An Homage To Black Queer Culture.
On Friday July 30, Beyoncé released her much anticipated 7th studio album, Renaissance. The album dropped 6 weeks after “Break my soul”, its first single, was released. The single sent her fandom (the whole world even!), into a frenzy of anticipation of the superstar’s comeback.
The long and....
“Break My Soul” gave us a glimpse into Queen Bey’s new artistic direction. The release of Renaissance confirmed it. We’re going (back) to the Disco! Upon its release, the album sparked all sort of reactions, ranging from total euphoria from the Beyhive (her adoring fanbase), to (mostly) raving and positive reviews from the media and music critics.
But it also sparked a lot of controversies, think-pieces and dramas on social media. Like with every Beyoncé’s project over the past few years, the reactions are always extremes and polarized.
However, many agree that Renaissance is nothing more than an invitation to dance, party and rejoice. A breath of fresh air, after two years of isolation brought by one of the biggest pandemics of our modern times, the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Break my soul’’ lyrics, an invitation to release everything, (including our jobs!), perfectly summarize the general mood of the album.
“And we back outside
You said you outside, but you ain’t that outside
Worldwide hoodie with the mask outside
In case you forgot how we act outside”
…The short of it
The album is a mix of disco, soul, and electro vibes. It evokes a feeling of fun, nostalgia and familiarity. To achieve this, Renaissance contains a long list of samples, interpolations and familiar elements of disco, pop and hip-hop songs. One notable ‘sample’ is “Show me love” by Robin S. on the hit single “Break my soul”.
The songs transition and blend smoothly into one another, like a long DJ set, reinforcing the feeling of a big disco party.
Renaissance also boasts a very long list of credits, with notable participation of producers, songwriters and composers. The Dream, Nile Rodgers, Raphael Saadiq, Drake¸ Big Freedia and the latest sensation on the Afrobeats/Afropop scene, Nigerian songbird Tems, are among those on the list.
Ultimately, the album is a lover letter to the Black Queer community, who are the originators and innovators of many of today’s pop culture trends.
In short, Renaissance is a real ode to Black Joy.
Here is a full, song-by-song, review.
- “I’m that girl”
When the album started playing, my initial reaction after few seconds was an uncertain “hmm?”. But when the beat drops (at exactly 0.43 seconds), I got immediately hooked. Beyoncé’s invitation to join her big dancing party is accepted!
The first track transitions smoothly to what sounds like a self-love anthem: “Cozy”. The track is full of, what we can anticipate, will be social media quotable:
The first track transitions smoothly to what will probably be the self-love anthem of the album: “Cozy”. The track is full of, what we can anticipate, will be social media quotables:
Might I suggest you don’t fuck with my sis (Ooh)
‘Cause she comfortable
Comfortable in my skin
Cozy with who I am
Comfortable in my skin
“Please do not be alarmed. Do not attempt to leave the dance floor” announces a robotic voice through a megaphone”. This intro transports the listener into a retro-futuristic space (cue: Bestie Boy’s Intergalactic) and elevates the sonic experience of the album.
The song also contains an interpolation of the 90ies rap hit ‘’I’m too Sexy”’ by Right Said Fred. “Alien superstar” brings a lot of nostalgia and fun, enhanced by beautiful vocals, blended with her signature rap-talking.
4. “ Cuff-It “
The good mood set by “Alien Superstar” continues and transitions nicely into “Cuff-It”. Here Beyoncé invites us to get lose through the night and get high on the dance floor. Nile Rodgers is credited as one of the songwriters. The song is already a favourite on social media boosted by the #Cuffitdancechallenge).
For those who don’t know, Nile Rodgers is a legendary American record producer, songwriter, musician, composer, arranger, and guitarist. He is behind some of the world biggest hits: “Like a Virgin” (Madonna), “Le Freak” (Chic), David Bowie’s” Let’s Dance” and Daft Punk’s Ft Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky”. We can definitely feel his touch on the track.
The transition between “Cuff-It” and “Energy” is probably one of the best on the album. Here Beyoncé enrols Beam, a Jamaican-American rap artist, who delivers a catchy and dance-hall verse. It provides an excellent bridge between Cuff It and Energy.
Side Note: Unfortunately, just a couple of hours after the album’s release, “Energy” was at the centre of a controversy. The first of many thereafter. Singer Kelis accused Beyoncé of ‘Theft “after some of her fans ‘account spotted her name in the song’s credits and praised the “collaboration “between the two artists. However, Kelis declared that she was not consulted and expressed her anger toward the star. She went on a several days tirade on social media to air her grievance with the star.
For context, “Energy” contains an interpolation of “Milkshake”, a song produced by The Neptunes and performed by Kelis. Beyoncé seems like a collateral damage in Kelis’ years-long feud with The Neptunes, mainly with Pharrel Williams, over the song’s rights and ownership. However, it is important to note that she is not listed as a songwriter/composer on that song and Beyoncé, or any other artists, are not legally require to go through her, to clear a sample. Beyoncé probably thought she was being considerate by crediting her as the performer of the song, but it unfortunately backfires. You can read the full story here:
[NB: after Kelis’ dramas, Beyonce removed her from the credits list ]
The song also contains a nod to Fugees’ Oh lalala’ (“Fu-Gee-La”) chorus. The sentence “Them Karens have turned into terrorists” is a reminder that we can still for something, even while we’re having fun
6. Break my soul
That’s the debut single that introduced us to the new colour and sound direction of the album. Here Beyoncé promises us a good time and to take us back the disco and the ballroom era. She enrols, once again, Big Freedia (the two have collaborated on Lemonade), to tap into and, celebrate the Black queer and bounce music culture.
“Break My soul” is really an “We’re outside !!” anthem. A celebration of the world post-pandemic, where we can hopefully be ourselves again. It’s a vibration and mood lifter. Some media and commentators have linked it to the “Great resignation” phenomenon, thanks to “release your fears, release your job” part in the lyrics.
As stated above, Beyoncé here interpolates a very famous disco song of the 90ies, “Show me love” by Robin S. The later went on several media appearances and thanked Beyoncé for honouring and crediting her in the song. Hopefully, it will also boost her streaming numbers, with the help of the younger generation who will want to discover the original song and the older ones, nostalgic of the good old days.
7. Church Girl
That’s the first time that the album actually makes a few seconds stop, contrary to the smooth transition which intertwined all the previous songs together. Probably to let us catch our breath?
Church girl is a very interesting song. One could naively expect a gospel song. But trust Beyoncé to take the stereotype of the “good church girl” and turn into an hymn for girls living life into their own terms. She warns:
I’m warning everybody, soon as I get in this party
I’m gon’ let go of this body, I’m gonna love on me
Nobody can judge me but me, I was born free
In a plot twist, the song becomes a twerking anthem:
I’ll drop it like a thotty, drop it like a thotty
I said, now pop it like a thotty, pop it like a thotty (you bad)
Mi seh, now drop it like a thotty, drop it like a thotty (you bad)
Church girls actin’ loose, bad girls actin’ snotty (you bad)
Let it go, girl (let it go), let it out, girl (let it out)
Twerk that ass like you came up out the South, girl (ooh, ooh)
I said, now drop it like a thotty, drop it like a thotty (you bad)
Bad girl actin’ naughty, church girl, don’t hurt nobody
The song contains some notable interpolations, including of “Center of thy will”, from legendary gospel group, the Clark Sisters,
Side Note: If you have seen the Clark ‘sisters’ biopic, it shows the tension between the need to stay ‘holy’ and abide by the church rules, and a fierce will of emancipation within some of the sisters, making them some kind of “Church girls” too.
8. Plastic off the sofa
“Plastic off the Sofa” transitions the heavily disco infused album, into a smooth adult R&B atmosphere. The song gives old school and nostalgic vibes. It evokes a picture of lovers, who have grown old together and are reminiscing of the good old times. It is an invitation to let your hair down and be yourself around the person you love.
9. Virgo Growth
As a famous Virgo, Beyoncé offers a cool, unpretentious song that bring us back to the dancefloor. She provides a hymn for her fellow virgos. The song rhythms remind of “Before I let go”, from Franky Beverly and Mase, a song she famously sampled upon the released of “Homecoming”, her acclaimed Coachella’s performance.
Another obvious nod to the black queer culture. Move is a “voguing” song, the synchronized dances originally created in underground black queers’ community. Voguing is a type of dancing that including posing movement like a model (of Vogue magazine). It has been made mainstream by Madonna, in her song, famously titled “Vogue” (1997).
The song features a surprising collaboration by Nigerian artist, Tems and the legendary Grace Jones.
It is interesting to note that, when Beyoncé started teasing her new album, Drake released, a few days before Renaissance, a surprising electro-house project.
Media and fans alike were wondering about the odds of two of the biggest superstars, to take a similar creative direction. Pure artistic coincidence or they have enrolled the same producers?
Seeing Drake being credited as one of the producers of the album, make sense. Although, Drake drew his inspiration into the current Afro-house sounds (especially the popular Amapiano genre). Beyoncé chose to lean toward the old-school US electro and disco scene.
The song is also a tribute to Beyoncé’s late uncle Johnny, a gay man who died young of HIV Aids related complications. He seemed to have been a major influential figure in her life. The chorus “Uncle Johnny made my dress “is already becoming popular on social media.
Another voguing song! Beyoncé once again goes back to her rap-singing voice. The song is light with a repetition of lyrics.
13. All up in your mind in your mind.
Between Move and this one, songs are more laid back and easily transitions into one another, almost monotonously but still a pleasant and cohesive listening experience.
14. America has a problem
The song breaks the previous monotony with an old-school rap intro. One can imagine the music video like those old school rap videos. Cue: A Run DMC video with rappers sporting heavy gold chains, Adidas track shoes and shoes, tearing up a screen and ready to take you back into a 90ies Breakdance dancefloor. Beyoncé even choose to “rap’ in this song.
The song contains a sample of an old-school rap song “(Cocaine) America has a problem” by Kilo Ali.
15. Pure Honey
Bad bitches to the left
Money bitches to the right
You can be both, meet in the middle, dance all night
Take it all off or just a little if you like
It should cost a billion to look this good (oh, yeah)
Queen Bey is urging all of her fans “to get into formation”, in perhaps the ultimate voguing song of the album
What best than an homage to the ultimate queen of disco herself, Donna Summer, to close up this heavily infused Disco party we’ve been invited to?
Summer Renaissance gives a feeling of ‘full circle ‘moment. And perhaps, it offers one of the biggest lesson of this album: do not be afraid to take risks (as she did by taking this artistic direction).
You’re the director of your life, you can hit the spectator with a plot twist and unexpected turn, any time.
You can stream Renaissance full album here:
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