade” was building. Out of nowhere, on June 16, 2018, the couple put out a joint project titled “EVERYTHING IS LOVE” under the name “THE CARTERS.” The project is eight songs long and saves much of the marriage dialogue for the closing track, “LOVEHAPPY,” on which Beyoncé raps “Yeah, you f— up the first stone, we had to get remarried / We keepin’ it real with these people, right? / Lucky I ain’t kill you when I met that b—-.” Jay-Z replies to Mrs. Carter’s refrain, saying, “Y’all know how I met her, we broke up and got back together / To get her back, I had to sweat her.”

The project was released just 10 days into the couple’s follow-up collaborative world tour, “On The Run II.” Although many of the new songs were never performed live, the mini-album was a genius strategy for the couple to show that now more than ever they stand as a united front. An interesting detail to note about the difference between this tour and their first “On The Run” tour is the new text displayed on the screens. The big screens now read “this is real love,” signifying that the show is meant to be more autobiographical than the previous one. “EVERYTHING IS LOVE” acts as the perfect ending to this trilogy of marriage tales, and reminds audiences that quite literally there is only love now within their relationship.

It almost seems as if the Carters planned this entire saga out and knew exactly how they wanted to tell their story. Whether or not the couple struggled with infidelity will likely never be publicly confirmed or denied, but a cohesive narrative was no doubt delivered through these three musical projects and corresponding concert tours. The Carters are not only musical trailblazers, they’re genius marketers. As soon as the world speculated that there was trouble in paradise, Beyoncé and Jay-Z got to work on taking back the power and telling their story themselves. It seems they both thought to themselves, “You want a story? We’ll give you a story!” If the infidelity was true, these projects were the perfect way to regain agency over their relationship in the public eye. If the rumors are false, at least they gave us several years of storytelling. If we can learn anything about Beyoncé and Jay-Z from all of this, it’s that they are not ones to sit back and let someone else take control of their narrative.

Writer Profile

Avery Heeringa

Columbia College Chicago
Communication major, Journalism minor

Journalism student passionate about all things popular culture, music, and celebrity.

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