Given her unassailable stature in pop culture at 40, it’s too tempting to take every word we hear from Beyoncé as a statement with great meaning for the wider world. Last month on her comeback single, Break My Soul, she sang: “I just quit my job.” Surely this was a comment on what has become known as the Great Resignation, the post-Covid
career rethink that took place for millions?
On the evidence presented by her first solo album for six years, she meant that she was abdicating any responsibility for using pop music to make grand pronouncements. She boosted black culture on her companion album to Disney’s Lion King remake, and gave too much information about her shaky marriage to Jay-Z on her Lemonade album. Announcing Renaissance on Instagram, this striver for flawlessness wrote that the album is: “A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking.” The first thing she says, on I’m That Girl, is: “I pull up in these clothes, look so good.” She’s ready to be superficial, appearing to have no bigger plan than lighting up the club on her most upbeat collection. Songs flow together like a club mix and while the beats shift across a wide range of dance subgenres, they rarely slow down. “Do not attempt to leave the dancefloor,” says a DJ at the start of Alien Superstar. You won’t get a chance.
This long-term social media avoider joined TikTok this month. The music here seems highly tuned in to the lightning attention spans of that world. Renaissance has 16 songs but it sounds like 40 as it leaps suddenly between passages - some of which are futuristic and experimental, as on the surprise link-up with London hyperpop producer AG Cook, All Up In Your Mind, and some that simply float joyfully back to Seventies disco, as on the “Honey” half of Pure/Honey.
There are also endless quotable snippets for fans to nab for their own clips. “I gotta fan myself off,” she repeats over the reggaeton beats of Heated. “Move out the way, I’m with my girls and we all need space,” she and original nightclub queen Grace Jones shout on Move.
Even the song America Has a Problem turns out to be a sex song named after the Kilo Ali track it samples, rather than a comment on her country. By the time we get to Summer Renaissance, she’s interpolating Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, taking the most direct route possible to dancefloor euphoria. We could ask for more, but not for more fun.