After the confessional, honest and multidimensional Lemonade, Beyoncé’s next step was a mystery. After her revealing the story of her husband’s infidelity, working throughout the pandemic, she decided on what made sense for her: to have a good time atop dance and house music. RENAISSANCE, her first solo project in six years, is a testament to fun, a reminder of who Beyoncé is, as well as a thank you for everyone who got her this far.
If Beyoncé was going to make a dance pop album, she was going to do it right. The rich and textural 16-track journey incorporates samples from Robin S.’ “Show Me Love” and Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, features Grace Jones and Big Freedia assists, Nile Rogers’ writing, and production by Honey Dijon. The varied work on the album just makes everything feel rich, each song consistently able to hold up while being part of a greater album.
Upon first listen, lead single “BREAK MY SOUL” was a confusing departure from Lemonade — vulnerable and honest lyricism replaced with a lie that Bey just “quit her job.” But thankfully, the song slots perfectly into RENAISSANCE. It asserts that this album, while lacking in narrative — isn’t trying to one-up her previous work. Framed this way, the album is as much of a delightful surprise as “CHURCH GIRL”, which commands to “drop it like a thottie”, instead of being a holy hymn.
Feel-good anthems like “CUFF IT” and “SUMMER RENAISSANCE” bounce off the wall with entertainment and showcase her still-there vocal ability, as energetic as something like her previous “Love On Top” or “Countdown.” Slower, but still impactful songs like “MOVE” or “ENERGY” pace the album excellently, and other cuts like “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM” or “HEATED” highlight her rap skills.
Beyoncé, undoubtedly, knows her power. Whether asserting that she’s “too classy for this world” or titling a song “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM”, leading some to believe it to be a cultural commentary, only for her to talk about her ass (“When I pull up these jeans, you’re mine”), the album comes close to being solely a tribute to her, but is balanced with enough self-empowerment jams. “COZY,” still, talks about herself (“Comfortable in my skin / Cozy with who I am”) but “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” is a tribute to her fans, who she asserts as special (“Unique / That’s what you are / Lingerie reflecting off the mirror on the bar”). It’s somewhat on the nose, spelling out “U-N-I-Q-U-E” on the post-chorus, but at times like these, you remember that she’s also a mom of three (and on “CHURCH GIRL” when she says, “She gon’ shake them ass with them pretty tig ole’ bitties.”)
As someone who shares Beyoncé’s astrological sign, I feel pressure to declare “VIRGO’S GROOVE” as the best song on the album, which is alleviated by the fact that it actually is the best. It’s still unclear how this is a Virgo’s groove in particular, except for maybe the micromanaging commands she sings (“Right here, right now / Baby, lock in / Right now / Cuddled up, on the couch”), but the 6-minute behemoth, combining an irresistible beat and an Earth, Wind & Fire-esque vocoder is not to be missed. “It’s the best song on RENAISSANCE,” Mashable writer Chance Townsend wrote, “created for the best star sign in the universe.”
Any missteps come with the oft-repeated lyrics about her being the boss, or sexual commands, which get somewhat tedious across sixteen songs. But you’re hard pressed to find a throwaway song; even tracks like “THIQUE” and “ALL UP IN YOUR MIND” eventually evolve to accumulate gravitas. The former — starting with the generic mentions of one’s ass and money getting larger — ascends with a braggadocious verse where her voice regresses twenty years in time, and the latter aided by eccentric production from hyperpop’s A.G. Cook.
Listening to the album, it’s clear that Beyoncé had a vision and executed it to perfection, and this is only the first act of the project. At nearly every turn, RENAISSANCE surprises, excites, comforts, and commands the listener to get up and move. It’s the most fun hour of music you’ll get all year.