She’s one of one, number one and the only one. Beyoncé’s newest studio album is unapologetically black, queer and celebratory. Photo courtesy of harpersbazaar.com.
OWEN MADRIGAL | CULTURE CO-EDITOR | email@example.com
It is the word on everyone’s lips since the release of Beyoncé’s latest project. On July 29, Beyoncé released her latest studio album, “RENAISSANCE.” The album quickly went on to break numerous records and became the number one album in the country that week.
Unlike her two most recent albums, 2016’s “Lemonade” and 2013’s “BEYONCÉ,” the album was not a surprise release. The album was preceded by the lead single “BREAK MY SOUL,” which went number one the same week as the album’s release.
One of the most striking differences between “RENAISSANCE” and the rest of Beyonce’s catalog is the genres that she explores throughout the album. When initially conceived, the album represented a joyous celebration as mentioned in a 2021 Harper’s Bazaar interview.
“With all the isolation and injustice over the past year, I think we are all ready to escape, travel, love, and laugh again,” Beyoncé said in the interview. “I feel a renaissance emerging, and I want to be part of nurturing that escape in any way possible.”
CATEGORY IS … BEY
Beyonce’s album comes at a very unique time. One immediate style that appears on the album is its use of various forms of dance music. Critics have noticed that dance music in its many different forms usually peaks during economic recessions. “RENAISSANCE” was announced in June, when gas prices were at a national average of $4.62 and the supply chain was affecting nearly every business.
The dance elements and samples Beyoncé’s album pulls from span a wide range of different subgenres. She samples Donna Summer’s disco classic “I Feel Love” on the closing track “SUMMER RENAISSANCE.” She utilizes elements of house and even Harlem’s queer ballroom songs on songs like “HEATED” and “PURE/HONEY.” She even pulls from drill rap over a pulsating beat on “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM.” Emma Young, a sophomore performance major, said their favorite song was also a huge dance track.
“[My favorite song] is ‘VIRGO’S GROOVE,’” Young said. “It’s probably because it was the first one I listened to, but I like how upbeat it is. That song feels very summery to me. I played it a lot this summer with my friends while we were hanging out and it reminds me of sunny weather and good times. Plus I love Beyoncé singing like her old songs. It reminds me of those throwbacks.”
In addition to the dance elements within the album, Beyoncé pays tribute to members of the LGBTQ+ community, both subtly and overtly. “COZY”’s second verse names every color of the progressive pride flag. On “PURE/HONEY,” she samples Kevin Aviance, a drag queen and member of the legendary voguing ballroom house the House of Aviance. Ballroom culture was born from young black queer creatives in Harlem, New York. Their way of expression took place at balls, a cross-section of fashion, drag, dancing and especially voguing, a dance style that emphasizes sharp, angular motions of the arms and legs.
Across various songs, she repeats ballroom culture language, including “category is …” across several songs. “HEATED” ends with her referencing her uncle Johnny, to whom the album is dedicated, as she called him her godmother and the most fabulous gay man. Honey Dijon, who produced several songs, and Ts Madison, who is sampled on the album, became the first black trans women to chart in Billboard’s Top 40, due to Dijon’s production of “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” and “COZY,” which sampled Madison, charting.
This dual love letter to the queer community and explicit reclaiming of black queer culture comes through in the QUEEN’S REMIX of “BREAK MY SOUL.” The remix heavily samples Madonna’s 1990 hit “Vogue.” People still debate whether the song was cultural appropriation and if Madonna, as a straight white person, was allowed to bring an integral part of the black queer underground culture to such highs in the mainstream. Beyoncé’s sample utilizes the famous spoken word bridge, changing the names of classic Hollywood stars to iconic black women in the music industry and several famous ballroom houses. This remix can act as a thesis for “RENAISSANCE”: recentering black women and queer individuals in the larger culture and remind people where dance music found its origin. Young said this recentering is vital to making the album a huge cultural moment.
“It is Beyoncé reclaiming house music because it was created by people of color,” Young said. “Then, white people obviously stole it. It’s a big part of queer culture in the 80s and the 70s, especially with the AIDS epidemic. I think it’s really important that people learn the history behind it too, as well as listening to it and enjoying that it’s Beyoncé singing.”
WHEN YOU CAUSE ALL THIS CONVERSATION
This celebratory album, however, was not without its controversy. Initially, “HEATED” featured the word “sp*zzing” during one of Beyoncé’s raps. The use of the word garnered controversy, as it is often used as a derogatory ableist slur. Although the slur is not as widely considered offensive in America, it is far more taboo in the United Kingdom and Australia. Beyoncé responded by removing the word completely. Lizzo also found herself in similar controversy over the use of the same word in her album, “Special,” which also came out earlier this year. In a piece regarding this change, black disability activist Vilissa Thompson points out how important it is to unlearn offensive words, even when it may not be born from malicious intent.
Another controversy came when Kelis went on Instagram Live to voice her frustration with Beyoncé sampling her song “Milkshake” on “ENERGY.” However, Kelis was not credited on the song because the producer, Pharrell Williams, owns her music, even adding she saw zero financial return from her first two albums. Beyoncé quietly responded to the controversy by completely removing the sample from “ENERGY.”
As for what is next, the world never knows with Beyoncé. She announced on “RENAISSANCE” release day the album is only act one is a three-act trilogy, but the jury is still out on whether there will be two new albums or different adjacent projects.
As for the 16 tracks on “RENAISSANCE,” not one has gotten a music video yet, even the lead single for “BREAK MY SOUL.” Beyoncé is known as a highly visual artist, with numerous videos for every album and two complete visual albums. She has teased another visual album, but no date or announcement has come since then. Until she decides to release the next project, fans will just have to re-listen to the album in anticipation of what is to come.
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