The Empowering Meaning Behind “Hold Up” by Beyoncé

Everyone knows the name Beyoncé. The superstar has made music history time and time again. Starting her career in the 1990s as a member of Destiny’s Child, she has become one of the world’s most successful and influential pop figures. Queen Bey, as she is known by her fans, has won more Grammy Awards than any other musician in history, with a whopping 88 nominations and 32 wins.

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In 2016, Beyoncé released her fifth studio album, Lemonade. The concept album followed the stages of grief after discovering her husband’s infidelity, and explored related themes of generational trauma, gender relations, and race. Lemonade received universal acclaim and has been called not just the singer’s best album, but one of the best albums in modern music history. It was nominated for an astounding nine Grammy Awards, winning two.

One of the standouts on Lemonade was “Hold Up,” a fiery song about confronting a partner about his infidelity. The song was popular and controversial, particularly in light of the accompanying music video, which showed Beyoncé destroying cars with a baseball bat. It also sparked rumors about her marriage and what really happened between her and husband Jay-Z. Let’s explore the meaning behind “Hold Up” and why it was such a bombshell.

Hold Up

Beyoncé worked on “Hold Up” with several cowriters, including Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) and Diplo. They later described the process of writing the song as similar to building Frankenstein, with each contributor adding hooks, samples, or lines a bit at a time.

“Hold Up” samples Andy Williams’ “Can’t Get Used to Losing You,” “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and “Turn My Swag On” by Soulja Boy. Each of these tracks is used to add another subtle layer to the message of the song.

In the wake of the song’s release, rumors swirled about whether it was based on Beyoncé’s actual relationship with her husband, Jay-Z. Later, Jay-Z confirmed that he had been unfaithful in the past but that he and his wife were working through their issues together.

The Music Video

The most famous aspect of “Hold Up” is undeniably the music video, which has become iconic since its release. It begins with Beyoncé submerged in an underwater house as she recites the poem “Denial” by Warsan Shire. The poem describes everything a woman has done to make herself perfect for her partner. Yet it was never enough, and she still suspects him of being unfaithful. As the song begins, the singer throws open the house doors, letting the water rush out and descend to the street.

There, she grabs a baseball bat from a boy and begins unapologetically wreaking havoc. She struts down the street, smashing car windows, security cameras, and fire hydrants. Despite the violence, Beyoncé smiles throughout or stares the camera down as though daring the viewer to challenge her. Meanwhile, onlookers cheer her on.

The image of the superstar striding down the street in a yellow dress, baseball bat in hand, has become iconic. But it was no coincidence. The dress was chosen as a nod to the Nigerian goddess Oshun, who represents fertility and femininity.

At the end of the music video, Beyoncé stares the camera down again, aware she is being watched. It ends as she smiles and smashes the camera, tossing the baseball bat on the ground.


The music video and song have both been the subject of many positive and negative interpretations. The video is clearly a deliberate and intricate piece of art, contrasting the societal expectations of women with the pain of infidelity. Beyoncé’s dress strikes a strong contrast to her violent actions with the baseball bat, leading many people to view it as a commentary on feminism and womanhood.

Some critics objected to the violence of the video, feeling that it was harmful to portray women—especially women of color—as destructive and vindictive. Others thought it was a more subtle comment on the intricacies of feminine ideals, societal expectations, and gender relations.

The singer herself was clearly aware of these controversies. A repeated line in the chorus says as much:

What’s worse, looking jealous or crazy? Jealous or crazy?
Or like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately
I’d rather be crazy

This acknowledges that the singer knows her actions will be interpreted in two ways: either she’s jealous and possessive, or she has lost her mind. Since she can’t escape judgment, she opts to be seen as crazy.

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She also reminds her partner of her love, which no one else can match. This only makes his infidelity more appalling since he has disrespected her love.

Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you
Slow down, they don’t love you like I love you
Can’t you see there’s no other man above you?
What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you

The Legacy of Lemonade and “Hold Up”

Lemonade proved (again) that Beyoncé is more than just a fantastic singer and dancer. She is an artist in every sense of the word, able to bring her listeners on a journey full of intriguing messages. “Hold Up” received widespread acclaim and a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Solo Performance. It also won an MTV Music Video Award for Best Art Direction. Whatever your response to the song’s content, the image of a bat-wielding Beyoncé in her yellow dress won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

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