By Terrance Turner
July 29, 2022
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 that occurred 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, 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”. “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: “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, amidst ethereal background vocals. “You know love is my weakness.”
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 began performing as a DJ on the Chicago house scene in the 1990s. This is crucial, as 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. Out of those clubs sprang “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: “Comfortable in my skin/Cozy with who I am,” Beyonce sings. “Comfortable in my skin/Feet up above your sins/I love myself.” Out of nowhere, she stuns the listener with a dazzling series of lyrical colors
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. Then she goes even further: “Paint the town red like cinnamon/Yellow diamonds, limoncello glistenin’/Rainbow gelato in the streets/Renaissance, yachtin’ in Capri.”
As previously mentioned, “ballroom culture” emerged from the same gay club scene as house music. But ball culture was transformed over time. According to 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, 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.”
Out of that event, a new subculture formed: LaBeija is now credited with creating the ball’s “house” system, in which Black queens (called “mother”) would not only prepare youth for competition but also provide guidance and mentorship. As Standard Hotels put it, these collective “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 referenced on tracks like “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, 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 music 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 bitch/I’m the bar/Alien Superstar.” On the 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.) “Energy” is a propulsive 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.
The sixth song is the lead single, “Break My Soul”. The pulsing dance track features the perspective of a hard-working woman looking for 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.” But 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.”
“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 to thank Beyoncé “for giving me my flowers while I’m still alive.”
The track has a dizzying sample containing elements of bounce music. As the Times put it: 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. then features a spoken chant from bounce music queen Big Freedia: “Release your anger, release your mind/ Release your job, release the time/ Release your trade, release the stress/ Release the love, forget the rest.”
This story will be updated.