Beyoncé knows that the world needs a reason to rejoice now. With an ongoing pandemic, polarizing politics, an increase in senseless violence and the looming global climate crisis, we are overwhelmed. “Renaissance” couldn’t have come at a better time.
“My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment… A place to scream, let go, feel freedom.”
Beyoncé’s seventh solo album, act one of a three-part series, comes six years after she uncovered her soul on 2016’s ‘Lemonade’. Like her previous offering, ‘Renaissance’ marks a new era in Beyoncé’s evolution – an era that leads with freedom, confidence. and pure, unadulterated fun. The 28-time Grammy-winning icon is known for boldly experimenting with many genres – pop, blues and country are just a few of her favorites – and “Renaissance” is as daring as it is revolutionary. It brings the music of the ballroom, the disco-funk era of the late 70s, club scenes of the 80s and black house of the 90s to the fore.
British Vogue first teased “Renaissance”. The publication described the album as music that “makes you stand up” and “touches your soul.” According to Beyoncé, she created the project during the pandemic, an unprecedented and overwhelming time that gave her the opportunity to be her most creative. “Making this album gave me a place to dream and escape from a scary time for the world. It allowed me to feel free and adventurous at a time when little else was moving,” she shared in a June 30. Instagram post. “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free from perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, let go, feel freedom.”
And so began the birth of “Renaissance”.
The lull of the pandemic warned Beyoncé that a renaissance was on the way — hers, to be exact. In an interview in August 2021 with Harper’s Bazaarshe noted that the “isolation and injustice” people have experienced in 2020 (and beyond) have largely contributed to her new body of work, a wonderful escape to literally move her loyal listeners.
For weeks, fans and the Beyhive have anxiously prepared for the album’s July 29 release. True Hive members even avoided an early leak to enjoy the right presentation at midnight. Beyoncé kindly thanked them in a handwritten note shared through her website. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t thank you enough for your love and protection,” she wrote. While many were tempted to sneak into Club “Renaissance” early, Friday’s grand arrival made the wait all the more worth the wait.
“Renaissance” pulls you by the collar from the start. Number one, “I’m That Girl,” exudes bad-b*tch energy with Beyoncé’s confident lyrics: “From the top of the morning I shine / Right through the blinds / Touching everything in my plain view.” The superstar’s feelings flow smoothly into the next track, “Cozy,” as it quickly becomes apparent what kind of album this is – a celebration of self and the pursuit of unfettered happiness. With samples from countless music legends (including Teena Marie, James Brown, Robin S. and Right Said Fred), pulsating tracks made for the dance floor and blatantly erotic proclamations, “Renaissance” gives listeners permission to let go of their worries and the wobbles take it. left for the ride (cue Beyoncé’s holographic horse).
The feel-good sounds of house music couldn’t have been a better fit for Beyoncé’s new era – her uplifting “Break My Soul” anthem, already considered one of the biggest songs of the year, is proof of that. From start to finish, “Renaissance” is a journey through Beyoncé’s mind, an adventure that fits well with the bold sounds she speaks, calls and, yes, even raps. Throbbing tracks like “Alien Superstar”, “Move” (assisted by Tems and Grace Jones) and “Thique”, as well as skate party numbers like “Cuff It” and “Energy”, featuring BEAM, confirm “Renaissance”’s mission to get people dancing. It’s damn near impossible to sit still on this album (I can personally confirm this). Take “Church Girl” for example: the Clark Sisters sample used in the first 20 seconds can convince listeners that Beyoncé is doing her best with a gospel/trap mix—that is, to lyrics like “We Said You drop it now like a thottie, drop it like a thottie (You bad) / Church girls who act loose, bad girls who act snotty “pump on.
As Beyoncé affirms throughout the album, she’s not afraid to say (or do) what she thinks. “No one can judge me except me / I was born free.” So the sexually suggestive metaphors on hot songs like “Plastic Off the Sofa” and “Virgo’s Groove” shouldn’t come as a surprise (this is the woman who gave us “Rocket” and “Drunk in Love”). Nor should we be alarmed by her dominating siren song “All Up in Your Mind” or the swaggering expressions that continue on the dancehall/ballroom-influenced selection “Heated”. “Uncle Johnny made my dress / that cheap spandex, she looks like a mess,” Beyoncé rattled without thinking.
Her seamless transitions from energetic riffs to tight rhythms is the power of “Renaissance”. Beyoncé managed to completely omit her signature slow ballads from the album, while still providing us with new efforts to admire. “America Has a Problem,” a song that stands out for its title alone, is the opposite of what you’d expect from a song that sounds like a political comment. Swaggeress lines like “Heard you got that D for me / Bid your love is deep for me / I’ma make you go weak for me / Make you wait a whole week for me” on the club-heavy track seem to be good fun. But let’s not forget that club culture has always been socio-political in one way or another.
“Renaissance” is a rhythmic atmosphere that salutes the past and peers into the future through Beyoncé’s lexicon.
The black and brown voices from the ballroom provided support during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, fearlessly raising awareness and fundraising for the cause. Not to mention the ballroom culture has provided a safe space for those who feel different in the world. The liberating atmosphere that emerged from these diverse party scenes of the late ’80s and ’90s was a protest in itself. Beyoncé pays tribute to that energy with her wide array of collaborators uniting as one on “Renaissance” — including everyone from The-Dream and Mike Dean to Raphael Saadiq, The Neptunes, and even her husband, JAY-Z (plus a long credit list featuring modern acts such as Skrillex, Syd, Lucky Daye and many more).
The power of “Renaissance” lies in the transformative elements of styles once conceived by such greats as 90s drag legend Moi Renee and the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer. “Pure/Honey” and “Summer Renaissance”, a ballroom ode and disco tribute respectively (courtesy of his 1977 hit “I Feel Love”), close the album with tribute to both pioneers through nostalgia and, of course, Beyoncé’s flair. Each track affirms “Renaissance” as an enchanting love letter to all that is cheerful, lively, strange and festive – a rebellious work of art that rejects fear in every way.
Beyoncé sounds refreshed, renewed, and recharged throughout the entire “Renaissance,” and she wants us to feel the same. Unpredictable times bring the superstar into a period of reflection. In turn, she worked on a remarkable album that both pushes the boundaries and delivers musical breakthroughs. “Renaissance” is a rhythmic atmosphere that salutes the past and peers into the future through Beyoncé’s lexicon. And while this is just the beginning of her revival, fans are already making plans to get back out there with her new album in tow.
Image Source: Mason Poole