Music

Beyoncé is competing with nobody but herself

5 Mins read

How her Renaissance era transformed the living legend into the self-proclaimed Alien Superstar. 

“WHAT IS a B7?”

The cryptic text covered the homepage of Beyoncé’s official website, sending fans who were starving for something new from ‘Queen Bey’ into a frenzy of speculation. Days later the musician’s seventh solo album titled Renaissance was announced for release in late July 2022. 

“I remember pressing play on I’m That Girl the second it hit midnight and being taken aback by that ‘please motherfuckers ain’t stopping me’ loop. I had to pause it, I was like there’s no way she just started the album like that!” one fan explained to me.

“The whole experience of hearing the album for the first time was really special. Every song hit and made me feel so empowered. I knew straight after hearing it that this was gonna be my favourite album ever.”

The 16-track album pays homage to the black and queer pioneers of the 70s disco and house scene, showcasing a seamless blend of the two, with influences of many sub-genres such afro-beats, dancehall, and bounce.

The album seeks to celebrate ballroom and queer club culture, providing the underground artists who were rejected from the mainstream music industry a seat at her table. 

In a dedication on her website, Beyoncé credits her late cousin, ‘Uncle’ Johnny, as “the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album.” She continues: “Thank you to all the pioneers who originate culture, to all the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognised for far too long. This is a celebration for you.” 

The voice of Kevin Aviance, music artist and drag icon of the New York scene, is one of the many queer icons sampled throughout the album. His hit song Cunty can be heard sampled throughout Beyoncé’s song PURE/HONEY.

“It’s so fierce for a rich black billionaire women to hold up a bunch of queens and go, bang, you have a story to tel!,” Aviance tells in an interview with Variety magazine. “It’s so much bigger than me.”

The release of the album comes at a time when the rights of LGBTQ+ people has loudly been pushed back against. Throughout 2023, legislation preventing the public performance of drag artists has been propelled into the forefront of American politics and enacted in many red states throughout the country.

In Florida, the ‘Parental Rights in Education Act’, which many have dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’, bans the discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation within schools.

Meanwhile, in the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced controversy after publicly denying the existence of trans people at a Conservative Party conference in September, while former Health Secretary Steve Barclay pledged to ban trans people from female and male-only wards. 

Beyoncé and back-up dancers dressed in silver onstage
Beyoncé performing I’m That Girl during the Renaissance Tour [Flickr: Raph_PH]

The album and its subsequential world tour, which at its core celebrates LGBTQ+ people, provides space for people to feel seen and empowered, temporarily turning this anti-queer rhetoric into white noise. 

As Beyoncé herself states in a rare Instagram caption: “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgement. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom.” In a stark juxtaposition from her last solo album Lemonade, Beyoncé’s Renaissance would be very much that — a rebirth. 

The album took four awards at the 2023 Grammys. Her final win of the evening for Best Dance/Electronic Album making her the most awarded artist in Grammy history, with a staggering 32 wins.

The highly anticipated Renaissance World Tour began May 2023 in Stockholm, Sweden, and concluded October 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. Filling stadiums around the world with fans dressed to the nines in extravagant attire. The disco cowboy hat, as worn by Beyoncé on the cover of the album, has become this era’s staple piece. 

It’s clear that Beyoncé knows no bounds, the concert presenting a level of opulence and technical intricacy that would leave even the most avid of concert-goers in awe. Just when you think she can’t go any further, she does, continuously belting out stellar vocal arrangements upon a chrome tank, in a life-sized seashell, and finally a disco-ball horse in mid-air for the finale. 

“It felt like a vogue ball which was incredibly fun, on such a massive scale,” said Flora, who attended the Cardiff show. “It felt like a celebration. And that felt like an overwhelming amount of joy, love and warmth.”

The set list not only features songs from the Renaissance album, but also beloved tracks from Beyonce’s entire solo discography, each show opening with Dangerously In Love 2, the titular track from her debut solo album, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.

Standout moments from the tour include ‘the mute challenge,’ which takes place during Beyoncé’s performance of Energy. As stadiums of fans throughout the tour compete to be as silent as possible after she sings: “Look around everybody on mute.” 

However, it seems fans agree that the biggest show stealer from the tour wasn’t Beyoncé herself, but her daughter, Blue Ivy Carter.  

The eleven-year-old stepped out front and centre stage for the first time in Paris, where she danced in front of 80,000 people. As videos of Blue’s performances night after night continued to go viral, sparking her very own TikTok trend, fans got to watch as her confidence of stage grew.

It was a very surreal, full-circle moment for those who remember Beyoncé’s pregnancy reveal after her performance at the VMA’s in 2011.  

Beyoncé and Blue Ivy Carter wearing red attire onstage
Beyoncé and Blue Ivy Carter performing My Power on the Renaissance tour [Flickr: Raph_PH]

Jay Z spoke about the impact of his daughter’s participation on tour in an interview with Gayle King on CBS Mornings: “Since she was born, she’s been in a scrutiny and in the public eye and everybody having an opinion. Even [as a] little girl how she keeps her hair,” he said. “So for her to be on the stage and reclaim her power, and the song is called My Power, you can’t write a better story.”

Following an initial premiere in Los Angeles, the highly anticipated Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé, is due to premiere in London on November 30, with a worldwide cinema release on December 1. 

The film is expected to provide audiences with a front row seat to all of the best parts of the tour, as well as a behind-the-scenes look into the making of the album, tour, and family life of Beyoncé, a rarity for the artist who is notoriously private. 

Time and time again Beyoncé has proven herself to be in a lane of her own. An artist who, twenty-five years deep into her career, continues to exceed the bar she has set for herself every time, showing no signs of slowing down. 

“I have nothing to prove to anyone at this point,” Beyoncé states in the film’s latest trailer. “This is my reward, nobody can take that away from me.”


Featured image by by Raph_PH via Flickr CC.

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