Beyonc is the pop megastar’s dark-mode update, which has since become the standard. The Houston luminary is sleeker, colder, and Blacker, which makes the way we were previously perceiving things look bland, archaic, and downright depleting. In fact, the 28-time Grammy winner could be the only pop monarch to have made genuine artistic advancements while still enlarging a vast financial empire. With each increasingly ambitious album, Michael Jackson lost his composure, switching from the casual elegance of Off the Wall to the forced spectacle of Bad. Prince’s lavish ambitions frequently caused him to be removed from the radio. Madonna likewise struggled as she tried several strategies to maintain her Top 40 magnificence.
Beyoncé’s career trajectory, however, has moved in roughly the opposite direction since the release of her self-titled album in 2013: She advanced from her early amiable yet flawless overtures to the mainstream found on 2006’s BDay and 2008’s I Am Sasha Fierce and started releasing adventurous projects with rollouts that were more creative than a Donald Glover teleplay. Beyoncé gave the world Lemonade in 2016, a breathtaking visual album that was at the forefront of Black contemporary art and an aural counterpart to curator Kimberly Drews beloved Tumblr‘s focus on Black artists. It influenced a university curriculum and brightened up the streets. Simply put, Beyonc made progressivism popular.
The majority of business moguls with an estimated net worth similar to Bey’s will tell you that coolness doesn’t scale and that you can’t compete with a boutique brand whose exclusivity gives it its very own “it” factor. However, everything about the way Beyonc has been releasing albums for almost ten years now seems to be geared toward making music that even your grandmother can understand. However, this music still feels as arty and ultramodern as some limited-edition collaboration that requires a small army of bots to help you secure in an online shopping cart. Every time, Beyonc dismantles the difficult situation of fitting a square peg into a round hole, making the conflicting dichotomies the best fit for the culture since snark and social media.
Beyoncé has created an exuberant collection of songs, boundary-expanding deep cuts, and dance staples for her most recent album, Renaissance, which was revealed weeks in advance along with a major Vogue cover story and is being released in four box sets and limited-edition vinyl. And it gleefully implies that the renowned singer’s new direction is to keep things somewhat traditional.
The pleasant atmosphere of Renaissance is what you notice first. Even several of the faster songs on this album have Bey’s mesmerizing refrains in a mellifluous, low-key register, which is notable given that some of her best famous songs, like 2011’s Love on Top, are throaty, melisma-infused choruses. These 16 tracks, which dabble in deep house, Afrobeats, and beautiful early ’80s boogie, stand out as lighthearted throwbacks to an analog age when even the popular dance hits were as lush and genuine as the contemplative music you could unwind to at home on a slow afternoon.
Bey sings, “I appreciate the small things that make you you,” over a languorous bass line and cheery guitars whose warm Seventies vibe conjures the height of Minnie Riperton. It’s a sincere homage to everything Beyonc adores about falling in love. And she sings with a straightforward passion, later confessing that she thinks she is cooler than you, all the while sounding flirty and approachable, as if she were just a regular woman on vacation rather than the most well-known singer in the world living in a modern house with several Basquiat paintings hanging on its walls. Her mesmerizing vocal tics, which are the pinnacle of sprezzatura, give the music’s swaying vintage groove virtuoso energy.
Beyonc works well with the occasional light touch, as shown on the similarly laid-back opener, Im That Girl. It’s a pleasant change from the hurried, animated vocal runs she used to do in the beginning, which occasionally sounded a little sterile, even when they were enticing. Nevertheless, Pure/Honey is a throbbing, vogue-pleasing tune that features some of Queen B’s most vivacious vocals, especially at the song’s conclusion when she exclaims in a shouty, gospel-tinged tone, “I put the sweet-sweet on your tongue, don’t it taste yummy?” bringing to mind her standing in the family tree among soul greats like Tina Turner and Etta James.
The former frontwoman of Destiny’s Child has a lengthy history of entertaining audiences outside of the classroom and introducing authentic gospel-style singing to the ratchet unwashed masses. Beyonc, like Prince, Marvin Gaye, and Brother Ray Charles before her, marries the sacred with the profane on Church Girl, over No I.D.’s deconstructed boom-bap splicings of an old sanctified hymn. She declares that no one can judge me but me before pleading with both church girls and bad girls to twirl that ass like you came up out the South. The song’s irresistible vigor and too-Black-too-strong talking points give it the feel of an euphoric Juneteenth celebration, similar to the scene in Beyoncé’s 2019 concert film Homecoming where she and Solange perform vintage dance moves to the accompaniment of an HBCU marching band.
On Heated, which she co-wrote with Drake, Bey floats atop an exotic riddim, boasting that she has a lot of Benz and Chanel on her, before spitting some of her hardest bars (Monday I’m overrated, Tuesday on my dick/Flip flop flippin, flip floppin ass bitch), serving as a reminder that, back when Destiny’s Child was active, she contributed to the development of the modern sing-rap genre The aunties, who revere gospel greats like Yolanda Adams and may have otherwise been drawn to Bey’s church-bred tone, couldn’t abide that component of her voice twenty years ago. She was, nevertheless, very ahead of her time. Her quick-fire delivery is incredibly strong and full of emotion and tragedy.
The same goes for the album’s lead single, Break My Soul, whose powerful, four-on-the-floor rhythm and cascading water-droplet synths from Robin S.’s 1990 hit, Show Me Love, fuel what is certain to become a subdued inspirational anthem. The urgent, unrestrained elation in Bey’s voice when she sings I Just Quit My Job/I’m Gonna Find My New Drive is enough to inspire you to start a new side hustle or go HAM during leg day at the gym.
However, not everything on Renaissance is as rewarding. This summer, you can see Thique at work outside (as well as on TikTok, which the 40-year-old mother of three just joined). Thique, with its attempted salacious references to that jelly, baby, that candy-girl piata, and that oochie coochie la la, comes off as a little trite, as if Beyonc carelessly consulted some instant IG caption generator. However, Thique was created by the woman who came up with the actual Websters term bootylicious some 20 years ago.
Additionally, Renaissance doesn’t have any obviously socially conscious songs, which may disappoint some fans who were absolutely floored by the album’s opening track. Beyonc’s powerful, Kendrick Lamar-assisted song “Freedom” gives voice to the historical injustices African Americans have endured in this nation. Some listeners might believe that she should keep using her platform to raise awareness of these issues after witnessing her raise a Black Power fist in tribute to Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant salute at the 1968 Olympics during the 50th Super Bowl.
But when an artist is as clever, subversive, and deliberate as Beyonc, the political is also personal. In any case, summer is here. The cleverly titled America Has a Problem, which samples Atlanta rapper Kilo Ali’s 1990 song Cocaine (America Has a Problem), is a banger as cool as the inside of an ice cream truck, driven by stark chords and jittery drums, where Bey talks up her addictive qualities (I’m-a make you go weak for me/Make you wait a whole week for me), insinuating that when a bossed-up Black woman is as sw
Who is to say that the body-positive rhetoric in songs like Thique won’t also motivate a large number of Black women and girls who don’t feel like they are represented in the media? Even if we have a few minor qualms with the language she uses, it’s crucial that Beyonc acknowledges their agency by simply praising herself.
Is this an improvement over Lemonade? Not exactly. Beyoncé proves that inclusion is the new black on Renaissance by offering fans all the choruses and seductive slaps we’ve come to love and expect from her.