It’s been exactly one month since Beyoncé released her seventh studio album, “Renaissance," into the world.
And I’ve listened to it nearly every day since.
Now, this isn’t Beyhive propaganda about how Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is the greatest entertainer and singer alive since the dawn of time, but even a cynic like me can admit that “Renaissance” is Beyoncé at her best.
Her 2016 album, “Lemonade," was a mixture of sad ballads, revenge fantasies and empowering anthems – primarily stoking the rumors of her husband Jay-Z’s infidelity. We were all getting in formation, united in our contempt for him, the villain in the album’s narrative – though simultaneously satisfied that we now knew why Solange was trying to fight him in that elevator.
A lot has changed since “Lemonade.” Beyoncé gave birth to her twins, Rumi and Sir Carter, in 2017. That same year, Jay-Z was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and used those renowned skills to publicly apologize through his own album “4:44.”
The couple then collaborated on a more upbeat and optimistic project in 2018 called “Everything is Love,” full of Black capitalist anthems about their wealth and the wealth of their great-great-grandchildren and assurances that their marriage was back on track.
And then the world fell apart.
It’s fair to say that nothing has been the same since the ongoing global pandemic that started in 2020. Since then, over a million people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 and the rest of us are left with our grief and have to navigate a new normal.
And the pandemic is only part of what feels like the never-ending chaos of the past few months and years. There’s war in Ukraine. An outbreak of monkeypox. Inflation and the increased cost of housing, groceries, gas and more. An exacerbated mental health crisis. The overturning of a constitutional right that was upheld for nearly half a century prior.
Beyoncé’s newest album emerges as an act of rebellion against these events and circumstances that have the potential to tear us down and break our souls. There’s no singular villain in the story that “Renaissance” tells, but an emphasis on triumphing and reclaiming joy despite all the bad.
Her choice to layer the album with variations of dance-centric genres like house and disco is the perfect way to deliver this message of joy. House music, specifically, was created in the U.S. within Black and queer communities — ones that know all about finding a reason to celebrate life despite the weight of racist, homophobic and transphobic oppression.
Despite being as quintessentially American as jazz, country or hip-hop, house hasn’t reached mainstream popularity in America, instead finding traction in parts of Europe. But Beyoncé isn’t the only pop star tapping into the sound. Drake’s surprise summer album, “Honestly, Nevermind,” is a similar (albeit seemingly rushed) project that includes influences from Baltimore and New Jersey house subcultures.
The seamless transitions on “Renaissance” create what almost feels like an hour-long song from the 16-tracks, during which nothing else matters except the choreography we’ve created in our heads (until she releases the visuals).
The album champions unabashed confidence in oneself. It asks us to embrace our uniqueness, our Blackness, our sexuality. To love on our bodies, our partners and our communities. To grab a group of friends and dance like no one is watching – on official dance floors or on makeshift ones in our bedrooms. To be okay with any attention, because we are the main character and the main attraction.
“Renaissance” also offers impressive production and vocals. Beyoncé knows how to balance her own distinctive vocal styling with new sounds, and recruits the right people to make it work.
Collaborators on “Renaissance” include Jay-Z, Tems, Raphael Saadiq, Pharrell Williams, Syd, Labrinth, Grace Jones and Honey Dijon. Samples include songs performed by James Brown, Donna Summer, Teena Marie and Big Freedia. “Renaissance” is the creation of a dream team of producers, writers and musicians, and their hard work and attention to detail is clear on every track.
Though I wouldn’t take Beyoncé literally (AKA – don’t quit your day job), embrace her message of joy and take a little with you every day. The next time you’re walking across campus or in need of a break from work, take a listen. I’m sure that, like me, you’ll discover a new favorite song each time and find yourself coming back for more.
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