ALBUM REVIEW: Beyoncé, Renaissance
Updated: Aug 2
Let me start this out with a long winded explanation of why my opinion on this album does not fucking matter whatsoever. I consider myself queer only in the mere fact that I loosely define my sexuality and move in spaces that would fall in line with that term (even the phrase fall in line is antithetical to “queer” but I digress). Some people would say that neither of those things make me queer, and to that I say “fair enough”. There are plenty of people out there, some who are reading this right now, whose only homes are these marginalized spaces. I have no intention to paint a characeteur of the queer experience through my narrow point-of-view because until recently, I didn’t understand how that term applied to myself. I feel even further removed from the black experience, and no amount of education I do will truly bring me close to feeling like a part of it, nor do I seek that out. In my humble opinion, the vast majority of what is popular today stems from black, queer culture – a culture that I infinitely benefit from while having no stake in. So again, my opinion does not fucking matter. This is the one and only time I will recommend that you also check out a Pitchfork review because I guarantee you they will find the right person to examine this and tell you why it’s impactful.
Recently on his Instagram story, Aloiso Wilmoth (aka @moma.ps5) said that people should pay him $10,000 for his opinion on this album. If I had the money, I would just give it to him and have him write this for me. Alas, I’m broke as fuck, but I do have a good Internet connection and can read his Interview Magazine profile, where he said “Everybody knows that, first and foremost, her gay audience is going to be the one that is going to get this music first—that’s who she’s making music for”, later adding “Black people are reclaiming the origins of house and dance music. So for her to drop this [is] definitely perfect timing.” I read this about a month ago, and it was scary how much Aloiso hit the nail on the head. The first single from this album “BREAK MY SOUL” certainly has its roots in these aforementioned spaces, it’s a full circle modernization of this “Black diva DNA” as he puts it later in the article. However, the connection to her LGBTQ+ fans through the music gets even more apparent on the rest of the album. All over Renaissance, there are moments that show Beyoncé tapping in more than ever. The line “All the pretty boys to the floor” and the sampling of Kevin Aviance’s 1996 track “Cunty” on “PURE/HONEY” feels like she's really breaking the fourth wall. Are Cher and Ariana Grande gay icons? Yes. Are they reaching out a hand directly in the same way Beyoncé does here? Absolutely not.
With her being worth upwards of $500 million, she is definitely far removed from the ‘80s ball culture that she proudly references all over Renaissance. The lines about “stolen Chanel” and “Tip on hardwood floors / Ten, ten, ten across the board” on “HEATED” do feel like a rich woman cosplaying in something she never had any part in. My only frame of reference here comes from media like Paris Is Burning and Pose which I absolutely love, but from what I understand these events were huddled masses of like minded, mostly poor queer people in the ‘80s who made the absolute most with what they had. They had “mothers” and “houses”, often living together downtown with six other people in pursuit of fame and Vogue covers. On the other hand, someone like Beyoncé is an icon that people back then would’ve aspired to be, she is the end all be all of “popstar realness”, so she definitely has a right to do this. None of this is really for me to definitively say, I guess. What I will say is that I enjoy the nods she makes to both Studio 54 and the ballrooms, celebrating black, queer dance culture in a full scope. It carries musically too, whether with New Orleans bounce on “CHURCH GIRL”, the Giorgio Moroder sample on “SUMMER RENAISSANCE”, the aforementioned ‘90s house sound on “BREAK MY SOUL” or dancehall on “ENERGY”, her and her team don’t miss a beat.
Ok, let’s put the previous talking points aside just for a moment so I can address something unrelated I think would’ve made this album vastly more interesting. As we all know, JAY-Z famously cheated on Beyoncé, resulting in a critically-acclaimed three album streak in LEMONADE, 4:44 and EVERYTHING IS LOVE. I’m sure there are rumors, but from what I understand, Bey never got hers. Weirdly enough, this entire album feels like her playing into the sexual fantasies with someone who isn’t JAY-Z. Call me crazy, but tracks like “PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA” and especially “VIRGO’S GROOVE” read as Doja Cat style indulgences in something brand new. The latter track kicks off with “baby come over” and continues with “you can hit this don’t be scared” and “pursue me”. Why would JAY-Z need to come over, why would he be scared or need to pursue her? I am thoroughly convinced she wants or needs someone different. The more likely scenario is that she’s keeping it general and impersonal to better connect with her audience, but I think a single Beyoncé album would slap.
This shit is really getting off the rails, I’m acting as an extra in a film tomorrow and am getting tired. I’m really disappointed that I spent my day dicking around and not really putting in the work to research this review. Anyway, let me just wrap this up. For me, this album is really hit or miss. The opening track “I’M THAT GIRL” is effective and par for the course for Bey, it’s what we’ve grown to expect but with a little dancehall twist. She is the shit and “these motherfuckers ain’t stopping [her]”, plus the beat switches are amazing. I am not as thrilled with the following two tracks that spin similar versions of the same sentiment with less interesting production. I prefer when this album either goes aggressive or with a sunny throwback, with “CUFF IT” being a great example of the latter. It’s guitar lines are pure Nile Rodgers, with a really memorable chorus and some nice call and response vocal work adding great layers to the sound. On the harder hitting end, cuts like the hypersexual “THIQUE” with its glitched out instrumentation and rapped lyrics get the job done. Without the specific context for a lot of what I’m hearing, I really gravitate towards standout sounds and get bored when I hear shit that doesn’t mix it up enough, plain and simple.
Tracks like “CHURCH GIRL” and the very randomly titled “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM” are major misses for me personally. The latter track could be a genuine provocation, but it’s just another love song with forgettable production. Overall, I appreciate what this album is going for. As Aloiso said in his piece, I give this an “A” for effort. But in terms of originality, purpose, consistency, production and performances, it gets a B-. It’s a given that this thing is a powerhouse with the massive assortment of writers and producers involved. She’s not Drake, it seems like she actually tried really hard. The allusions to all different facets of dance music is really unique to me, but I feel like this album lacks perspective and focus. There are a lot of lyrics where it feels like she has lost touch and is doing cultural cold reading with Twitter terms (gray sweatpants, thotty, Karen, etc.). I just simply didn’t need an hour of that type of Beyoncé. For some of you, that may be blasphemy, but I save myself by saying that I loved LEMONADE. It was deeply conceptual with a beautiful arc, and found her honing her craft rather than trying too hard to give nods to other people. I know my words don't really reflect a "standout", but I appreciate the risk here and with such a high scale record from such a high caliber artist, you can only expect so much.