By Terrance Turner
Last night, ABC aired its prime-time special on “The Lion King”, the live-action retelling of the classic 1994 animated film. The special featured intriguing details about the making of the original film and its adaptation to the stage. ABC also included interviews with the voices behind the current version: Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Alfre Woodard, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, among others. But the most memorable voice was that of the film’s Nala: Beyonce Knowles-Carter.
The special premiered the official music video for “Spirit”, the first single off the Lion King: The Gift, an album of original music inspired by the film. (Spin magazine writer Tosten Burns points out that this album is separate from the actual Lion King soundtrack, which came out last week.) In an exclusive interview that aired during the special, Beyonce called the album “a love letter to Africa”.
“Spirit”, written by Ilya Salmanzadeh, Timothy Lee McKenzie, and Beyonce, begins with two men chanting “Long live the king” in Swahili. Beyonce gently delivers the song’s opening verse, which escalates to a stirring chorus. Her sultry voice is joined by a choir, and the song begins to build. By the second chorus, she and the choir are at full-throttle, backed by a driving beat and synchronized handclaps.
“Your destiny is coming close,” she sings. “Stand up and fight.” Suddenly, the swelling arrangement drops to a whisper in the bridge — hushed vocals and soft piano. “So go into that far off land, and be one with the great ‘I AM’. A boy becomes a man,” Beyonce sings, in a gorgeous falsetto that rises higher and higher. By the three-minute mark, she’s in the stratosphere, displaying her incredible range.
That stunning moment leads to a rousing, gospelly finale. Beyonce belts out the final choruses in impassioned, melismatic fashion, powerfully combining with the choir. She returns to a gentle, delicate head voice for the song’s final bars.
The song itself is noteworthy, but the music video, which premiered last night, surpasses it. Beyonce explained the video in an interview for the ABC special. “The concept of the video is to show how God is the painter, and natural beauty — and nature — needs no art direction,” she said. “It’s the beauty of nature, the beauty of melanin, the beauty of tradition.”
“Spirit” was filmed at Havasu Falls, a waterfall within Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Beyonce is shown seated, wearing a voluminous, ruffled dress of lilac and red. Early on, there’s an appearance by her daughter Blue Ivy Carter, who walks up (in lavender ruffles) to take her mother’s hand. The Havasu Falls appear about a minute in; draped in dramatic royal blue, Beyonce begins the chorus in front of the waterfall. Throughout the four-minute video, scenes from the film are interspersed with shots of Queen Bey. Clad in colorful, flowing costumes, Beyonce performs the song with an array of dancers in various desert locales.
In less than 24 hours, “Spirit” has amassed 5.3 million views on YouTube. It is currently #1 in YouTube’s “Trending” section. Beyonce’s album will debut the same day as the film. “The Lion King” hits theaters on Friday, July 19. Watch the “Spirit” video below.