1. A powerful tribute to club culture
While Rihanna seems to have forgotten about her first job, her long-time rival is making a comeback. Set aside the soundtrack The Lion King: The Gift (2019), Beyoncé’s last solo album had been released in 2016. It was Lemonade, a political, feminist, and powerful record that hasn’t aged a day, but let’s say that a lot has happened in R’n’B, pop, and hip-hop since then. Doja Cat, Dua Lipa, Megan Thee Stallion, and Cardi B, have made their mark on pop culture, releasing hit after hit, along with daring music videos. With the release of her seventh studio album Renaissance last Friday, Tiffany & Co. muse and Adidas collaborator has a lot at stake. She has to reclaim her crown and do justice to her nickname – Queen B. To do so, Beyoncé has decided to completely reinvent herself. Backed by the world’s top electronic producers (A.G. Cook, Honey Dijon, Green Velvet, Skrillex) and by artists like Grace Jones, 070 Shake, and Tems, she sets herself up as a very soulful house diva on complex and experimental electro rhythms. Like the house-focused Honestly, Nevermind by Drake, the opening act of Beyoncé’s trilogy is a vibrant tribute to club culture and to the power of the night as a salutary outlet for daily pains. There is, of course, the irresistible Break My Soul, which samples Robin S.’s everlasting house anthem Show Me Love, but the rest of Beyoncé’s album is also dancefloor-oriented. We can hear some disco with Cuff It, on which Nile Rodgers from Chic and Prince’s close musician Sheila E. play, and with Summer Renaissance, which samples Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, but also some funk with Plastic Off the Sofa and Virgo’s Groove, and some techno with Thique. A hedonistic vibe that feels good to hear, since we have been spending two years in the pandemic and months without being able to party.
2. An ode to queer communities
In an Instagram post, Beyoncé warned us that she wanted to create a safe space with this record – “A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration. I hope you find joy in this music. I hope it inspires you to release the wiggle. Ha! And to feel as unique, strong, and sexy as you are.” To feel free to be whoever you want to be, but also to love whoever you want to love, far from conventions and prejudices once you turn the lights off... Basically, the essence of the disco movement and of Renaissance, which multiplies references to queer communities at the origin of techno and house music. From the ballroom scene to her uncle Johnny, who passed away due to AIDS-related complications, the singer grandly celebrates every aspect of these musical genres. The star previously described Johnny as “the most fabulous gay man I have ever met” at the 2019 GLAAD Media Awards. She now dedicates Renaissance to him in the booklet that accompanies the album, referring to him as her “godmother”. She writes: “He was the first person to expose me to a lot of music and culture that served as inspiration for this album.” The album credits also include transgender producer and DJ Honey Dijon, queer singer-songwriter Syd, and flamboyant New Orleans-based gay rapper Big Freedia. An important step has been taken regarding representation given Beyoncé’s mainstream status.
3. Sexy and political: a musical odyssey
Whether she’s rapping or singing, Queen Bey’s voice has rarely been that smooth. The lyrics in Renaissance are often very daring, like this sexplicit line from Alien Superstar: “Keep him addicted, lies on his lips, I lick it.” However, Beyoncé’s intention is not simply to make the whole planet sway and have sex to her sexy, uninhibited, and fun songs. The anti-capitalist lyrics of Break My Soul have established her as the priestess of The Great Resignation, a social movement that emerged at the beginning of the pandemic in the United States and which TikTok witnessed first-hand. Disappointed by a general lack of meaning, many American employees started to massively resign from their jobs. On the song, the singer urges people to work less or to even quit their jobs, which is what motivated many of her fans to serve their bosses with resignation letters, according to some posts on Twitter. Another song on the album is America has a Problem. Even though it refers to the track sampled on Cocaine by American rapper Kilo Ali, which talks more about drugs than social issues, it can also be understood as an allusion to police violence and racism in the country. Faced with a difficult context – the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, the ongoing social and racial injustices, the decline in women’s rights – Beyoncé sits on a luminous horse in a metal corset, like the queen and warrior we have all been waiting for, on the cover of Renaissance. A free, flamboyant, and proud heroine, inviting us to commune with her cathartic house music and to the sound of her overpowering voice. Even if we won’t quit our jobs, as Break My Soul urges us to do, it will be difficult to do anything else but dance to these consoling anthems from now on.
Renaissance (2022) by Beyoncé, available on every streaming platform.