The Renaissance Moment: How Beyonce Stopped the World (Again)
On July 26, 2023, Beyoncé performed at the Ford Field in Detroit as part of her Renaissance World Tour. Draped in gold shimmering diamonds and wearing sleek black heels, her presence was truly a sight to behold. Over sixty thousand fans were drawn to the stadium, many of them dressed in ensembles composed of pearls, diamonds, high heels, metallic corsets, and sparkling cowboy hats. The energy felt surreal yet palpable. It was the night Ford Field was transformed into an actual Beyhive. I have been to plenty of concerts, but none of them matched the experience of the “Renaissance.”
Beyoncé’s “Renaissance,” which won the 2023 Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album, celebrates queer culture through the sonic avenues of house, disco, techno, afrobeat, and electro-funk. Throughout history, the word “renaissance” has always been used to describe a cultural revival. The Renaissance in Europe, which spanned the 15th and 16th centuries, marked the transition between medieval and modern times. The Harlem Renaissance was a period of black cultural and artistic reinvention. Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” forces the world to reckon with the lost legacy of music's black, female, and queer innovators. It reworks the meaning of what it means to “be,” especially in a post-pandemic world.
“Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” Beyoncé shared in a statement on her website, Beyonce.com. “It allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving. My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom.” During the pandemic, the world experienced mass emotional loss and heightened anxiety. It was a time of collective trauma that pushed countless people into survival mode. Millions of people were dying worldwide and political upheaval was widespread. Two years later, Beyoncé released an album full of empowering affirmations with the intention of healing our battle scars.
The song, “Cozy,” is a self-love anthem where Beyoncé encourages her fans to embrace their imperfections and feel comfortable in their own skin. In the chorus, she sings, “Comfortable in my skin/Cozy with who I am/I love myself, goddamn/Cozy, cozy.” The song is co-written by Honey Dijon, a transgender music producer. In the same spirit, “Church Girl” expresses a need for self-expression and authenticity. “Nobody can judge me but me/I was born free (Born free).”
“Break My Soul” is a proletariat chant. Beyoncé preaches to the masses about letting go of stress in the form of capitalistic obligations. Quitting your job and chasing your dreams is the prevailing message behind the song. Furthermore, “Break My Soul” points to a recent economic trend called the Great Resignation. Following the pandemic, thousands of workers voluntarily resigned from their jobs for a variety of reasons. Many of them cited low pay, limited opportunities for advancement, and not feeling valued. In her song, Beyoncé attempts to relate to the average person. Bounce artist and New Orleans legend Big Freedia can be heard rapping: “Release ya anger, release ya mind / Release ya job, release the time / Release ya trade, release the stress / Release the love, forget the rest.” “Virgo’s Groove” is a high-octane track full of impressive vocal runs and riffs. The lyrics talk boastfully about pure ecstasy and enjoying every moment with the love of your life. Similarly, “Plastic Off The Sofa” is a titillating burst of sound that signifies love, sensuality and vulnerability. The song is co-written by Syd, one of the most well-known gay R&B artists.
When Beyoncé performs the hypnotic ballroom track “Alien Superstar,” green light beams bounce off of the futuristic design of the stage. There is a diverse cast of dancers wearing silver leotards and voguing. At the end of the song, a quote from Barbara Ann Teer is sampled. She says: “We dress a certain way/We walk a certain way/We talk a certain way/We paint a certain way/We make love a certain way, you know/All of these things we do in a different/Unique, specific way that is personally ours.” I believe in this context, “ours” alludes to the contributions of both the black and LGBT+ communities. House and disco were the musical inspirations behind the Renaissance album.
Disco gave marginalized communities a platform to express themselves artistically. Through their art, artists like Donna Summer, Sylvester, and Gloria Gaynor pushed through the veil of racial injustice and oppression. The infamous Stonewall Riots and the civil rights movement of the late 1960s were coextensive with a turning point in America’s history. Tensions between social groups grew and violence was on the rise. In a way, these revolts against the status-quo, the breaking down of tradition and the fight for recognition gave rise to disco. However, disco was too black and too gay for middle America. As disco fell in popularity, dance music went underground.
Stylistically high-tempo and energizing, music producers in predominantly black and queer nightclubs in Chicago were bringing a new genre to life. House music truly brought the house down. It represented the rebirth of a genre that uplifted the voices of women, people of color, and members of the LGBT+ community. The genre started to gain mainstream popularity in the 1990s then international audiences slowly began taking control. Black artists were essentially pushed out of the genre they created.
Earlier this year, Beyoncé became the first black woman to win a Grammy for Best Dance/Electronic Album. In her acceptance speech, she said, “I'd like to thank the queer community for your love and inventing this genre."
The cultural impact of the “Renaissance” cannot be understated. The album created a moment in time where freedom and unapologetic self-love were at the helm. It is not every day that an artist can produce a body of work that shifts the modern soundscape completely. Beyoncé artfully crafts a world of opulence and otherworldly imagery inside of the “Renaissance.”
Since my time at the concert, I’ve often wondered what felt so special about that night. It’s partly because her music helps bring people together in a world that grows more divided every day. It’s the intricate way she strings different concepts together. It is also her ability to perform at such a high-level seemingly without effort. But I think you just had to be there. Everywhere you looked, some reflective object was beaming light back at you. It was like a constant reminder of the inner radiance shining within yourself. “Renaissance” was an iconic moment in music history.