During my first dozen to three dozen plays of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, one song kept sticking out: “Daddy Lessons.” Sure, the genre is way different than any of the other songs, but the song also feels extremely personal on an already very intimate album. This is evident from the very start of the song, when the New Orleans jazz horns start playing and the vocals come in with “Texas, Texas, (oh, oh, oh) Texas.” It’s her Texas bama song, the song that is informed by where she came from. In “Formation” she tells us “my daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana, you mix that Negro with that Creole make a Texas bama” but it’s this song that brings it all together.
While I don’t believe the song is a straight-up history of Beyoncé’s life, I do believe it is based on her lived experience (with artistic embellishment). I’ll be talking about it in relation to Mrs. Knowles-Carter’s life (or at least what we know of it) but with the understanding that it is not a strict non-fiction piece she is sharing.
The bulk of the music in the song is simple country guitar. There are critics who are saying this song isn’t country, and I’ll leave it to much more qualified people than I to tell you why that is super racist. And honestly this Dixie Chicks cover and the chatter around it only cement the point. The story in the lyrics is about the lessons her dad taught her growing up, and what could be more country than that?
“Daddy Lessons” (like much of Lemonade) is a warning to men about messing with the wrong woman, but there is a lot more packed into the song than that. This is a woman telling her partner that her father warned her about men like himself. The message is that she should have shot her cheating partner (or maybe just told him to shove off, but the message is much richer with a gun) rather than given him the time of day. Within the context of the album it feels like it is coming out in an argument; Beyoncé is angry and telling Jay Z about the warning her father gave her, that men who cheat and don’t treat the women in their life right should be shot. She says her dad was always wary of men like himself because he knew he was not perfect. Additional context makes this point further, Beyoncé’s own father having had two children outside of his marriage with Tina Knowles. This passage in the song is particularly telling:
My daddy warned me about men like you
He said baby girl he’s playing you
He’s playing you
Cause when trouble comes in town
And men like me come around
Oh, my daddy said shoot
Her father worked to raise self-possessed, respected women even though he knew he wasn’t respecting women himself. Looking back at her life in this song, Beyoncé sees the similarities between her husband and her father and remembers the advice her father gave her. The line “and men like me come around” says it all: flawed men will come in and out of your life, and the moment you see any resemblance to me, shoot. Anyone else have shivers, guys?
In the visual album, this theme is explored by harshly cutting off the song in the middle to show home footage of a very young Beyoncé with her father talking about her grandparents. The movie also uses the song’s preceding poem, “Accountability” by Warsan Shire, to show shots of Black men caring for their daughters, and the love between the pairs is evident. Shire’s poetry deepens the impact of the racially charged message of the song:
you must wear it like she wears disappointment on her face
your mother is a woman and women like her cannot be contained
mother dearest, let me inherit the earth
teach me how to make him beg
let me make up for the years he made you wait
did he bend your reflection?
did he make you forget your own name?
did he convince you he was a god?
did you get on your knees daily?
do his eyes close like doors?
are you a slave to the back of his head?
This poem is alluding to a cycle that disproportionately affects Black women, that includes infidelity and violence, first by watching their mothers with their fathers and then by falling into similar situations with their own partners when they grow up. Beyoncé is finding herself stuck in the very cycle her father warned her about. She brings it forward as a part of the African American experience that can be shared and rallied against. (Jumping forward in the album to “Formation,” we find her plan: ladies need to get in formation and coordinate to help each other escape this cycle.)
Beyoncé acknowledges her roots in this song, and how they come from different places and manifest in different ways, but ultimately come together to form her and her experience—the country music, the cheating, the New Orleans jazz, her love of her flawed father who did his best despite himself, and the lessons he passed on that he not only saw but lived. This song is important to me, but I also believe it to be one of the more important songs to the artist herself. It is the only song on the album that she produced solo, and is about a topic, her father, that we know is significant to her. The song sits right in the middle of the album, when she is narratively about to make huge decisions about her life and love. It’s the crux of the album in many ways, but mainly because it is the song that best represents her.