Label: Columbia Records
Released: 29th July 2022
When it comes to pop icons, only a select few can touch the rarified level of Beyoncé. Almost no one has managed to remain at the forefront of pop culture for so long, transcending the mere notion of being a pop star into something bigger and more powerful. The last decade of Beyoncé’s career has seen her focus on the biggest artistic and cultural statements and leave the pop game behind. ‘RENAISSANCE’ acts as her return to making an out-and-out “pop” record. Of course, it’s a pop record on Beyoncé’s terms – a wonderfully exuberant and immersive homage to dance and club culture that finds her more loose, relaxed and playful than ever.
There’s a lot to unpack into this record. It’s overwhelming in a good way – not just a collection of songs, but a journey where everything flows together, sequenced and mixed in the form of one long magical DJ set. In this context, the previously slightly underwhelming lead single ‘BREAK MY SOUL’ truly shines. The transition from banging energy to ecstatic release and that instantly memorable Big Freedia sample is a real moment.
This is an intoxicating album. You can’t fail to be caught up in its wild, carefree spirit. There’s a looseness and frivolity here that we haven’t heard from Beyoncé for a long time. It’s funny, playful, uplifting, and at times baffling. Unfortunately, there’s another lamentable use of the same ableist slur that Lizzo rightly apologised for and removed at the end of the song ‘HEATED’, which you would hope would be removed in the same way as Lizzo’s correction.
Unlike ‘Lemonade’, this isn’t really an album that offers up an illuminating insight into Beyoncé’s emotions and psyche. It’s a physical record. Intense body music, inspired by the club and filtered through Beyoncé’s unique prism. At times it’s distinctly weird, for example, the otherworldly ‘ALIEN SUPERSTAR’. “Don’t even waste your time trying to compete with me.” says Beyoncé in maybe the truest words ever spoken on a pop song.
If you want bangers, the count is off the chart. ‘COZY’ is deep, soulful and funky, while the glorious disco of ‘CUFF IT’ is Beyoncé’s most unabashedly celebratory song since ‘Countdown’. Emphasising the warped disco sounds that filter in and out of the album, ‘VIRGO’S THEME’ is a stunning encapsulation of its club vibes. It feels like the sort of thing Daft Punk should have been doing on ‘Random Access Memories’. There are experimental vibes of a different nature on the AG Cook produced ‘ALL UP IN YOUR MIND’, which, if anything, is finally proof that Beyoncé definitely knows who Charli XCX is.
As the album progresses, more of the references and the crystallisation of black history and queer culture that Beyoncé is paying homage to emerge. ‘PURE/HONEY’ is a stunning peak, climaxing with a sample of one of the defining dance songs in history, as she channels and then overtly samples Donna Summer’s legendary ‘I Feel Love’ on glorious closing track ‘SUMMER RENAISSANCE’. It’s a pointed and beautifully chosen reference that helps place the song – and indeed the entire album – in the lineage of pioneering artists who did so much to promote dance culture and, indeed, black female and queer dance culture. If ‘Lemonade’ was Beyoncé’s defining personal statement, ‘RENAISSANCE’ may be her defining musical statement. The greatest DJ set you’ll ever hear from the greatest pop star of the modern age.