Okay, it’s been a few years since she’s released anything, we might need a refresher. After making huge waves in the late 90’s and early 2000’s in girl group Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé developed a god like status in the mid to late 2000’s with her first four solo albums, holding a grip on the public in a way that we don’t often see from pop stars anymore. It’s easy to see why; in pretty much every way, Beyoncé comes across as flawless - and that’s partially why I could never get into it. Obviously she is talented, but the Queen Bee persona and the music that came with it was so perfect that it felt like it had no edge or stakes. However, Beyoncé must have realized she was big enough that she could make whatever kind of music she wanted in any way she wanted without the possibility of it failing because she started making more creative music in more creative ways. Her self titled was surprise dropped with no prior announcement or rollout, her work started being more album focused instead of singles, her life has become increasingly private with each passing year, she started experimenting with visual albums, her music started becoming more experimental, and she dropped a 2010’s classic in the form of “Lemonade”, an alternative R&B/art pop album/movie about the disintegration and resolution of her relationship to Jay-Z due to infidelity as well as an exploration of black trauma and family curses.
Since “Lemonade” Beyoncé has been relatively quiet on the music end. She did a collab album with Jay-Z that kind of came and went, a live album, a high profile role in remake of “The Lion King” and an accompanying album that also was short lived, a few features on other artists’s singles, and that’s been it for six years. However, it seems like Beyoncé is planning to make up for lost time with a THREE PART PROJECT, and our first taste of it comes in the form of Act I, titled “RENAISSANCE” While we don’t know much about this project’s full scale and what it entails, we do know that it was all created during the last three years during the pandemic. “RENAISSANCE”, specifically, is about leaving your problems at the door and trying to find escape and freedom. That’s obviously a sentiment a lot of people have been searching for these past few years, especially with COVID protocols being close to lifted and people wanting to go back out and party. Smartly enough, in order to capture the essence of this mindset, and also to pay tribute to her late queer uncle Johnny, “RENAISSANCE” takes cues from house, dance, and modern club music.
Holy fuck, we finally got a great house album this year. Thank god, the gays are finally eating a good meal.
Okay, as a queer woman who still loves partying and prefers bops over vibes, I frankly got nervous about how this was going to turn out considering I’ve had mixed feelings about club kid music’s slow rise that’s likely going to take over. On one hand, I want the kind of music I and many queer people enjoy to become popular and for more people to love it. On the other, god damn the house music that has gotten popular is often so formulaic, watered down, and frankly cheap. I blame Todrick Hall and RuPaul, they’ve rainbow capitalism’d the hell out of this sound. Hell, even Charli XCX, who usually makes GREAT electronic dance music, released two house inspired tracks that I thought were a letdown this year. On top of that, we just had a music A-lister drop a terrible house album only a month ago in the form of Drake’s “Honestly, Nevermind”. Somehow the man took one of the most lively and gay music genres and sucked all of the life and gayness out of it. Needless to say, I was concerned about the final outcome of Beyoncé’s latest album.
But not only is “RENAISSANCE” a good dance album, it’s a love letter to the genre. As I said before, her uncle Johnny was the one who introduced her to the music that inspired this album, and not only can you tell that the album is filled with love towards the style of music as well as him, but it’s clear that she has a lengthy history and respect for its origins, not just from how well the album is done but the little nods she takes to the genre’s history. The many use of samples of classic house songs, interpolating melody’s and hooks of more well known tracks, tapping club kid and LGBTQ+ icons to help craft and produce the music, have lesser known up and comers in the scene help produce the music, making the album flow like a DJ set. I had no idea that Beyoncé had any attachment to this style of music, so I was really surprised to see that she knows her shit about the scene. I’m honestly just amazed this exists, an album that brings together the likes of Beyoncé, Grace Jones, Tems, Beam, Honey Dijon, Mike Dean, Skrillex, Hit-Boy, BloodPop, and A. G. Cook, and also samples the likes of Ts Madison, Tommy Wright III, Right Said Fred, Kelis, The Neptunes, Robin S, Big Freedia, James Brown, and Donna Summer. Half the fun of this album is just seeing how it calls back to the history of club music either by hearing what it samples, who it features creatively contributing, or the scenes of the past such as neo-dancehall, disco, garage, jungle, hyperpop, and so on. But as much as showing your knowledge of the genre can be fun and exciting, none of it matters if the music isn’t good. How does “RENAISSANCE” sound?
It’s nonstop bops, that’s how it sounds!
Goddamn, this is such a good dance album. The drums are so punchy and hard hitting, the synths, strings, and keys are so bright and shimmery, the bass is so low, heavy, and growling that it rips your soul out of your gut. All of the mixes sound fantastic; everything sounds clean and distinct while still managing to have the impact of a great dance beat, the album sounds like its cover art looks. Every song is filled with catchy hooks and great quotables, there are so many moments here you won’t be able to resist singing along to. The transitions between each song sounds great, each track flows well into each other, and some song are even mixed and incorporated into the previous or following track so it sounds more like a DJ set. And Beyoncé as a vocalist sounds better than ever. It goes without saying her singing vocals sound great, she’s able to ride the line of complex and impressive vocal acrobatics while making it sound completely effortless and is able to harmonize so smoothly like butter. But she also slides into this style of music so well, whether she’s singing fun disco tracks, taking on the role of a house diva, or chanting like a ballroom emcee. In fact, I think the flawless diva persona that I wasn’t into in the past actually works really well with this sound, because so much club kid music is about using the idea of opulence as a form of escapism and fantasy. Every song feels like you’re in the most expensive club in New York, wearing designer everything, drinking top shelf cocktails, and singing and dancing to an amazing DJ set surrounded by the coolest musicians, models, and drag artists you’ve ever seen in your life.
If you haven’t gathered from what I’ve written so far, I loved the fuck out of “RENAISSANCE”. You probably could have easily expected that if you know anything about my tastes, this is basically BaddieBaphometBait and I took it hook, line, and sinker. It’s such an artsy and high class take on house and dance music that pays homage to the scene and it’s history while also sounding exciting and new. And not to harp on THAT album any more than I have to before the year end lists, but this is how great the genre could be if you actually invest time and effort into creating a great album and actually have love and respect for the genre you’re working in. I have no idea what Beyoncé’s plans are for the other two acts of this project, I’d be happy if they were something different, but I would also be happy if it was more dance music if it’s as good as what we heard on here. Is it as good or better than “Lemonade”? I don’t really know, they’re both very different albums. One features Beyoncé confronting generations of trauma, the other is letting go and escapism from the hardship you’ve been enduring, and they do both really well. I think which one you prefer is likely going to come down to whatever mindset speaks to you more. All I’ll say is that I’m loving the turn Beyoncé’s artistry has taken over the past decade and how she’s managed to surprise me when I thought I’ve pinned her down, and “RENAISSANCE” is the soundtrack the best gay dance party of the year.
She came, she slayed, she served cunt, and I live for it.
Thank you all for reading this far! I unfortunately finally got COVID, so I could only focus my interview on one review this week. Don’t worry, I plan on catching up with some new releases in the next few days now that I’m starting to feel better. Please remember to vote in the poll I linked below by 8/19 to help pick which artist’s discography I cover next! https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe0tKkY7uql1pSKlBIm5y_ChLrHhhiWzSB2GUe9LtIWindNSQ/viewform