Beyonce, the paradigm-shifting music royal whose art has long established her as one of entertainment’s seminal stars, on Friday released her hotly anticipated album Renaissance, a house-tinged dance record primed for its summer needle drop.
Six years after she shook the culture with her powerful visual album Lemonade, Beyonce’s seventh solo studio work is a pulsating, sweaty collection of club tracks aimed at liberating a world consumed by ennui.
Eminently dance-able and rife with nods to disco and EDM history — Queen Bey interpolates Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder along with James Brown and the archetypal synth line from ‘Show Me Love’, the 1990s house smash by Robin S — the 16-song album is poised to reign over the season.
Prior to releasing her opus Beyonce had dropped ‘Break My Soul’ to acclaim, setting the tone for her house revival that highlighted the Black, queer and working-class artists and communities who moulded the electronic dance genre, which first developed in Chicago in the 1980s.
The megastar has indicated that Renaissance is but the first act of three, in a project she said she recorded over the course of three years during the pandemic.
“Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” Beyonce on her website.
“It allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving,” she continued. “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgement. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking.”
“A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration.”
‘Expansive listening journey’
In the weeks preceding the release of Renaissance Beyonce teased the album with the steady stream of glossy, curated portraits of herself that over the past decade have become her signature.
But though she’s received wide praise for keeping the world of music videos on the cutting edge, Beyonce put out her latest record sans visuals (they’re promised at a later date.)
In a statement her label Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records lent insight into the decision, saying the artist “decided to lead without visuals giving fans the opportunity to be limitless in their expansive listening journey.”
Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on Renaissance but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, rap, house and disco.
“Unique / That’s what you are / Stilettos kicking vintage crystal off the bar,” she sings on ‘Alien Superstar’, which samples Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ in a sonic ode to vogueing, the stylised house dance that emerged from the Black LGBTQ ballroom culture of the 1960s.
That song closes by sampling a speech from Barbara Ann Teer, who founded Harlem’s National Black Theatre.
On ‘Virgo’s Groove’ Beyonce gets raunchy with an unabashed sex anthem, adding a titular nod to her star sign — the Virgo turns 41 on September 4.
Along with a smattering of deep house cuts as well as tributes to gospel, funk and soul, Beyonce’s collaborators on Renaissance include Nile Rodgers, Skrillex, Nigerian singer Tems, Grace Jones, Pharrell and, of course, her rap mogul husband Jay-Z.
Album leaks, Beyhive stings
Beyonce has long bucked music’s conventional wisdom, and is credited with popularising the surprise album drop.
She later made waves by releasing Lemonade — the groundbreaking work that chronicled her own emotional catharsis following infidelity within a generational and racial context — first on cable television, and limiting its streaming availability.
Since Lemonade she’s released Homecoming, a live album and film featuring footage from her mythic 2018 Coachella performance, as well as the critically acclaimed song Black Parade — which dropped amid mass protests ignited by the police murder of George Floyd.
That song saw the megastar, who first gained fame as a member of Destiny’s Child, become the winning-est woman ever at the Grammys with 28, and the gala’s most decorated singer.
But for all her cultural clout and an indisputable throne in music’s pantheon, Beyonce’s songs have not seen the same commercial dominance as other contemporary global stars — her last number one solo hit was 2008’s Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).
That’s poised to change with Renaissance.
The album’s release saw Queen Bey return to music business as usual, deploying pre-sales, a lead single drop, a track-list and polished social media fodder.
But it wasn’t without a hitch — in the days prior to the official release, the album leaked online.
Late Friday Bey thanked her hive for waiting, and added that “I appreciate you for calling out anyone that was trying to sneak into the club early,” the megastar told her fandom. “We are going to take our time and Enjoy the music.”
“I love you deep.”