By Terrance Turner
July 29, 2022 (UPDATED Feb. 1, 2023)
Beyonce’s new album is here.
The long-awaited seventh solo album by Queen Bey has arrived. It was released at midnight ET, after months of intrigue and an online leak just 36 hours before the scheduled release. As the official release time neared, Beyonce addressed the leak in a handwritten note to fans:
“So, the album leaked, and you all actually waited until the proper release time so you all can enjoy it together,” she wrote. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I can’t thank y’all enough for your love and protection. I appreciate you for calling out anyone that was trying to sneak into the club early. It means the world to me,” she continued.
“Thank you for your unwavering support. Thank you for being patient. We are going to take our time and enjoy the music. I will continue to give my all and do my best to bring you joy.”
Joy is a theme throughout the record. It’s a daring, danceable and lyrically dense collection of songs that bring together genres like bounce, house, dance and disco. Houston Chronicle presciently predicted that it would be Beyonce’s most explicit record yet. And Renaissance is indeed provocative and profane — a raunchy, revealing look into the mind of a reclusive, elusive superstar.
The mood is set immediately on the album’s first track, “I’m That Girl”.
“I’m That Girl”
“It’s not the diamonds; it’s not the pearls. I’m that girl,” she sings in the intro. “It’s not my man. It’s not my stance. I’m that girl.” Later, she declares her power and impact, amidst ethereal background vocals: “From the top of the morning I shine, right through the blinds/Touching everything in my plain view/And everything around me gets lit up too.”
“I didn’t want this power,” she says. “I ain’t want it.”
“You know love is my weakness,” she admits. “Don’t need drugs for some freak s–t. I’m just high all the time/I’m out of my mind.”
“I’m tweakin’,” she tells us. And that’s the moment she segues into a monotone detail of what she has planned. “Freakin’/On the weekend/I’m indecent/Let it begin.”
Let it begin.
The New York Times noted: “The album’s second and third tracks, “Cozy” and “Alien Superstar,” feature writing and production by the Chicago-born house-music D.J. and producer Honey Dijon.” Raised on the South Side of Chicago, Honey Dijon began clubbing in her teens and was a DJ on the Chicago house scene in the 1990s. This is crucial. Chicago is the birthplace of house music.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, house music is a style of high-tempo electronic dance music that originated in Chicago in the late 1970s and early ’80s. DJs pioneered the style in Chicago clubs largely frequented by Black and Latino gay men.
Those clubs birthed “ballroom culture,” in which drag queens held pageants that were initially similar to beauty pageants. Within that subculture, members formed “houses”, which served as surrogate families for LGBT youth estranged from their families. (More on that later.)
The second track, “Cozy”, is an ode to self-love and self-esteem. “Comfortable in my skin/Cozy with who I am,” Beyonce sings. “Comfortable in my skin/Feet up above your sins/I love myself.” She muses on the true motives of her detractors: “They hate me/’Cause they want me.”
Then, out of nowhere, she stuns the listener with a dazzling lyrical sequence, rife with colorful imagery:
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, white, black and brownFrom “Cozy”
Beyonce references her daughter Blue Ivy Carter and the “purple drank” popular in Bey’s hometown of Houston.
“Paint the town red like cinnamon
Yellow diamonds, limoncello glistenin’
Rainbow gelato in the streets
Renaissance, yachtin’ in Capri.”
Inside The Ballroom
As previously mentioned, “ballroom culture” emerged from the same gay club scene as house music. But ballroom culture transformed over time. Per Vice, “Prior to the late 60s, “ballroom culture” revolved around drag pageants that were more like fashion shows or beauty pageants than what we come to know a ball as today. These events went back as far as the 1920s and included actual ballroom dancing. Drag queens of color weren’t often involved—their color was expected to be lightened when they were—and rarely won prizes.”
In the 1970s, things changed. Black drag queen Crystal LaBeija — tired of the racism she often encountered at drag balls — was approached by a Harlem queen named Lottie to help promote a ball for Black queens. Lottie also convinced LaBeija to start a group and call it the “House of LaBeija”. She agreed. According to Medium, their event was reportedly titled: “Crystal & Lottie LaBeija presents the first annual House of Labeija Ball at Up the Downstairs Case on West 115th Street & 5th Avenue in Harlem, NY.”
Following that event, a new subculture formed. LaBeija is credited with creating the ball’s “house” system. In it, Black queens (called “mother”) would prepare youth for competition and provide guidance and mentorship. Standard Hotels says these “houses” formed “to create a safe place and family structure for young queer kids who were often rejected by their biological families and were essentially homeless.”
This is the culture of “Alien Superstar”.
Nylon Magazine noted: “With songwriting credits including famed trans producer Honey Dijon, “Alien Superstar” is more than a nod to ballroom culture, it’s an embrace. The song opens first with a warning to not leave the dance floor. It’s followed by a declaration by Bey that she is “One of one/I’m number one/I’m the only one/Don’t even waste your time trying to compete with me.”
“Alien Superstar” is a pounding house track with lyrics recalling the drag ballroom world of the TV drama Pose: “Unique/That’s what you are/Stilettos kicking vintage crystal off the bar. Category: bad b—h/I’m the bar/Alien Superstar.”
On the (beautiful) chorus, Beyonce interpolates a 1992 hit by Right Said Fred: “I’m too classy for this world/Forever, I’m that girl/Feed you diamonds and pearls.”
“Cuff It” has a bouncy ’70s disco feel, with a bassline that echoes Chic’s “Good Times” (Chic member Nile Rodgers has a co-writing credit.) “We gon’ f–k up the night,” Beyonce sings on the breezy, feels good track. “I’m in the mood to f–k something up.”
“Energy” is a propulsive, catchy collaboration with rapper Beam, on which Beyonce references the 2020 election. “Just vibe/Votin’ out 45, don’t get outta line,” Beyonce sings in the beginning. “Only double lines we cross is dollar signs.” A minute in, the track segues into an infectious dancehall groove: “He was on stop mode/Got froze/ Front front page Vogue/No pose,” Beam intones.
“Break My Soul”
The sixth song is the lead single, “Break My Soul”. The pulsing dance track features the perspective of a hard-working woman a new perspective:
I just fell in love
And I just quit my job
I just found new drive/Damn, they work me so damn hard
Work by nine/Then off past five
And they work my nerves
That’s why I cannot sleep at night”
However, the chorus promises a new attitude.
“MOTIVATION/I’m looking for a new foundation/And I’m on that new vibration/I’m building my own foundation,” she sings. “You won’t break my soul. And I’m telling everybody.”
Giving Robin S. Her Flowers
“Break My Soul” contains elements of “Show Me Love”, the 1993 hit remix of a song by singer Robin S. “Show Me Love” writers Allen George and Fred McFarlane are credited on the song. Robin S. found out from her son that she was trending thanks to Beyonce’s homage. Robin S. — real name Robin Jackson Maynard — went on British TV last Wednesday. She thanked Beyoncé “for giving me my flowers while I’m still alive.”
The track has a dizzying sample containing elements of bounce music. The Times explains: “Bounce is a New Orleans-bred dance-music style that’s dizzyingly fast, bass intensive and heavy on call and response; twerking emerged in response to it.”
Additionally, the track also features a spoken chant from bounce music queen Big Freedia. The message: “Release your anger, release your mind/ Release your job, release the time/ Release your trade, release the stress/ Release the love, forget the rest.”
The seventh track is one of the most provocative. “Church Girl” opens with a sample of gospel music legends. The intro samples gospel quartet The Clark Sisters’ 1981 track “Center of Thy Will,” where they sing: “I wanna be centered in thy will.”
Accordingly, Beyonce begins with Biblical references. “I’ve been up. I’ve been down./Felt like I move mountains/Got friends that cried fountains.”
This mirrors Matthew 17:20 :
I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove. And nothing shall be impossible unto you.From the New Testament
“Got friends that cried fountains” references Jeremiah 9:1:
Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people
But then the mood shifts. On the pre-chorus, Beyonce delivers a warning.
I’m warnin’ everybody
Soon as I get in this party
I’m gon’ let go of this body
I’m gonna love on me
Nobody can judge me but me (Ooh)
I was born free (Ooh, ooh)
The song presents a kind of duality: for every girl who’s thrown it back in the club on Saturdays knowing she’s got church in the morning, this song is for you.
“Plastic Off The Sofa”
Subsequently, the mood shifts again. This next song is for anyone in love — especially over a long period of time. In “Plastic Off the Sofa,” Beyonce takes a long, lingering look at her partner and how he is: I know you can’t help but to be yourself ’round me/And I know nobody’s perfect, so I’ll let you be. I’ll let you be,” she sings. And then, in a high, breathy head voice, Beyonce reflects on what she loves about her husband.
It’s the way you wear your emotions on both of your sleeves
To the face you make when I tell you that I have to leave
“We don’t need the world’s approval,” she reminds her husband.
This story will be updated.
BREAKING NEWS: BEYONCE has announced a “Renaissance World Tour”. It’s her first solo tour in seven years.
According to the New York Times, the tour begins in Sweden. “Beginning on May 10 in Stockholm, and continuing in Europe through June before coming to North America, the Renaissance World Tour, in support of her seventh solo album, will run for at least 40 dates, largely in stadiums, according to dates posted to Beyoncé’s website. The tour includes one night at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey (July 29) and one at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. (Sept. 2) amid stops in Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto, Atlanta, Phoenix and Miami.”
The tour, produced by Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment and promoted by Live Nation, will use Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan system, which aims to limit bots and professional scalpers. That system came under fire weeks ago, after it malfunctioned while Taylor Swift fans were trying to buy tickets. When Swift announced her
“Eras” tour, demand got so high that Ticketmaster crashed. Fans were left waiting in the queue for hours. Congress has since launched hearings to address the crisis.