Renaissance by Beyonce | Album Review
Beyonce is back with her love letter to dance music, the ballroom scene, and LGBTQ+ culture.
You can’t deny the superstar quality of Beyonce. Her iconic status has been solidified since her 2008 album I Am … Sasha Fierce. Her 2016 epic Lemonade was truly an experience as she unabashedly discussed infidelity, resentment, and empowerment. All of this was displayed visually through a film that conceded with the record.
Since that project, Beyonce has released a live album, worked with her husband Jay-Z on The Carters album, and acted in the Lion King movie. We would have to wait until 2022 for Beyonce to spring a new album on us out of seemingly nowhere.
The era appears to be a trilogy, with her first release, Renaissance, being the first stop in this project. She continues along the lines of a conceptual project with this release. This time the album is both a love letter to dance/house/disco music and the LGBTQ+ community.
Similar to the work Madonna did with “Vogue,” which Beyonce will reference in a remix off this album, she includes a heavy amount of references and reverence for the ballroom scene and gay culture throughout the album’s 16 tracks.
We open the album on the swagger of “I’M THAT GIRL.” The opening sample of “Still Pimpin’” by Tommy Wright III feat. Princess Loko and Mac T-Dog sets the scene for the track. The song feels like a warm-up for what’s to come. It’s more ambient through the synths, pulsing bass, and more subtle beat. It’ll definitely get your head bobbing.
Beyonce touts her flawlessness and powerful stance at the top of her game. Under the umbrella of this club and diva/drag-like persona, the energy works.
With “COZY,” Beyonce speaks from a place of pride in who she is and who she has become. The song has a very clear theme of LBGTQ+ pride. It comes out most clearly in the song’s second verse, where she plays off the various colors of the progress pride flag. The lines, “Damn, I love the burning of the dagger/ From the words that you say (Fuck, yeah)/ Dancin’ in the mirror, kiss my scars/ Because I love what they made,” play to the strength that many in the community have to gather to survive. I appreciate the place of power she gives those in the LGBTQ+ community here.
Beyonce uses samples of trans personality T.S. Madison’s “Bitch I’m Black,” which only furthers the empowerment of those people of color in the community.
If you are active at all on TikTok, you have probably heard “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” in some capacity. The hum of these vintage synth tones casts the song in a bright haze that takes you back to Studio 54 during the prime of the disco revolution.
I love the homage Beyonce pays to house and disco music through the various samples she uses. The song samples “Unique” by Danube Dance feat. Kim Cooper at the beginning of the track. You get a nice reference to ballroom culture, “Stilеttos kicking vintage crystal off the bar/ Category: bad bitch, I’m thе bar/Alien superstar.” When the song goes from this spoken word confidence into the chorus, it blooms into the disco floor's brightness. The hook is undeniable when you hear it.
The sample at the end, a snippet of Barbara Ann Teer’s speech “Black Theater,” adds another layer of black empowerment and resilience to the fabulous vibes she’s put out throughout the track.
“CUFF IT” brings in a delicious amount of funk into this disco/dance-pop flavored track. The chorus is probably familiar to those who frequent TikTok as it has been used frequently in various videos. There is a sultriness that reminded me of Teena Marie, who Beyonce interpolates through a reference to 1988’s “Ooo La La La.” It sounds both like the smoky funk of an 80s club and modern at the same time.
Beyonce’s created a great song to put on when you’re ready to get turnt up, out and about at night. It’s one of the many songs I find myself singing along to long after I have heard the track. I’m sure after one listen, you’ll be singing, “We gon’ fuck up the night, black lights/ Spaceships fly, yeah (Spaceships fly)/ Unapologetic when we fuck up the night, fuck up the night/ We gettin’ fucked up tonight.” It’s a stellar song and wonderfully authentic to its vintage dance funk roots.
“ENERGY” gives off a little bit of reggaeton flavor once the song hits the chorus with BEAM. Beyonce still keeps her dance floor essence throughout the song. It seamlessly moves from the last track into the pump-you-up energy that the title alludes to. This energy we’re bringing is not only hype but casts over the political right and their racist and homophobic rhetoric. The song marries the energy of the last song with this interpolation of Teena Marie’s “Ooo La La La.”
Big Freeda’s sample of “Explode” provides the perfect charge in the atmosphere for this and the next track. Earlier releases of this track also interpolated Kelis’s “Milkshake,” but after some controversy with Kelis on its use, Beyonce omitted it from all online and future releases.
Our first taste of Beyonce’s 90s house-inspired sound was with the lead single “BREAK MY SOUL.” She samples/interpolates Robin S.’s hit dance track “Show Me Love” (Stonebridge Mix) through the same synth programming and a similar melody.
To add a more hype tone to the track, Beyonce brings in the Big Freeda sample of “Explode.” The song very much seeks self-empowerment with a healthy dose of queer coding, “The queens in the front and the Doms in the back (ohh, let’s go, let’s go)/ Ain’t takin’ no flicks but the whole clique snapped (ohh, let’s-)/ There’s a whole lot of people in the house.”
All this brings to mind the glorious ballroom culture brought up in Paris is Burning (a movie I highly recommend on LGBTQ+ history and culture). This sense of pride and confidence is a way to repel the prejudice and hatred shown to queer people of color. Beyonce pays her respects beautifully here. For the remix, she even brings in Madonna for a spin on her 1990 ballroom-inspired smash “Vogue.” For the iconic bridge of that Madonna song, Beyonce opts to list the many iconic black women that have influenced culture.
“CHURCH GIRL” breaks us free of the bindings of religious shame as we free ourselves on the dancefloor. The opening sample of The Clark Sister’s “Center of Thy Will” gives us a spiritual vibe before the track dives into a thick trap-like beat.
The callouts to Lyn Collins's “Think (About It)” and DJ Jimi’s “Where They At” only add to Beyonce’s call to let your freak out and release your inhibitions. Her call against the judgmental nature of those pious people who cast a negative view on female sexuality pours through the lines, “She ain’t tryna hurt nobody (Ooh)/ She just tryna do the best she can (Ooh)/ Happy on her own (Ooh)/ With her friends, without a man.” I really like this spiritual cleansing that she offers here.
After the emotional release relating to infidelity on both Beyonce’s Lemonade and Jay-Z’s 4:44, “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA” takes us to a place of respect and reverence that Beyonce has towards the relationship. It’s a sultry sound with a prominent groovy bass line and airy R&B sound that takes me all the way back to the 1970s. I almost feel like I should be roller skating to this track. Even Beyonce’s vocal delivery takes a breathy effortless tone that completely matches the vibe. Her softness matches the sense of affection, pride, and understanding she puts out for her husband.
“VIRGO’S GROOVE” begs for sexual release. The space-age synth tones take us into the funk revival of the early 1980s. The instrumentals are absolutely delicious. I get a little Price and the Revolution, Ricky James, and Teena Marie through the sexuality that Beyonce exudes, “Cuddled up on the couch/ Motorboat, baby, spin around/ Slow-mo comin’ out my blouse/ I want it right here, right now.” Even her backing vocals feel completely retro in delivery. It’s one of my favorites on the album.
“MOVE” is an afrobeat-inspired club banger. Beyonce taps iconic model and singer Grace Jones and Nigerian artist Tems to add to the track's vibe. Beyonce and her girls command the room, “Move out the way/ I’m with my girls and we all need space (Woo)/ When the queen come through, part like the Red Sea/ Move out the way.” It’s a great song to pump you and your crew up before you set foot into the club.
“HEATED” takes us back into the soft focus of retro-inspired R&B guitars against a hip-shaking reggaeton beat that pulls you from your seat. This is a perfect song to dance out your anger to. Beyonce bites back by letting us know she’s holding back her raging wildfire, “I gotta cool down, heated (Fan me off like hot, hot, hot)/ (Like stolen Chanel, put me up in jail).” It’s not only an ode to fuck around and find out, but her rich confidence adds to the power she puts through in her anger.
We get more hip-hop-inspired sound on “THIQUE.” Beyonce’s delivery is languorous as she draws out each word through her spoken cadence. The stripped-down tone brings the bing rap of the early 2000s.
Beyonce echos this vibe through the braggadocious flaunting of her riches and fabulosity. This could be a turn-off for some, but from the frame point of this project, it just adds to the hype feeling we’ve been building throughout the record.
Beyonce gets into a more experimental house sound on “ALL UP IN YOUR MIND.” The various buzzes and heavy synth bass take me into some of the more industrial sounds that Bjork or Tricky were experimenting with in the mid-90s.
This charged sound really shocks into motion. Beyonce matches this energy well through her vocal delivery. The murkier sound plays really well at her need to be the center of this man’s desire. It’s a commanding need, “I try to get all up in your mind/ It stops at a crime and I’m gonna make you mine,” Beyonce puts worth in her words.
We continue this darker rave style sound on “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM.” Beyonce samples Kilo’s 1991 track “America Has a Problem (Cocaine) that adds a 90s hip-hop flavor and an interesting ominous tone against the synth lines.
As someone who thoroughly enjoys a good moody dance track, this was right up my alley. Beyonce makes a sort of metaphor out of this sample by comparing her sexual prowess to the addictive nature of cocaine, “Your ex-dealer dope, but it ain’t crack enough/ I’m supplying my man, I’m in demand soon as I land.” It’s quite a clever play on the topic. Again, the more oppressive instrumentation plays well into the vibe Beyonce wants to give.
“PURE/HONEY” opens on samples of Kevin Aviance’s “Cunty” and MikeQ feat. Kevin JZ Prodigy’s “Feels Like” completely set the scene. It’s queen energy, both in the royal and drag sense. The use of the pejorative “cunt(y)” in the song’s opening is more to show her impressive demeanor. Beyonce commands the room in her style, stance, and ambiance, “Don’t my girls look so yummy, yummy?/ All the boys want my honey from me/ It should cost a billion to look that good/ But she make it look easy ’cause she got it.”
The first section marries perfectly with the energy of the prior track. The second half (“HONEY”) brings in the absolutely fantastic sample of “Miss Honey” from Moi Renee. This is where some of the real disco diva vibes begin to come in. By this point, Beyonce’s all riled up and ready to get down to business, “I’ll get you stuck (Stuck),/ stuck in my love (Stuck in my love)/ Stuck in my honey/ Honey, honey, hon’/ I’ll put the sweet (Sweet), sweet on your tongue.”
Beyonce sends us a love letter to disco on “SUMMER RENAISSANCE.” She even samples in and interpolates Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” giving the nod to the late disco queen. We’re very much in summer fling mode as she sings about her growing lustful feelings for this person. The refrain, “You sexy motherfucker, boy, you growin’ on me/ I just wanna thug you, the category is Bey (You growin’ on me)/ You gangster motherfucker, boy, you growin’ on me (You, you, you growin’ on me),” leaves little to the imagination how she wants things to go down.
She does flip it a bit from the first refrain of “I just wanna touch you, I can feel it through those jeans” to the second, “Black silicone and rubbers, I can feel it through those jeans,” which seems to imply gender ambiguity.
Beyonce continues to impress me through her recent output. Lemonade really had no skips or low points, and this record furthers that streak. The entire album’s theme of house/dance-inspired tracks plays beautifully through various cultural and multi-decades spanning genres.
I also love the poise and confidence that Beyonce puts through every song, and thoroughly enjoy the bevy of references and appreciation toward the LGBTQ+ community. While I know many are waiting not so patiently for the visualizations to be released, similar to that of Lemonade, I don’t think the album particularly needs that treatment. It stands very tall on its own as is. This was probably my favorite album to be released in 2022.
My favorite tracks:
- “ALIEN SUPERSTAR”
- “CUFF IT”
- “BREAK MY SOUL”
- “VIRGOS GROOVE”
- “ALL UP IN YOUR MIND”
- “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM”
- “SUMMER RENAISSANCE”
My overall rating: 10 out of 10.