Beyoncé’s Renaissance signs her decline as a pop product but marks a probable rise of the performer as an artist. The album shows how a carefully crafted product is slowly trying to get back to being “herself”. It does not seem perfect, but she tries.
Knowles claimed she made Renaissance as she wanted people to be able to dance. Problem is, no one has the heart to dance right now. With the inflation, health crisis and constant insecurities, no one wishes to be entertained.
Since her debut with the Destiny’s Child, Knowles was always marketed and obsessed with media exposure. It is clear that Beyoncé, along with Gaga, benefited from the massive domination of the GAFA which began in the late 2000s. Their success is not authentic and was supported by a platform which involves mass media, the GAFAs, politicians and the handlers which command those platforms from higher spheres.
Throughout the 2010s, Beyoncé’s success worked in condordance with the media and politics of her time. Before she even released an album, the mass media were writing raving reviews to her music when the cds released proved to be extremely weak in terms of longevity. Nobody, outside of Beyoncé’s violent fanbase, could sing a Beyoncé song, besides Crazy In Love and Single Ladies. The media marketed Beyoncé as a genius ahead of her time, when she is not. Indeed, in a matter of twenty years, Knowles never created any anthem, only has a few hit singles, and does not have any classic album. She often samples and pay homage to artists of the past, when she is not involved in issues of plagiarism, but never created anything on her own.
Since the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, modern music went downhill. This was due to the rise of reality TV stars in part which contributed to a change in the music industry. Now, the focus was no longer placed on talent at all but on popularity. Plus, with the rise of technology and social media, anybody can become viral and sign contracts. This technological superpower was problematic as it took away the focus off real artists who, when they refused to be a part of the GAFA machine, remained in the dark. Yet, since the 1980s, the level of musical artistry kept declining. Beyoncé, like Usher, Christina Aguilera and the other singers/products born in the late 1970s and early 1980s failed miserably and proved to be the least impactful acts in our era.
Those singers belong to the “spoiled generation”. While the Michael Jacksons, Janet Jacksons, Whitney Houstons, or white artists like Madonna, Georges Michael and many others had to fight extremely hard to make it and be heard through talent (minus Madonna who made it through scandal since she has no specific singing talent), the black singers had to resist racism. Michael Jackson was not played on MTV because he was black and had to prove them wrong when releasing Thriller and Beat It. In other words, the 1980s artists, like the ones who came before them, had to fight for something. Yet, the generation of Beyoncé had their doors already opened when they started in the late 90s and early 00s. Indeed, she never had to fight for nothing since Jackson already broke all the barriers. In other words, the singers of her generation, such as Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera or Usher benefited from the sacrifices of their elders. The 80s-born singers were crafted by the industry, were mediocre (except for Usher) and did not have the ability to leave a strong legacy on their own.
Aguilera’s faux-rebellion came from Madonna. Usher, though a brilliant vocalist, was a pseudo-Jackson while Timberlake was a failed attempt at a white-washed neo-Jacksonization of the industry. None of them stand out. Renaissance proves it. She made it for us to dance, but it is not joyful at all but rather filled with an aura of dark energy.
Renaissance is an interesting piece of work. It is not a good album but it is a good album. For the first time in ten years, it sounds like Beyoncé tried to be herself. Through her evolution, her discography poses the same problem. Who is she?
Something is old-fashioned in the way Beyoncé carries herself and interracts with the world. Since the beginning, Knowles wants to become an icon but despite her efforts, she failed to realize that TIME and only time can prove one’s singer to be legendary or not. Most singers deemed legendary do not even record music with this idea in mind but are just being themselves. Ordered praising reviews aimed to be forced down the masses’ throats will never surpass the depth of a song. Legends are legends because their music touch our souls. In that sense, Knowles crafts things without wanting to showcase her vulnerability.
It is understandable she does not want to Kim Kardashian-ize her private life, but this is not the 1980s anymore to do mysterious antics like Prince, especially when she is predictable, calculates everything and has not been authentic. She is not a musical genius to behave like this. But she must be a god to the black group she was sent back to dominate as planned by the industry.
There is a constant disconnection in what Beyoncé produces. In her recent project The Gift, she attempted to pay homage to African culture. To her defense, Beyoncé had tried, since 2012 to add an African sound to her music. But though she launched Black Is King, the visuals were exposed by Nigerians as a form of “Wakandification” of their reality. Actually, Africans never needed Beyoncé at all, especially when she does not know anything about West African culture. Instead, the imagery she displayed was that of a wealthy, Europeanized black American family going back to the Mother Land.
The album Renaissance proves one thing. Beyoncé is not a genius and that title was forcefully spread through the mass media who work along with her. She has no sense of musicality and the production is improbable. The lyrics lack depth and the vulgarity is not necessary. As per any album of hers, Beyoncé proves to have real issues regarding her insecurities. Though her legion of agressive fans worship and elevate her, she is still obsessed with what her haters say and feel. In that sense, though she always failed to display, convey emotions as she is too controlling about her image, it seems like Knowles is only familiar with two human interractions: domination and assertion. And this constant passive-aggressive dynamic is exhausting as we would enjoy more vulnerable, spiritual songs. Even when she focuses on vulnerability, the same aggressivity comes back. (“Melanin too strong to throw her shade”, Brown Skin Girl)
Sonically, the album is a mess. The songs which stand out of the sixteen clearly are Alien Superstar, a Prince-like production which suits her, Break My Soul, Plastic Off The Sofa, Virgo’s Groove and Move. Outside of these songs, Beyoncé’s Renaissance sounds like any other of her projects. The latter are often made out of four good songs which precede a succession of fillers, since she has no sense of musicality. Yet, as usual, she justifies the horrible quality of her lack of cohesive work with art.
Knowles is contemporary art at its finest. Her music is the banana glued to a white wall wealthy White leftists consider to be artistically revolutionary. Worst. She is a part of a club whose members gift one another with pearls at the heart of elitism as illustrated with her prizes overearned at the Grammys. Now, with Renaissance, she managed to incorporate it into a black queer narrative to prevent anybody from attacking it for fear of being considered a racist. Queer or not, this album is not good.
Other artists like Azaelia Banks or even Mariah Carey have proven to be always consistent with house music. Throughout her 1990s career, Carey always proposed various Latin house and House remixes to her fanbase. She came from the club scene and culture as a 1980s teenager. And despite the ballads, Carey never abandoned the genre. Azaelia Banks, though problematic, must be one of the only modern young black female artists to further the legacy of the classic Chicago sound. With Beyoncé, one can not say the same. Her roots are clearly RnB and Funk. Her voice suits horns, bass lines and traditional funky records but she refuses to sing such music and wants to hop on new trends she never represented before. Also, her lack of identity as a human being always contrives her to pay homage to fill in the blank.
Beyoncé often presents herself in places where we don’t need her. What was the point of doing The Gift when Nigerians, Ghanaians or Congolese people already had their own local artists, scenes for years, before she even existed? Now, she wants to represent the house scene as if she was trying to discover a new part of her. And that is the issue, who is Beyoncé? The more she ages, the more one realizes her career is similar to Christina Aguilera’s. The latter proved to have no cohesion in her music, jumping from a style to another until her final demise with BIONIC, a flop she never recovered from. And because she is arrogant enough to make music to be recognised as the “one” to do it, Knowles sounds unauthentic. Nobody needed Beyoncé to represent the black ballroom culture since black gays already put it in the map since the 1980s.
The best songs on the album do not sound like her, but as if they had been delivered to her, as if that delivery in the singing was directed to her. She attempted to be herself but still needed guides as she knows she is not the genius she pretended to be.
On Break My Soul, her best song in the project, her deeper tone displays her emotion. Her lyrics are deep and one can feel the vulnerability. The Madonna remix where she pays tribute to all the black figures she admires, including Rihanna is a thing of the past. Throughout the past fifteen years, Beyoncé never showcased any form of respect towards Rihanna but used the latter’s name for clout. For Alien Superstar, one can sense that she had fun recording it, as she displays a sense of humor in her delivery. A typical black ballroom song. Virgo’s Groove and Plastic Off The Sofa are what Knowles does best as this is the music she deserves to sing. Move is the continuity of The Gift and the live version will surely be incredible. Honey/Pure is improbable but innovative and funny.
Then come the cringey songs which support the ideas of Beyoncé as being disconnected from reality, even hers. Cuff It sounds like she forced herself to be the “cool” mom. The vulgar language she uses as she throws the “F” bomb to seem cool and edgy is laughable. That party song will surely not become a Gen Z anthem but is good enough for aging millennials who are struggling to keep their fading 20s youth alive as they approach their 40s.Beyoncé sings about being “wasted” but surely does not do it herself. She is a mother of three, married with a traditional and calculated life. Rihanna would sing such song naturally since it suited her life before she became a billionaire. Thique, Heated, Church Girls, America Has a Problem, All Up In Your Mind and Summer Renaissance are some of the worst songs ever.
Renaissance is supposed to be a tribute to black queer ballroom culture. The album does not add anything new to the elevation or representation of black culture at all since Beyoncé does not create anything new. Indeed, what is the point of listening to Renaissance when Teena Marie, Donna Summers, Nile Rogers, Prince, Crystal Waters and so many other black legends left pieces of timeless music which are still relevant fourty years later?
Renaissance will not change the course of music but it surely will change a lot for Beyoncé in her personal quest, in knowing who she really is as a human being. It is not a good album but it is a good album because she attempted to propose something different in the spectrum of that personal, inner quest.
Consequently, Beyoncé can certainly lose the attention of the younger generation, put out albums which flop, but can, eventually, manage to make that ultimate classic album she has never been able to produce.
Beyoncé could end up like Prince. As time went by, the latter’s 80s hits eventually lacked the spiritual depth of his production as an adult and aging man. With age comes maturity. And Beyoncé seems to go to that route where she knows she will no longer sell like before but will make albums she likes whose impact could last for the decades to come in black circles.
By VKY, Victoria Kabeya, All Rights Reserved, Originally posted in August 9th, 2022