Through all the anguish from these past two years, many artists have tried to look at their art to serve as a helping hand for us. A sort of release from the pain and find the inner strength to get up and move; to dance.
On July 29, Beyoncé followed suit, but she released an album that was beyond unique. It was an album that successfully blended a myriad of genres, reconstructed songwriting indefinitely, redefined the art of sampling, and – above all – triumphantly revived the legacy of the pioneers of music: a true “Renaissance.”
After allowing this hour-long project to fully marinate – and break a slew of records on streaming services and spark controversy that an icon like Beyoncé is no stranger to – it becomes apparent that this record stands for something more than just another artistic attempt to push a generic sounding album.
Today, we see so many artists release new projects that sound recycled and do not work to push the boundaries of music further. Beyoncé and her team of inspired young individuals looked deeply into the past and allowed the roots of yesterday to sprout the future of music for years to come, creating a euphoric DJ set of liberation and dance.
“Renaissance” served as a partial thank you to Beyoncé’s Uncle Jonny, who ostensibly was the familial figure who introduced her to disco/house music and the ballroom culture that once served as the backbone for gay culture within many Queer communities of color, predominantly in the 1980s-1990s throughout Northeast America. This remarkable feature of the album made it even more unique and really hit home for the artist. Beyoncé established her sheer credibility and assumed the honor to proudly give Queer pioneers their well-deserved flowers and trophies.
“COZY” (produced by trans advocate DJ Honey Dijon), the afrobeat-infused shock of percussion ecstasy featured Beyoncé effortlessly giving us flawless vocal runs with a zestful swagger. She dove into singing about loving herself, her skin, her thickness, her career, and found a chance to relish in her longevity in the industry. But what is most clever and pushed the pen even further is within the second verse.
She carried this untouchable flow that it can be easy to miss at first listen, but Beyoncé artfully described the Progress Pride Flag designed by Daniel Quasar.
“Black like love too deep/ Dance to the soles of my feet/
Green eyes envy me/ Paint the world pussy pink/
Blue like the soul I crowned/ Purple drank and couture gowns/
Gold fangs a shade God made/ Blue, black, white and brown/
Paint the town red like cinnamon/ Yellow diamonds, limoncello glisterin’/
Rainbow gelato in the streets/”
She followed these lines by stating that you are a god and a hero, “You survived all you’ve been through.” She successfully inserted Queer individuals into the song – even a brilliant motherly shoutout to Blue Ivy. She further breathes confidence and strength into each one of us.
Being a member of the Queer community, we know what it feels like to be burnt from the dagger of words, but Beyoncé gave us the strength to kiss those scars and be comfortable; to be cozy–as she sang.
“HEATED” carried a blend of funk, afrobeats, and a level of restrained rage that made you sweat from the heat. Beyoncé is almost saying to her man that she is going to get her life back, since she knows her worth and knows that there are many men waiting to ‘spend some time on it.’
She is so unapologetically petty on this track that one cannot help but gasp. What makes this song stand out for Queer beauty and ballroom culture lies within the last 90 seconds of the song.
Beyoncé assumed full ballroom emcee responsibility and placed the listener on the stage. She paid tremendous homage to the past and the jargon used as reinforcement in a heated ballroom competition. Further inserting Queer people into the narrative of being a 10 and a having a face card that will never decline… my God! She brought us life, and again breathes confidence into gay people after decades of being disregarded by society, which may be one of the most valuable sensations felt from this album. Although this portion of the track led to controversy, one has to recognize the connotations of language from the past and how it can inform the present.
“CUFF IT” and “VIRGO’S GROOVE” are by far some of the gayest songs I have heard this year. Disco is back and disco is gay, so of course this sent tidal waves into the past and allowed us a chance to truly embrace the beauty that a genre carried that Black and Brown Queer communities are responsible for.
This short lived genre took over the 70s and bled into the 80s, which paved the way for house and electronic music. Disco was a genre where many Queer communities found home and identity in, and hearing it once more from an artist like Beyoncé showed how much of an influence Queer culture was and continues to be for her.
“CUFF IT” served as her love letter to disco and what nightlife used to look like back in the day. Reminiscent of the glory days of Studio 54 of the 1970s, where gay identity was uplifted and where the ball never ended. Whereas “VIRGO’S GROOVE” is this eclectic vocal nirvana of synths and soul. The songs feel masterfully Queer and brought Bey to a higher ground of artistic excellence; being responsible for the cultural justice that is highlighting the contributions of QPOC of the past.
She further sampled the ultimate gay icon Queen of Disco, the late Donna Summer in “SUMMER RENAISSANCE,” which sounded like a conjuring of the disco icon’s soul as Summer’s voice awkwardly exited off-beat into the distance. This is not the only example of utilizing actual voices from the past; she also featured famous 90s drag queen, the late Moi Renee for “PURE/HONEY.”
Beyond serving as homage for Queer pride and history, Beyoncé also investigated self-love, fame, shaking some ass, relational tension, anger, sexual freedom, finding the drive to grind, and overall being a stone cold unbreakable dime-piece. Juggling all these topics, Beyoncé truly proved to us exactly why she is that girl.
The album was an immediate success topping the Billboard 200 with over 300,000 records sold with the lead single, “BREAK MY SOUL” reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 making this her eighth #1 single and seventh consecutive album debuting on top of the chart respectively. All 16 tracks also charted on the Hot 100; an impressive feat she accomplished with Lemonade back in 2016.
Beyoncé has shown us just how far Queer Pride has come and even where it is heading, which is beyond something generically mainstream and moreso something that is worthy of praise and historical significance. Ballroom began for and by Queer Black and Brown individuals who were denied from society and stifled into a degrading box. Yet, these pioneers molded that box into a bountiful reservoir of elegance, grace, beauty, and high-fashion; elements they were restricted from based on their skin and sexual identity.
Beyoncé is spearheading this revival of short lived history and calling us to find joy and inspiration from it, much like she did with her Uncle Jonny.
Overall, “Renaissance” is setting into motion a cultural reset that will bring Queer acceptance and also a new breath of life that simply impels our bodies to embrace the pain, but find the groove to move.