6 Stages of Beyonce’s Lemonade

In her visual album, Beyonce tells a personal story which she shares with many black women. Lemonade takes us on a journey from past to future.


We all know about using life’s proverbial lemons to make lemonade. We’ve heard it before, but never the way it came to us on Saturday, April 23 - first in Beyonce’s Lemonade HBO premiere, then all over the Internet. In her visual album, Beyonce tells a personal story which she shares with many black women. Lemonade takes us on a journey from past to future with pit stops at the moments of intuition, rage, grief, reconciliation, and learning to love again.

Early on, the visual album hints at womanism with its Malcom X clip, images of black women as friends, dancers, mourners, and free beings. These women - Amandla Stenberg, Zendaya, Winnie Harlow, Serena Williams, and Quvenzhane Wallis - were carefully chosen, all having faced discrimination on the basis of race and railed against beauty standards in the media.

“The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman, the most unprotected person in America is the Black woman.”

-Malcolm X

The reemergence of Malcolm X is reminiscent of the ‘90s when hip-hop music was full of references to him and his ideology. At this time - often referred to as a new era of civil rights movements - protests and organized action remain nonviolent while growing in longevity, reach, and uncompromising commitment to speaking truth to power. This is a combination of Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolence and Malcolm X’s “any means necessary,” disrupting the status quo. Social issues always make their way into the music we produce and consume, and this is no different.

The strength of the visual album is really in the powerful words of Somali-British poet Warsan Shire juxtaposed with the lyrics of an intimate, deeply personal experience. They breathed life into the otherwise cryptic film, connecting the tracks strung together to form a narrative with the sometimes jarring visuals.

“I don’t know when love became elusive. What I know is, no one I know has it. My father’s arms around my mother’s neck, fruit too ripe to eat. I think of lovers as trees… growing to and from one another. Searching for the same light.”

Members of the Beyhive have long-awaited this album, having no idea when it would come. Even when her world tour was announced, there was much uncertainty. Whether you like Beyonce or not, her music, moves, and marketing put her on a fan-hoisted pedestal. She has built a world of mystery, and is determined to preserve her privacy, almost never giving interviews. Though counterintuitive, this has added to her appeal, making her a shell many can imagine themselves walking around in. A mogul, she is not relatable, but aspirational. People of all genders want to be like her. With Lemonade, finally, she allowed them to see through the cracks.


“Pray You Catch Me” is the prologue to the story. It sets the stage for what is to come. “Are you cheating on me?” answers the question everyone has about the album, and raises others. The mood swiftly changes to anger with “Hold Up” which is, oddly, a feel good tune juxtaposed with images of Beyonce using a bat to express her rage through destruction, all with a smile. She has clearly answered her own question: “What’s worse? Looking jealous or crazy… or being walked all over lately?” Her demeanor in the video hints at the next phase of her journey.


“Don’t Hurt Yourself” brings the combination of confidence and rage with an unexpected rock ‘n’ roll edge. While it’s lyrics deliver, the portrayal of emotion seems contrived, and one must wonder whether or not she is trying to convince herself of her own strength. Is the repetition for emphasis to him, or reassurance for her?

“Beautiful man I know you're lying

I am not broken, I'm not crying, I'm not crying

You ain't trying hard enough

You ain't loving hard enough

You don't love me deep enough”

Defiant and unrelenting in its message, this song echoes Prince’s words in an interview. “A person tryna play me plays themselves,” he laughed. The way Beyonce speaks to this man is reminiscent of Malcolm X’s expression of rage and insistence that white people were not doing enough to end racism, and it was up to black people to make the change. She diagnoses the problem and takes the solution into her own hands. She makes it clear that she has everything she needs and doesn’t need to stay in a relationship with someone who isn’t putting in 100%. Still, she seems open to opportunities to reconcile, but on more equitable terms.


“Sorry” brings us to party mode, post-breakup. Laced with middle fingers up and no apologies, the woman in this story is no longer making attempts to fix things. She is happy the relationship is over, and enjoying the company of her friends. In this video, Serena Williams makes a cameo, dancing by herself with Beyonce in the frame. Is it possible that Serena is the carefree woman Beyonce wants to be, or feels she truly is, in the moment when she is determined not to think of her past lover? This scene foreshadows the freedom she sings of later in the album.


“Daddy Lessons” is an emotional part of the journey, bringing the realization that there is something about relationships between men and women, something about infidelity, and something about the way men feel about their daughters that doesn’t translate to their wives or other lovers. The song is appropriately country, given Beyonce’s background and the nature of the lyrics. She remembers the warnings of her father, and wonders about her fate and how she is tied to the experiences of her mother, and to the actions of the line of men who came before her. Are we doomed to relive and repeat the mistakes of our parents, or can we learn from them to work toward a better future for ourselves?


Lemonade shifts gears with “Sandcastles” - a ballad raw with emotion where we hear Beyonce’s voice crack as she sits on the floor, playing the piano. Unexpected, it is her apology for walking away. She acknowledges the pain that comes when someone leaves you, even when you did them wrong. Finally, we get a sense of where things are going. Reconciliation is coming, as impossible as forgiveness first seemed. While many see this as a sign of weakness, it’s existence in this storyline and the role it plays in changing the outcome is powerful. Characteristics generally associated with black strength do not include forgiveness, and women are not expected to willingly return to relationships broken by infidelity, let alone identify themselves as the cause of shattered pieces. This is one of the biggest risks Lemonade took, with the possibility of diminishing the strength of and respect for black women.


All of the questions raised throughout the visual album were answered with “All Night” - a love song. She seems to come to the realization that nothing is perfect and, like her grandmother told her, “nothing real can be threatened.”

“They say true love's the greatest weapon

To win the war caused by pain, pain

But every diamond has imperfections”

The personal nature of Lemonade was shocking, relatable, and empowering to black women. It is a departure from everything we have some to associate with Beyonce. It unifies people through shared experience and the autonomy and self-realization required to make personal unpopular choices. This isn’t unlike the teachings of Malcolm X which went against the grain of most activists in that time, but appealed - and continues to appeal - to those longing for the time and space to live their own truths, worrying less about perception and concerning themselves more with the vision for a better life. Lemonade may be the permission slip many black women have needed for decades. This kind of authenticity, dedication to self and the honoring of unadulterated, unfiltered stories has long been a privilege given to few, and Beyonce created the opportunity for herself. She may have made it possible for others to eschew silence and shed shame in favor of owning their narratives and recognizing the observations of Malcolm X on black womanhood, is what he may have said about Lemonade a mystery, or a given?


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COVID and "gain of function" research: should we create monsters to prevent them?

Gain-of-function mutation research may help predict the next pandemic — or, critics argue, cause one.

Credit: Guillermo Legaria via Getty Images

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

"I was intrigued," says Ron Fouchier, in his rich, Dutch-accented English, "in how little things could kill large animals and humans."

It's late evening in Rotterdam as darkness slowly drapes our Skype conversation.

This fascination led the silver-haired virologist to venture into controversial gain-of-function mutation research — work by scientists that adds abilities to pathogens, including experiments that focus on SARS and MERS, the coronavirus cousins of the COVID-19 agent.

If we are to avoid another influenza pandemic, we will need to understand the kinds of flu viruses that could cause it. Gain-of-function mutation research can help us with that, says Fouchier, by telling us what kind of mutations might allow a virus to jump across species or evolve into more virulent strains. It could help us prepare and, in doing so, save lives.

Many of his scientific peers, however, disagree; they say his experiments are not worth the risks they pose to society.

A virus and a firestorm

The Dutch virologist, based at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, caused a firestorm of controversy about a decade ago, when he and Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced that they had successfully mutated H5N1, a strain of bird flu, to pass through the air between ferrets, in two separate experiments. Ferrets are considered the best flu models because their respiratory systems react to the flu much like humans.

The mutations that gave the virus its ability to be airborne transmissible are gain-of-function (GOF) mutations. GOF research is when scientists purposefully cause mutations that give viruses new abilities in an attempt to better understand the pathogen. In Fouchier's experiments, they wanted to see if it could be made airborne transmissible so that they could catch potentially dangerous strains early and develop new treatments and vaccines ahead of time.

The problem is: their mutated H5N1 could also cause a pandemic if it ever left the lab. In Science magazine, Fouchier himself called it "probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make."

Just three special traits

Recreated 1918 influenza virionsCredit: Cynthia Goldsmith / CDC / Dr. Terrence Tumpey / Public domain via Wikipedia

For H5N1, Fouchier identified five mutations that could cause three special traits needed to trigger an avian flu to become airborne in mammals. Those traits are (1) the ability to attach to cells of the throat and nose, (2) the ability to survive the colder temperatures found in those places, and (3) the ability to survive in adverse environments.

A minimum of three mutations may be all that's needed for a virus in the wild to make the leap through the air in mammals. If it does, it could spread. Fast.

Fouchier calculates the odds of this happening to be fairly low, for any given virus. Each mutation has the potential to cripple the virus on its own. They need to be perfectly aligned for the flu to jump. But these mutations can — and do — happen.

"In 2013, a new virus popped up in China," says Fouchier. "H7N9."

H7N9 is another kind of avian flu, like H5N1. The CDC considers it the most likely flu strain to cause a pandemic. In the human outbreaks that occurred between 2013 and 2015, it killed a staggering 39% of known cases; if H7N9 were to have all five of the gain-of-function mutations Fouchier had identified in his work with H5N1, it could make COVID-19 look like a kitten in comparison.

H7N9 had three of those mutations in 2013.

Gain-of-function mutation: creating our fears to (possibly) prevent them

Flu viruses are basically eight pieces of RNA wrapped up in a ball. To create the gain-of-function mutations, the research used a DNA template for each piece, called a plasmid. Making a single mutation in the plasmid is easy, Fouchier says, and it's commonly done in genetics labs.

If you insert all eight plasmids into a mammalian cell, they hijack the cell's machinery to create flu virus RNA.

"Now you can start to assemble a new virus particle in that cell," Fouchier says.

One infected cell is enough to grow many new virus particles — from one to a thousand to a million; viruses are replication machines. And because they mutate so readily during their replication, the new viruses have to be checked to make sure it only has the mutations the lab caused.

The virus then goes into the ferrets, passing through them to generate new viruses until, on the 10th generation, it infected ferrets through the air. By analyzing the virus's genes in each generation, they can figure out what exact five mutations lead to H5N1 bird flu being airborne between ferrets.

And, potentially, people.

"This work should never have been done"

The potential for the modified H5N1 strain to cause a human pandemic if it ever slipped out of containment has sparked sharp criticism and no shortage of controversy. Rutgers molecular biologist Richard Ebright summed up the far end of the opposition when he told Science that the research "should never have been done."

"When I first heard about the experiments that make highly pathogenic avian influenza transmissible," says Philip Dormitzer, vice president and chief scientific officer of viral vaccines at Pfizer, "I was interested in the science but concerned about the risks of both the viruses themselves and of the consequences of the reaction to the experiments."

In 2014, in response to researchers' fears and some lab incidents, the federal government imposed a moratorium on all GOF research, freezing the work.

Some scientists believe gain-of-function mutation experiments could be extremely valuable in understanding the potential risks we face from wild influenza strains, but only if they are done right. Dormitzer says that a careful and thoughtful examination of the issue could lead to processes that make gain-of-function mutation research with viruses safer.

But in the meantime, the moratorium stifled some research into influenzas — and coronaviruses.

The National Academy of Science whipped up some new guidelines, and in December of 2017, the call went out: GOF studies could apply to be funded again. A panel formed by Health and Human Services (HHS) would review applications and make the decision of which studies to fund.

As of right now, only Kawaoka and Fouchier's studies have been approved, getting the green light last winter. They are resuming where they left off.

Pandora's locks: how to contain gain-of-function flu

Here's the thing: the work is indeed potentially dangerous. But there are layers upon layers of safety measures at both Fouchier's and Kawaoka's labs.

"You really need to think about it like an onion," says Rebecca Moritz of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Moritz is the select agent responsible for Kawaoka's lab. Her job is to ensure that all safety standards are met and that protocols are created and drilled; basically, she's there to prevent viruses from escaping. And this virus has some extra-special considerations.

The specific H5N1 strain Kawaoka's lab uses is on a list called the Federal Select Agent Program. Pathogens on this list need to meet special safety considerations. The GOF experiments have even more stringent guidelines because the research is deemed "dual-use research of concern."

There was debate over whether Fouchier and Kawaoka's work should even be published.

"Dual-use research of concern is legitimate research that could potentially be used for nefarious purposes," Moritz says. At one time, there was debate over whether Fouchier and Kawaoka's work should even be published.

While the insights they found would help scientists, they could also be used to create bioweapons. The papers had to pass through a review by the U.S. National Science Board for Biosecurity, but they were eventually published.

Intentional biowarfare and terrorism aside, the gain-of-function mutation flu must be contained even from accidents. At Wisconsin, that begins with the building itself. The labs are specially designed to be able to contain pathogens (BSL-3 agricultural, for you Inside Baseball types).

They are essentially an airtight cement bunker, negatively pressurized so that air will only flow into the lab in case of any breach — keeping the viruses pushed in. And all air in and out of the lap passes through multiple HEPA filters.

Inside the lab, researchers wear special protective equipment, including respirators. Anyone coming or going into the lab must go through an intricate dance involving stripping and putting on various articles of clothing and passing through showers and decontamination.

And the most dangerous parts of the experiment are performed inside primary containment. For example, a biocontainment cabinet, which acts like an extra high-security box, inside the already highly-secure lab (kind of like the radiation glove box Homer Simpson is working in during the opening credits).

"Many people behind the institution are working to make sure this research can be done safely and securely." — REBECCA MORITZ

The Federal Select Agent program can come and inspect you at any time with no warning, Moritz says. At the bare minimum, the whole thing gets shaken down every three years.

There are numerous potential dangers — a vial of virus gets dropped; a needle prick; a ferret bite — but Moritz is confident that the safety measures and guidelines will prevent any catastrophe.

"The institution and many people behind the institution are working to make sure this research can be done safely and securely," Moritz says.

No human harm has come of the work yet, but the potential for it is real.

"Nature will continue to do this"

They were dead on the beaches.

In the spring of 2014, another type of bird flu, H10N7, swept through the harbor seal population of northern Europe. Starting in Sweden, the virus moved south and west, across Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. It is estimated that 10% of the entire seal population was killed.

The virus's evolution could be tracked through time and space, Fouchier says, as it progressed down the coast. Natural selection pushed through gain-of-function mutations in the seals, similarly to how H5N1 evolved to better jump between ferrets in his lab — his lab which, at the time, was shuttered.

"We did our work in the lab," Fouchier says, with a high level of safety and security. "But the same thing was happening on the beach here in the Netherlands. And so you can tell me to stop doing this research, but nature will continue to do this day in, day out."

Critics argue that the knowledge gained from the experiments is either non-existent or not worth the risk; Fouchier argues that GOF experiments are the only way to learn crucial information on what makes a flu virus a pandemic candidate.

"If these three traits could be caused by hundreds of combinations of five mutations, then that increases the risk of these things happening in nature immensely," Fouchier says.

"With something as crucial as flu, we need to investigate everything that we can," Fouchier says, hoping to find "a new Achilles' heel of the flu that we can use to stop the impact of it."

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Credit: Hà Nguyễn via Unsplash
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