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Beyoncé culminates career with a self-love ‘Renaissance’

Beyoncé culminates career with a self-love ‘Renaissance’

Beyoncé culminates career with a self-love ‘Renaissance’
August 04
13:00 2022

Twenty-five years since her debut, Beyoncé’s explorations over the years confirm that artistry can always benefit from constant refining. Although not as culturally defining as 2016’s “Lemonade,” “Renaissance” masterfully ushers in a house music revival to the tune of unapologetic Black joy. 

“Renaissance” is the first project where it seems Beyoncé truly has nothing to prove. Even her vocals feel more lightweight than ever. “I’m That Girl” and “Alien Superstar” are laid-back declarations of Queen Bey’s inimitable status. The Texan’s sustained dominance in the music industry helps sell lyrics like “It’s not my man, It’s not my stance, I’m just that girl” and “Don’t even waste your time trying to compete with me.”

The overarching Black feminism theme on “Lemonade” made it feel like a historical piece to be continuously studied and dissected. Meanwhile, “Renaissance” showcases Bey’s persuasive swag we haven’t seen since her 2013 self-titled release. Her forthright gloating throughout the album comes together in an infectious collection of affirmations.

“Renaissance” carries political weight, too. Since its origin is steeped in Black culture, expertly reclaiming house music is a power move, to say the least. Mainstream media is making room for representation at the expense of becoming enthralled with Black trauma stories. Placing Black joy, with no struggle or heartbreak caveat, at the center of the album’s message is a statement in itself. 

The album is also clearly a love letter to the patient and loyal Beyhive. The 28-time Grammy award winner sprinkled callbacks to her extensive discography throughout “Renaissance.” The references to her deep cuts are subtle, which allows the album to feel less self-absorbed. A nod to the wide-eyed 2003 ballad “Gift from Virgo,” the confident seduction on “Virgo’s Groove” has a sharp contrast to its predecessor. 

The flirty, urgent pop vocals on “All up in your mind” fit in perfectly with 2008’s “Sweet Dreams” and “Radio.” Then “Cuff it” and “Church Girl” are reminiscent of the trap-rap meets nostalgic 90s R&B sounds Bey explored on “Everything is Love” with Jay-Z. 

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room. “Renaissance” isn’t the only signifier that house music is making a comeback. Drake dropped his own bouncy effort last month, so comparisons to Bey’s project are inevitable.

Lukewarm fan reception of “Honestly, Nevermind” aside, there is no competition between the two. Drizzy and Bey have collaborated on many occasions. The pair reunited on “Renaissance” and Drake boasts writing credits on “Heated,” the track that gives a shout-out to Bey’s late uncle Johnny. 

One of many inspirations for “Renaissance,” uncle Johnny was a key example of gay culture for a young Beyoncé. He actually introduced her to house music and designed dresses for her, Tina Knowles, Beyonce’s mom, said via Instagram. While accepting a GLAAD award with Jay-Z in 2019, Bey said “witnessing [uncle Johnny’s] battle with HIV was one of the most painful experiences I’ve ever lived.”

Perhaps this close connection is why Beyoncé feels so at home paying homage to queer folks on “Renaissance.” She did her research, too. Samples and collaborations include drag icons Kevin Aviance, Ts Madison, Moi Renee and Big Freedia.

“Summer Renaissance” isn’t the first time Bey has name-dropped Telfar Clemons, a designer who has pioneered genderless fashion for almost two decades. DJ and transgender activist Honey Dijon boasts production credits on three of the album’s tracks as well.

“Lemonade” had stronger storytelling elements, but “Renaissance” is Beyoncé’s most cohesive work yet. With no traditional ballads, it is her first album that isn’t built around a few singles and slow ballads. Her deviation from formulaic conventions gave “Renaissance” the space to enter the greater conversation surrounding music trends. 

While sonically sound, “Renaissance” is Beyoncé’s most logistically messy release and has undergone two retroactive revisions in the week since its release. Following criticism for using an ableist slur on “Heated,” Bey revised the song to exclude the word. Considering it is the same slur Lizzo came under fire for using in “Grrrls” weeks before “Renaissance” dropped, I can’t help but wonder why Bey didn’t remove the word preemptively.

The second revision followed Kelis’ claim that Beyoncé didn’t notify her that her hit song “Milkshake” would be interpolated on “Energy.” Bey credited Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, who composed and produced the 2003 hit. Kelis is only credited for the vocals on “Milkshake.” Nevertheless, “Energy” was edited to omit aspects from the song.

Kendrick Lamar’s introspective reemergence earlier this year with “Mr. Morale and the High-Steppers” hinted that even superstars practice positive self-talk. With a completely different sound, “Renaissance” reinforces the music era of moving forward despite life’s trials.

As a pandemic, economic instability and climate change are casting global uncertainty, the most prominent musicians are providing a soundtrack to aid in listeners’ collective healing. Maybe Lorde was ahead of the game in 2021 when she dropped the soothing slow-burner “Solar Power.” 

Rhema Joy’s rating: 4/5 

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Rhema Joy Bell

Rhema Joy Bell

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