by Nick Seip Music Year in Review

Renaissance — Beyonce [BOTY ’22]

December 31, 2022

“I’m bout to explode!” Big Freedia first called for a “release” back in 2014 on her incendiary track “Explode.” “Release your anger, release your mind, release your job, release the time.” In 2022, Beyoncé promised a “release” of her own with “Break My Soul,” the debut single off her 7th studio album Renaissance. On it, Beyoncé amplifies Big Freedia’s call for catharsis and reinvents Robin S.’s house standard “Show Me Love” into an ebullient call-to-the-dancefloor fit for 2022. In doing so, she established the theme for her upcoming album: it’s time to let it all out.

Renaissance delivers on that promise. More than just a great club album, it’s a full-on history lesson in dance music and celebration of Black queer creativity. Sonically, this is Beyoncé’s most singularly focused work since 2011’s 4. While 4 eschewed contemporary pop in favor of intimate R&B and soul sounds, Renaissance delves deep into dance music — and I mean deep. Every sample, feature, and reference is intentionally selected and seamlessly incorporated to show, rather than tell, the history of dance music. Nile Rodgers’ trademark guitar playing on the sure-to-be-timeless “Cuff It” roots the song squarely in disco tradition, while feeling quintessentially Beyoncé. Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” gets its best interpolation yet on “Alien Superstar,” transforming the goofy novelty hit’s melody into an otherworldly ascending hook uplifting queer joy and uniqueness. “Pure/Honey” puts ballroom front and center with its sample of drag legend Kevin Aviance’s iconic “Cunty.” Beyoncé even closes the album with “Summer Renaissance” — a tribute to forever-reigning Queen of Disco Donna Summer through its sample of “I Feel Love,” a track that laid the foundation for all dance music to come. Beyoncé isn’t shy about her influences, and the album is all the better for it. In fact, it’s what makes Renaissance Renaissance.

Lyrically, the album marks a departure from Beyoncé’s previous works. Whereas every previous Beyoncé album is first and foremost about the life, love, and longings of its creator, Renaissance concerns itself more with the listener. Far from the autobiographical storytelling of an album like Lemonade, no track on Renaissance is exclusive to Beyoncé’s experience. Rather, each song allows its audience to place themselves into the music’s narrative, taking the long-running self-empowerment theme present throughout her career to its logical next step. Beyoncé has always, in a way, acted as a vessel for the aspirations and desires of her audience — someone we can see ourselves in despite the enormous gaps in wealth and success that separate us. On Renaissance, Beyoncé strikes a more relatable pose. In the place of regular muse Jay Z, an untouchable cultural and capitalist force, we get Uncle Johnny, a  more humble and grounded source of inspiration, love, and family. This is an album for fans, especially the Black queer fans who have championed her to this point. It’s no accident that this album arrived without a single video or live performance to promote it. We are, after all, talking about Beyoncé: music’s great renaissance woman. Instead, each listener is given the liberty to interpret and personalize each song on their own accord. Without releasing a single visual, Beyoncé delivered a project that feels completely alive and fully formed while standing on its own: the mark of a truly great album.

Hearing Beyoncé let loose on Renaissance is refreshing, engaging, and only gets more rewarding with each listen. After two long years of social distancing and listening to music in claustrophobic quarters, we all needed a release of energy. And after decades of supporting one of pop’s greatest and straightest monogamists, Beyoncé’s queer fans deserved recognition for stanning her into the stratosphere. Renaissance is a love letter to the fans and the music that made her. And frankly, it slaps.

Published as part of Top 25 Albums of 2022.