It’s a lot, that’s still alive. Too heavy, too uncertain, too chronically disastrous, too aggressive, too sick, too portable with potential for Knowledge it’s wrong to. The word for the past few years has been – in American activist and academic circles, anyway – “fragile.” Who gets thoughts of endangerment, neglect, contingency, and risk. Basically: They were worried. And the: We’re worried you’re not worried enough. Like I said: it’s a lot.
If you are a world-renowned musician whose every blink of an eye is checked for meaning, now might be the time to discover the sense of the meaning of something else, to sound lighter, to float, to play, to splash, twist and grind, into sashay-shanté. To find a “new salvation” in building a “foundation”.
If I were that musician, now might be a good time to call my freestyle swimming style jam ‘America has a problem’ And I don’t say what the problem is because a) psychological! b) What am I saying you don’t already know? and c) the person performing this song actually knows that “that booty will do what you want.” Now is the time to work your body instead of losing more of your mind. “America” is one of the closing tracks on “Renaissance,” Beyoncé’s seventh solo album, an album where she takes the stakes and concludes they’re too high. Now it’s time to remind yourself – to “tell everyone” as she sings on her first single, “break my soul” – That there is no speech without a disco.
What a good time this thing. All 16 songs hail from somewhere with a dance floor – nightclubs, strip clubs, ballrooms, basements, Tatooine. Most are immersed or made entirely with Black queer bravado. And on just about every one, Beyoncé seems to be experiencing something new that’s particularly personal and wonderful: undiluted ecstasy. It takes different forms: bliss, obviously; But the rigor is also exciting. The amusing control exercise on this album is like an exorcism of stress.
As pricey, in terms of production, as Renaissance sounds (one song credited to twenty writers, including samples and interpolations), Beyoncé’s vocals here are beyond any price. The range of her voice is close to the galaxy. The fantasy that fuels it is described as cinema. She growls, growls, and triples herself. Butter, mustard, foie gras, the perfect ratio of cream to cupcakes.
About halfway through, something called “plastic from the couch” arrived. Now, a part of me cried because these are words she didn’t bother to sing. Plastic off the couch? I got you back! The rest cried because the singing you do – in waves of spontaneously Olympic-level emissions – seems to emanate from somewhere beyond the human throat: the ocean? the oven? But this is one of the few songs that are recorded with live instruments – a bass guitar and some sharp beats. (The musical plastic comes from the album’s sofa.) The bass line continues to bulge, bend, and boom until it outshines the flower bed, and Beyoncé’s voice does, too. Surfs the waves. It smells of roses. The “Renaissance” turns gospel here and there – on the “church girl”, with the utmost insolence. This is the only one that looks like it was recorded in Eden.
It takes a minute for the rapture to begin in the “Renaissance”. First comes the mission statement (“I’m That Girl”) where Beyoncé warns that love is her drug. Then we move on to “Cozy,” a creative anthem about black women who have the luxury of their own skin. This one has a bottom as heavy as a cast iron skillet and a Richter Scale bounce that can’t be ignored. “Cozy” is all about comfort but feels like an oncoming army. The first real sniff is the “Cuff It,” a skate jam that’s lifted high by the flutter of Nile Rodgers’ signature guitar while a fleet of horns deliver a backburner. Here, Beyoncé wants to go out and have an unexpected fun time. And it’s contagious enough to overthink a careless line like “I want to miss” later, when I sober.
Comedies abound. I thank the sampled contributions from Big Freedia and Ts Madison for that. “Dark skin, light skin, beige” – Madison paints on “Warm” -“fluorescent Beige.” I thank the TV tabloid keyboard for “America has a problem.” But Beyoncé herself has never been funnier than she is here. The rigor she applies to the word “no” in “America” alone will suffice. But there is impersonation to her Grace JonesTheir tyranny is in ‘movement’, a dance break with sharp elbows, in which the two command the plebs to ‘part like the Red Sea’ when the Queen comes. (I’m not getting into who the queen is in this scenario.) Pop tattoos with the influence of Jones have been painted for 45 years. This is one of the few mainstream acknowledgments of its generous musical strength. There’s also a Beyoncé patch at the end of “Heated,” which she recites over the crack of a splayed hand fan. It’s one of those freestyles . round table that comes down on some balls. Part of it includes:UnnnKlei Johnny made my dress/that cheap spandex/look a mess.”
This is an album whose big idea is home. And his sense of home is phenomenal. It’s palace music. “Renaissance” is adjacent to where pop music is: pulsating and throbbing. Her muscles are bigger, her limbs are more flexible, and she’s safe. I don’t hear market concerns. Its sense of adventure is far from a genre map, yet it is well aware of every format. It is a synthetic feat that never seems absurd or artificial. These songs test this music, and celebrate how wonderful and resilient it is. This may be the reason why I love “Break My Soul” so much. It’s track 6, but it feels like the thematic workhorse of the album. She has tenderness, determination, and ideas – Beyoncé mediated two different approaches to the church.
In “Pure/Honey,” Beyoncé breaks down wall after wall until she reaches the room that houses all of her cousins. 2013 “Blow” hums. And ends by tilting her face next to a sample of Drag the artist Moi Rene Mooing, “Miss Honey? Miss Honey!” She is close to The B-52’s As may Beyoncé’s song come. (But Kate, Cindy, Fred, Keith: Call her anyway!)
The album embraces home and isn’t, say, an unmistakable trap that Beyoncé gets along with with black folks. On the other hand, this means that she is simply a high-end pop star with a strong backing. But “Renaissance” is more than just fan service. It is geared towards certain dates. The complex coexistence of CIS women and gay men is one and the same. The doors of impersonation and tribute rotate with centrifugal force.
With Beyoncé, her pull seems liberating rather than mysterious. It’s not just these lesser known LGBT artists and personalities who have absorbed her music. They are other artists. In “Blow,” Beyoncé wondered how her partner would feel when he made love to her. Now the wonder is: How do you feel when you make love – and art – sometimes like everyone else? The album’s last song is “summer renaissance” It opens with Donna Summer’s song “I Feel Love”. This isn’t the first time you’ve been quoted about La Donna. But the gesture is not just there, the sign is explicit. It’s in the middle of a rich album, which includes that couch song and “Virgo’s Groove,” perhaps the most amazing song Beyoncé has ever recorded. This means that “Renaissance” is an album about performance—of other pop music’s past, but ultimately about Beyoncé, a star who’s now 40—the age when the real risk is acting like you’ve got nothing to lose.
There’s another history in the album title: 100 years ago, when things were also too much for black Americans – lynchings, “racial riots” across the country – and running north from the South seemed like a sound alternative to murder, In Harlem, Alan Locke, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Aaron Douglas and Jesse Faust, to pick five characters, were at the center of an artistic explosion that could be frivolous, party-loving, and cliched as some of what goes on on this album. Her artists were gay, straight, and anything in between. The point is, they called this Renaissance, too. It has persisted, exhilarating and provocative despite the crisis surrounding it, giving people looking for a home something like home. The new salvation, the old foundation.