Beyoncé - Renaissance Music Album Reviews

Beyoncé’s seventh album is not just a pop star’s immaculate dance record, but a rich celebration of club music and its sweaty, emancipatory spirit.

Over the last decade, every Beyoncé project has become an integral part of a larger Beyoncé Project. Though she hasn’t released a proper studio album since 2016’s sprawling visual statement Lemonade, she’s made a film (Black Is King), released a collaborative record with her husband Jay-Z (Everything Is Love), lent her voice to a Disney film (The Lion King), dropped a series of singles, and masterminded her sportswear line Ivy Park—all while making clear that she’s intensely focused on celebrating the long legacy of Black musicians and artists, of which she is a part and beacon. Her global reach is a reminder that Beyoncé, the billionaire pop icon, does not and could not exist in a vacuum.

Recall 2019’s Homecoming, the live album and concert movie documenting her vaunted “Beychella” festival set, in which she indelibly framed her entire discography within the larger history of contemporary Black American performance. By centering her music within the context of HBCU culture, incorporating a massive marching band, a step show, and J-setting choreography, she delivered a tectonic performance that also ensured all her fans would see the lineage of Black art receive the credit it’s due.

And when the pandemic hit, Beyoncé caught on to what her fans missed most: the unfettered joy of gathering together in the club, rolling face and sweating as a collective body. As our biggest pop stars increasingly turn to dance music for inspiration, Beyoncé focused her famous work ethic on the nuances of club culture for a challenging, densely-referenced album that runs circles around her similarly minded, Billboard-charting peers. For nearly a decade she has made pop music on her own terms, uninterested in the dusty edicts of the music industry and pointed about her intended audience; now pop fans bend to Beyoncé, not the other way around.

Beyoncé is hooked on the feeling of self-expression. In the liner notes posted on her website, she writes that Renaissance, her seventh solo album and “Act I” of a mysterious trilogy, is a “safe place, a place without judgment… a place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking.” In turn she pays homage to the true safe places for many of her fans, celebrating the clubs made by and for Black women and queer people, Black Chicagoans and Detroiters and New Yorkers who created house and techno, Black and Latinx ball and kiki houses. Inside Renaissance’s vast tent, there’s a safe place at the roller rink (“Virgo’s Groove”), at the disco (“Summer Renaissance”), at the subwoofer contest (“America Has a Problem”), at Freaknik (“Thique”), in church, at the NOLA hole-in-the-wall hosting the bounce party after church, at the ball in the Harlem community center, right underneath the basketball hoops. She’s under a strobe, flipping her hair, twirling that ass like she came up out the South, as she raps on the ebullient “Church Girl,” praying to god over a Clark Sisters sample and then squaring the propriety on a Trigger Man beat, bussing it with the godly state of being “born free.”

Renaissance is a feat of imagination, daydreaming about partying in the pandemic, capturing the feeling of thinking about all the places you wish you could have gone when you were just stuck in the crib. Unlike Lemonade or 2013’s Beyoncé, Renaissance sticks to the dancefloor—no ballads or breakup paeans, just pure energy, propulsive BPMs, and fuck-’em-all strut. The love songs are almost entirely aimed inward, to the self and her crew, and the songs about a “boy” are underpinned with a libidinous frankness. (Beyoncé has never been this horny in public.) Release your job, sure—if you can afford it; Beyoncé is her own boss, after all—but most importantly, revel in who you are. She dedicates the album to her “godmother,” Uncle Jonny, who died of complications stemming from HIV, and to the “pioneers who originate culture… the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long.” She enlists Grace Jones, Sheila E., Nile Rogers; samples Teena Marie, Chicago house artist Lidell Townsell, and Atlanta rapper Kilo Ali; belts with abandon and fealty to styles from the 1970s through the 1990s that signify a loose writing process, implying the notorious perfectionist meant what she said.

Maybe Beyoncé and her extensive array of producers and co-writers, which includes mainstream names like Raphael Saadiq and The-Dream as well as more underground artists like the Black trans DJ/producer Honey Dijon and the Dominican musician and visual artist Kelman Duran, spent the last two years digging in the crates. It’s hard to imagine that Beyoncé’s been able to go to the kinds of clubs celebrated on Renaissance since, say, 1999. Maybe she joined one of the copious DJ sets streamed on Zoom and Twitch in 2020 with a burner account, as many of us were dreaming of people outlined by wisps of a fog machine, craving sound-system affirmations that we were still corporeal entities too.

Renaissance is inherently about bodies undulating in the dark, under strobes; sexual agency; and the Black queer and trans women who are both politicized and the most endangered people among us. As physical movement was necessarily constrained during pandemic isolation, the dissociative effects of being unseen became both detrimental and liberating. Renaissance is a commanding prescription to be perceived again, without judgment. Listening to the album, you can feel the synapses coming back together one by one, basking in the unfamiliar sensation of feeling good, if only for its hour-long duration.

Dance music necessarily centers on the immediate present—the seconds ticking along during the transcendent act of unleashing on a dancefloor—but it thrives on the fluidity of sampling, of elder respect, and of reimagining classic sounds to invent the new. (Renaissance has approximately 100,000 credits thanks to all the samples and many tiny contributions from artists and friends.) This is how we get PC Music proprietor A. G. Cook and Lady Gaga’s go-to producer BloodPop on a low-key love song deconstructing techno (“All Up in My Mind”), and how Skrillex ended up doing Afrobeats through a ketamine filter (“Energy”) with Bey drawling lyrics so minimal and onomatopoeic they exist mostly in service to the vibe, a melodic extension of percussion. This approach is perhaps better than in other places, where the lyrics are jarring enough to disrupt the ambiance, like when she raps, “You said you outside but you ain’t that outside” in the middle of the house single “Break My Soul.” But in general, she adheres to the sweaty demands of club music, singing and rapping to the carnal id. In contrast to past albums, her emotion here is devoted to looking good, dancing good, and fucking good. (Though her propensity for sexual detail à la “Drunk in Love” continues apace; call me if you can figure out how to get over “Motorboat, baby, spin around” on “Virgo’s Groove.”)

Beyoncé’s focus on dance music extends to Renaissance’s samples, where she lets her intent speak through the art of her predecessors. The stunning “Pure/Honey” alone braids together decades of ballroom, taking samples from ’90s club hits by drag icons: Kevin Aviance’s hit “Cunty,” from 1996, and Moi Renee’s “Miss Honey,” from 1992. It also nabs a bit from “Feels Like,” a 2012 track by MikeQ, legendary ball DJ and DJ for HBO’s Legendary, and Kevin Jz Prodigy, the ball commentator and musician whose vocals—“cunt to the feminine what”—lead the song. The production on “Feels Like” builds on the work of Vjuan Allure, who passed in 2021, and who pioneered the sound of contemporary vogue fem ballroom by reworking what’s known as the “Ha” from Masters at Work’s seminal “The Ha Dance,” from 1991, which has long been a voguing staple, but was originally meant for b-boys in Latin clubs. That’s years of history in just one song, and just one magnifying-glass example of the ways Beyoncé uses Renaissance to put some respect on these club legends’ names.

But it’s also part of Beyoncé’s deep appreciation for the sprawling tapestry of Black music and culture throughout pop history. She is positioning herself as an archivist, and also just flexing her true music-nerd passions with more disregard for preconceived notions of marketability—and label returns—since the indubitable B’Day. On “I’m That Girl,” Tommy Wright III and Princess Loko’s “Still Pimpin” are placed upon the ghost of a dembow riddim, threading Shabba Ranks to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic via Kelman Duran. The deep house track “Cozy” features two Black trans women—Honey Dijon and actor Ts Madison—and seems to be a dedication to trans self-determination (“Might I suggest you don’t fuck with my sis”). “Alien Superstar” channels Vanity 6 as an old-way house anthem. The end of “Heated,” a pulsing Afrobeats track with some of her silkiest vocals on the album, finds her commentating in a vocal register that, at points, barely scans as Beyoncé, embodying the growl and propulsion of the runway.

In the 2018 book Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric, professor and musician Madison Moore captures the innovation of certain queer aesthetics: “The fact that beautiful eccentrics put themselves on the line every day despite the odds shows how important they are not only as aesthetic geniuses but political activists too.” Beyoncé, of course, has a gigantic bank account and a team of people to help her look extravagant—“It should cost a billion to look that good/But she make it look easy ’cause she got it,” as she vamps on “Pure/Honey”—and to make the kind of fantasy she’s crafted on Renaissance plausible, from the Swarovski-encrusted imagery to the refinement of the album’s song choices. But using her global proscenium to showcase the work of marginalized people, as the political and legal scapegoating of their existences ramps up to a terrifying degree—including draconian legislation in her home state of Texas—is important, even a rejoinder to 2014’s big FEMINIST sign moment, a subtle kiss-off to people who’ve made vilifying trans women a cornerstone of their feminism by making space for all sorts of femme expression.

Renaissance reinvents Beyoncé again, and she trusts that her fans will be up for the challenge. She is 40 years old, the age society at large tends to start writing women artists (and women in general) off as creatives who still have something to offer, but she refuses to submit to that bullshit, making herself impossible to ignore. “I’ve been up, I’ve been down,” she sings on “Church Girl,” “Felt like I move mountains/Got friends that cried fountains.” It’s the most plaintive moment on the album, and then, in full Beyoncé fashion, she comes back more determinedly: “I’m gonna love on me. Nobody can judge me but me.” It’s a transcendent, beautiful, deceptively simple moment. She extends a diamond-encrusted, gloved hand—an invitation to a better kind of party.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Beyoncé - Renaissance Music Album Reviews Beyoncé - Renaissance Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on August 08, 2022 Rating: 5


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