Beyoncé's Renaissance is here, it's queer and it's timeless
If 'Lemonade' is about grief and healing, then the popstar's new album is about the joy and celebration on the other side of that.
An almost incomprehensible amount of tragedy has transpired in the world since the spring of 2016, when Beyoncé released Lemonade, her last era-defining, world-stopping studio album. The world has given us so much to feel bleak about since then, and many people find themselves fatigued by the wealthiest amongst us using their platforms to preach about the ills of the world. If the mega-rich aren’t going to redistribute their wealth, the least they could do is give us peasants something to shake our asses to.
Thankfully, Beyoncé understands this. How exactly did the woman who is arguably the world’s most beloved entertainer — there’s no question that she is one of the most multi-talented and skilled — respond to the times? With dance, of course.
If Lemonade taught us about the grief and healing that comes after a personal betrayal, then Renaissance is about the joy and celebration that can be found on the other side of that.
For Beyoncé, the entertainer that’s been performing for over 30 years, this album feels like a victory lap not only for her but for her loyal fanbase. It’s the culmination of all the work she’s released over the years as a solo artist. For instance, a song like “Cuff It,” a disco-forward ode to letting loose — surrendering oneself to love, desire, and hedonism — instantly recalls “Blow” for the average Beyhive listener – a sensual gem of a track from her self-titled album from almost a decade ago.
Despite only being credited on “Break My Soul,” you can hear the influence of Jay Z’s music throughout Renaissance: a song like “Family Feud” (the video for which Queen Bey herself makes an appearance) from his last album 4:44 feels very much like a precursor to a track like “Church Girl.” The booming voice of New Orleans legend Big Freedia returns on “Break My Soul,” rebirthing a collaboration that was first conceived on Lemonade’s lead single “Formation.”
There’s her continued professional relationship with songwriter and producer The Dream, a partnership that’s given us such iconic tracks like “Single Ladies” and “Partition.” But this is not to say the album is without newer influences. Along with credits to Skrillex, PC Music’s AG Cook and Sabrina Claudio, there’s the work of Syd from The Internet on “Plastic Off the Sofa,” whose signature airy vocals can be heard on the track.
Beyoncé makes it clear that the Renaissance is a fair welcome to all. In an open letter she released in tandem with the album, she dedicates the new project to the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole, and in particular to her late Uncle Johnny, who died of HIV. “He was my godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album,” Beyoncé says.
“Thank you to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognised for far too long. This is a celebration for you.” It’s no wonder that what is perhaps the star’s most bodacious, joyous and lyrically-brazen album also happens to be her queerest project to date. What other major artist is sampling the voice of TS Madison and singing lyrics like “release your trade?”
It’s a shame that it will be a while before many of us feel safe enough to fully experience the album the way it was meant to be: in a club, at a party or “that outside.” But the Renaissance is here to stay: like much of Bey’s catalogue it’s a record that instantly feels timeless, and it will be there if and when we’re ready for it.