Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’ Is a Queer Ode to Dance
In 2019, Beyoncé and Jay-Z won the GLAAD Vanguard Award, which is given to allies who have made a difference in the LGBTQ+ community. In her acceptance speech“I want to dedicate this award to my uncle Johnny, the most amazing gay man I’ve ever known, who helped raise me and my sister,” Beyoncé said with tears in her eyes. He lived his truth. He was brave and unrepentant at a time when this country would not accept it. “
She went on to say that his struggle with, and ultimately overcoming, HIV was one of his “most painful experiences.” [her] life.” She hopes that what he’s been through hasn’t been in vain for this generation of LGBTQ youth — the generation she’s constantly moving about and celebrating with her music.
The distinctly exotic spirit and culture that Uncle Johnny instilled in Beyoncé is what enlivens it Renaissance, her seventh solo album, comes out on Friday. He is featured in the album’s pamphlet (he was the “first person to tell me about the music and culture that served as the inspiration for this album” she writes) and even on the album itself (in “Heated,” she raps “Uncle Johnny made my dress”). It’s a deeply intimate touch, especially on an album that largely shies away from the obvious personal stories that made up her last LP, 2016. Lemonadetoo transcendent.
Renaissance is a tribute to the Ballroom scene of the 1980s, paying homage to the many styles that underlie the black and brown-dominated underground community. All the recent whispers about Beyoncé making a disco, dancehall and/or house album are true; she accomplished all of the above, as well as Ballroom covering all of those genres and then some.
Songs like “Alien Superstar,” “Move,” and “Cozy” make explicit mentions of the dance floor, as Beyoncé beckons listeners to wear their multi-million dollar high heels and necklines. She raps and sings along to a wide range of sample songs, from your DJ’s lyrics and calls to your disco songs. A catchy, enduring drum beat forms the basis for more traditional R&B-style choruses, where she showcases her ever-more powerful vocals.
Lyrically, these songs are like RenaissanceThe theme sentences of: “I am number one / I am number one / I am only one,” she sings on “Alien Superstar”. “Don’t even waste your time trying to compete with me.” Of course, she’s not wrong about any of this. But this is the exact kind of bragging that can be found in the Ballroom, where dancers strut down the catwalk and perform the sexiest, most dramatic moves anyone in the room has ever seen. Even as Beyoncé takes her self-aggravation down a notch in “Cozy” (“Feels comfortable in my skin / I’m cozy”), the message is clear: Get involved. Renaissance, and feel your self-esteem overflow.
The album sounds better in this context; otherwise, some songs, especially in the second half, are like B-sides. “All Up in Your Mind,” “Thique,” and “Heated” do not present their excellent credentials when heard and considered individually. (AG Cook, an all-star hyper-pop producer who has worked extensively with Charli XCX, got his first Beyoncé credit with something as ephemeral as “All Up in Your Mind,” specifically. especially disappointing.) if you’re already there, they won’t push you to leave your seat. Beyoncé snarling about how the “thick ass” in “Thique” will make you laugh, but only because you’ve been in the dance competition for hours and you could use a little alarm. As production slows down the rhythm to produce a sleepy, industrial-style bass, Renaissance I found myself in a deep sleep.
The best moments come when you’re sober and those are the moments that will help this album establish itself as the party soundtrack for the rest of 2022. “America Has a Problem” and “Cuff It” ” is undeniably, with scale-scaling synths of the former and classic disco tracks of the latter. “Pure/Honey” helps you guess what kind of song it is during its nearly five-minute run. While the “Pure” half is built around a dark, low-key beat suitable for an underground club, the “Honey” half seamlessly transitions into a much brighter tone… well, you know. (It also boasts some great lines: Please give me “Four, three/Me two, damn, busy” on the cup.)
“Even if Beyoncé takes her own weight down a notch… the message is clear: Join House Renaissance and feel your self-esteem overflow.“
At the heart of all this — perhaps RenaissanceIts best encapsulation — is “Virgo’s Trench.” At over six minutes long, it’s a song for lovers and loved ones, dancers and the art of dance itself. “Your love keeps me alive,” sings Beyoncé over and over, a compilation that conjures up a disco ball right over our heads. When she doesn’t break into her incredible vocal imitation, she snaps her fingers to the beat, giving the floor to funk. Too bad she wants her lover to come and be with her tonight, Beyoncé also has her signature sense of humor: “You can hit this / Don’t be afraid!” It’s intoxicating and fun, with enough energy to sustain 100 albums — and the final kinetic energy is what keeps Renaissance rise.
The super-detailed production work — from the likes of Tricky Stewart and The-Dream — fills songs with textures and enticing sounds from track to track. “Break My Soul,” The album’s first and only pre-release single, is a somewhat catchy dance bop. But on Renaissance, floating-style “Energy” flows directly into it — making “Break My Soul” an essential part of a stronger duo. The sequence feels more purposefully designed than most individual songs; Renaissance, as the first “action” of a three album cycleconsidered a complete work.
RenaissanceTherefore, coherence is crucial to understanding and appreciating it. If you’re listening to these songs just to love and update your summer playlist, you’ll likely be disappointed. There’s no song that’s vulnerable in terms of lyrics that jumps through different genres like crazy, a la Lemonade. No interest paid on national or global politics, as above Presents. You won’t find the X-rated rawness that’s all over Beyoncé. The fact is, at 40, happily married mother-of-three Beyoncé chooses not to probe the heavier stuff here.
But the memory of Uncle Johnny is unforgettable. As a way to deal with the grief she still holds over the loss of her beloved loved one, Beyoncé has created a personal piece in a unique style: It is clearly meaningful and moving. Now get up and dance.