Bow down to the new queen of the dancefloor.
Beyoncé is back with Renaissance: Act 1, her seventh solo studio album and her first since 2016’s Lemonade. Her new record—the first of a three act project that she recorded during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic—is a joyful celebration of life amid undeniable chaos that is intended to get fans dancing again. “Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” Beyoncé explained in Renaissance’s liner notes. “It allowed me to feel free and adventurous at a time when little else was moving.”
With her first release since 2019, when she dropped both Homecoming: The Live Album and The Lion King: The Gift less than three months apart, Beyoncé wanted to “create a safe place, a place without judgment. a place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom,” she explained. “It was a beautiful journey of exploration.” It might be why British Vogue went so far as to call Renaissance her “most ambitious musical project to date.” But Beyoncé has always been an innovator; her surprise drop of 2013’s Beyoncé forever changed the way music is released. What her latest album makes abundantly clear is that after nearly 25 years of making music, she still has more than a few tricks left up those sleeves of hers. From honoring queer artists to singing about her sensuality, here are the main takeaways from Renaissance.
Beyoncé wants us to meet her at the club
Renaissance offers a history lesson in dance music by paying homage to the genre’s many (many) forms. The album’s lead single “Break My Soul” celebrates vocal house music of the ‘90s with a sample of Robyn S.’s “Show Me Love,” as well as New Orleans bounce music with help from the Queen of Bounce herself, Big Freedia, who demands you to “release the wiggle.” The disco-inspired closer “Summer Renaissance” has Beyoncé hitting the high notes of Donna Summer’s Studio 54 classic, 1976’s “I Feel Love.” (Renaissance’s cover is a nod to the legendary story that, in 1977, Bianca Jagger rode a horse into Studio 54.)
Whether Bey is getting her rave on with help from Skrillex on the EDM-tinged “Energy” or channeling Megan Thee Stallion on the twerk anthem “Church Girl,” she wants you to let yourself go. So go buy yourself a big bag of glow sticks and let the summer of house music continue.
Renaissance is full of music superstars, but no one outshines Beyoncé
When putting together the list of collaborators for her latest album, Beyoncé really said legends only. Drake, Jay-Z, Pharrell, Raphael Saadiq, James Brown, the “Mother of Contemporary Gospel Music” Twinkie Clark, and the “Godfather of Disco” Giorgio Moroder are all credited on the album, as are big time producers including No I.D., Hit-Boy, Boi-1da, BloodPop, and frequent collaborator The-Dream. Beyoncé even got Grace Jones to show up on “Move” despite the icon’s previous comments that she would never collaborate with “middle of the road” artists like Beyoncé or Rihanna. But even with such big names, one thing is clear: Renaissance is a Beyoncé album, full stop. No one outshines Queen Bey on this 16-track adrenaline rush of an album. At just over an hour, each song transitions seamlessly into the next giving fans little time to catch their breath or find their bearings. Trying to keep up with Beyoncé is just part of the fun, though.
Read More: Why Artists Like Beyoncé Have So Many Songwriters on Their Albums
Beyoncé is feeling herself on her most sensual album to date
2013’s self-titled album had Beyoncé exploring her sexuality after having her first baby. Renaissance builds on that self-confidence by getting a bit more explicit. On the soulful “Church Girl,” she urges everyone to “drop it like a thottie” and shake those “pretty tig ol’ bitties.” “Thique” is an ode to anyone who has a little more to work with: “She say she on a diet, girl, you better not lose that ass, though.” On the more demure “Plastic on the Sofa,” she proclaims she likes it rough, before making it clear she needs “more nudity and ecstasy” on the sex-positive “Virgo’s Groove.” Dr. Ruth would be very proud.
Renaissance is a celebration of queer culture
Beyoncé dedicated her latest album to her uncle Johnny, who she refers to as her “godmother and first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album,” in Renaissance’s liner notes. It’s not the first time she has spoken of her mother Tina Knowles’ nephew, who died from an HIV-related illness in the ‘90s. In an emotional speech at the 2019 GLAAD Media Awards, where she and Jay-Z won the Vanguard Award, she called her uncle the “most fabulous gay man I’d ever met.” She went on to say that Johnny helped raise her and her younger sister Solange and “lived his truth and he was brave and unapologetic during a time when this country wasn’t as accepting.”
On “Heated,” she honors the man who helped design her Destiny’s Child outfits with the line “Uncle Johnny made my dress/ That cheap Spandex, she looks a mess.” But throughout the album, she pays homage to many queer artists, “the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long,” she writes in the liner notes. “Thank you to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long. This is a celebration for you.” The Black transgender DJ/producer Honey Dijon is credited on “Cozy” and “Alien Superstar,” while ‘90s drag legend Moi Renee’s 1992 track “Miss Honey” is heard in the outro of “Pure/Honey.” Queer alt-R&B artist Syd, who was previously a member of Odd Future with Tyler, the Creator, is a writer on the sultry “Plastic Off the Sofa.”
Beyoncé teamed up with Big Freedia again for Renaissance’s first single “Break My Soul,” which samples the Bounce legend’s 2014 song “Explode.” After the release of “Break My Soul,” Big Freedia, who previously appeared on Lemonade’s lead single “Formation,” tweeted that it felt “surreal to be on the track with the Queen Beyonce once again. I’m so honored to be a part of this special moment. I’m forever grateful.”
Beyoncé the rapper is back
In recent years, Beyoncé has shown that she’s an accomplished rapper, as well as being a singer. She spit bars on the “Savage Remix” with Megan Thee Stallion and was trading verses with her hubby Jay-Z on their joint album, 2018’s Everything Is Love. But on Renaissance, Beyoncé raps nearly as much as she sings—and has never sounded more confident doing so on tracks like “Cozy” and “Church Girl.” The real highlight might be Beyoncé bringing a bit of Foxy Brown energy on “Heated.”
Any track on Renaissance could be the song of the summer
Renaissance became a clear hit from the moment it dropped, but when it comes to the Beyhive’s favorite track, it’s hard to choose just one. So far, fans seem to be losing their mind over the twerktastic “Church Girl,” the out of this world “Alien Superstar,” opener “I’m That Girl,” and the sweet and sexy “Cozy.” The late Teena Marie-sampling “Cuff It” has also gotten a lot of love for sounding like classic Beyoncé with a twist. While there is no consensus on the song of the summer—one Twitter user suggested the whole album—Act 1 has made fans more excited for what’s to come next from Beyoncé’s pandemic project. “If this [is] what Beyoncé was doing in the house the whole quarantine,” a fan joked on Twitter. “LOCK US BACK UP!!!!!!”
Correction, July 29
The original version of this story misidentified the man Beyoncé calls Uncle Johnny. He was Tina Knowles’ nephew, not her brother.
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