Reviews by mars
Beyoncé’s Renaissance review: a landmark celebration of pop's leading lady returning to the dance floor (8.5/10)
“Been the light, been dark, been the truth, been that King Bey energy,” Beyoncé proclaims on “Cozy,” one of the standout hits from her latest LP, Renaissance; one lyric so perfectly encapsulating the last decade of music’s biggest stars. Since her days as a member of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé hasn’t just kept a finger on the pulse of popular culture - she is the driving force behind popular culture.
In the six years since Lemonade, Beyoncé dropped a live album of her ground-breaking 2018 Coachella performance, released Everything Is Love with husband Jay-Z, and The Lion King: The Gift soundtrack in tandem with the Disney film’s release. All of these projects left many wondering where music’s leading lady would go next. Beyoncé finally answered that years-long question this past Friday.
Renaissance (released July 29, 2022), her seventh studio album, is an electrifying homage to dance floors of the past and future that masterfully plays into Beyoncé’s greatest strengths while the singer tackles new ground. Renaissance also debuts as "Act I" of an eventual trilogy of Bey's pandemic projects. Across the album’s 16 tracks, Beyoncé explores both old and new genre territory: dance, pop, R&B, deep house, disco, techno, Afrobeats, dancehall, funk… the list goes on. And while the Beyoncé of recent years has become synonymous with leveraging complete control, the pandemic provided her with a chance to create a place “free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom.” This is perfectly conveyed through the bold and experimental nature of Renaissance.
The music here lives with a mind of its own. It’s elegant, boundless, and carries a feverish energy while knowing its exact coordinates. It’s grounded through a deep sense of intelligence that lingers behind the scenes, largely due to Beyoncé’s superb artistry. References to prior dance hits run rampant across Renaissance, tastefully sampling pieces of the past for the present. Album opener "I'm That Girl" plays a line from Princess Loko's "Still Pimpin" on a loop as Renaissance closes with "Summer Renaissance," sampling Donna Summer's 1977 smash "I Feel Love." The iconic melody from Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" takes on new life flawlessly in "Alien Superstar" as Robin S' "Show Me Love" flows flawlessly across "Break My Soul."
At times, Yoncé’s new sound isn’t as easy on the ears as her earlier work, which makes for a more jarring listening experience for the average Joe. Should she be concerned? Not one bit. Beyoncé cemented her icon status in recent years by actively avoiding both chart-friendly tunes and traditional release strategies. Ask your friends if they’ve heard of “Becky with the good hair” followed up by how many times they heard “Sorry” on the radio - point proven.
“Break My Soul” the album’s lead single and thesis statement, is the antithesis within the greater Renaissance world. Sonically safe and, at times, lyrically cliché, “Soul” became Beyoncé’s first top 10 radio hit in six years and her most accessible sound since “XO” and “Drunk in Love.” That’s Beyoncé for you, doing her best to make everyone happy.
Where Renaissance lacks is its lyricism, which is ironic considering how it’s tough to find a song here with less than 10 credited writers. Dance music rarely ever prioritizes lyrics with deep meaning but rather focuses on production to propel the listener forward. There are still plenty of soon-to-be classic Beyoncéisms woven throughout the hour-long project (see “Might I suggest you don’t f–k with my sis” and “Category: bad b**ch”), yet most of the album strays away from the personal details that secured Lemonade’s impact.
The highlight of Renaissance is Beyoncé proving yet again how she is one of our generation’s most talented vocalists. She delivers a masterclass in vocal performance: she has never sounded better. Whether rapping, speak-singing, or belting, her voice commands more power and attention than ever before. Nowhere on the album is this more prevalent than on halftime’s one-two sucker-punch of "Plastic Off The Sofa" and "Virgo's Groove."
On the former, Beyoncé shares her love for her husband across a slowly surging bass line while the latter is a disco-infused career highlight. Beyoncé dismisses any songwriting or melodic formats on "Groove" to guide listeners on a six-minute-long funk journey through the night sky. She shows off her innate ability to transform her vocals from deep within her lower register to soaring falsetto. Her harmonies are exquisite; its production instantly infectious. In a time when it's rare to find a hit longer than three minutes, it is refreshing to hear a song with this length deserve every second of it's run-time. It's Bey's world, and we're just living in it: so, what's the rush?
It’s mesmerizing to witness an artist in her prime exude such growth over 25 years into her career. And it’s truly a rarity in this industry to witness any musician, but especially a female, maintain the world’s praise for this long. After almost thirty years in the public eye, Beyoncé continues to drive culture, having the rest of the industry chasing her tail to play catch-up. She is intensely aware of the power she holds, and this is a conscious artist dominating in an arena of her own. With the sound of pop music seemingly shifting so rapidly, Renaissance isn’t just another dance record full of earworms destined for top playlisting placement. Beyoncé pays homage to queer culture and dance floors across generations through her ingenious use of sampling and interpolation. There is a beating heart to this music, one Beyoncé hopes to pulsate in sync with her infectious melodies. While Renaissance may not land as Beyoncé’s magnum opus, it is crucial to admire true artistry persevering. America has many problems in 2022, but Beyoncé surely ain’t one.
NY-based, 26-year-old, music-obsessed and loves to write about it.