When everyone’s favourite tall, skinny, blonde, American white girl puts out a new record it practically brings the music industry to a standstill. While she’s incredibly talented, the critical fawning over her frustratingly inconsistent songwriting is so sycophantic that it’s next to impossible to find a review that fairly assesses her work. Her militaristic cult of “stans” are so merciless that nobody is brave enough to admit in print that Tall Skinny White Blonde American White Girl has a bad habit of overshooting her targets despite her lofty ambitions. My biggest problem with her, though, is that she follows trends instead of creating them; she lives in such a vacuum these days that any attempt to come off as “grounded” or “down to earth” rings as false as the narrative that she camped out in a cabin to write and record a couple of folk records. Sorry, kids, she flew in her private jet to a comfy rural villa. I wish she’d just embrace the opulence of her lifestyle for once instead of trying so hard to appear relatable.
What separates Beyoncé from Tall Skinny White American Blonde Girl is that she will be the first to admit that she lives in a completely different universe than everyone else on the planet. And she dictates where her music goes instead of latching on to Greg Kurstin or Bon Iver or that sad sack guy from The National for creative help. Blonde Girl is a pop star, and good for her. She writes some really good songs. But Beyoncé is a visionary.
It’s so funny because when Beyoncé surprised us all with the release of “Break My Soul”, I had the temerity to assume that she was just latching on to the current house/disco revival that’s been recently been led by Dua Lipa and the like. You know, like the bad habit of white America’s queen. Ohhhhh, how wrong I was. I will never forget that first listen to Renaissance in the early morning of July 29 as I took the hour-long bus commute to my work. This was nowhere near an attempt to cash in on a trend. No, this was an absolute clinic in dance music, from the 1970s to present day, featuring some of Bey’s most honest and daring lyrics to date. I remember that final walk to my work as “Summer Renaissance” kicked into its Giorgio Moroder homage and took my breath away. It was all so technically flawless, fluid, clever, and most of all, fun.
I’m not even going to go into every influence Beyoncé explores on Renaissance. To do so would be presumptuous and phony. I was able to identify maybe 30 percent of the musical signposts on the record, at best. Instead I urge you to read what Michaelangelo Matos wrote for the New York Times, in which he goes into thrilling detail about just how deeply knowledgeable and aware Renaissance is of American dance music history. The breadth of this glorious album is astonishing, all interwoven so seamlessly.
In fact, as a guy who prefers to buy his favourite albums on vinyl, I insist Renaissance is a perfect album for the CD format. Why in the heck would anyone in their right mind want to go through six sides of a triple LP when it all blends so fluidly and smoothly as it does on CD? This. Album. Is. A. Dance. Mix. And should be listened to as such. Put it on and move. And there are no ballads! Thank goodness. Nothing but a crazy array of dance beats, wicked hooks, and honest lyrics by a true genius. Beyoncé exists in an entirely different orbit, she has embraced it fully, and thanks in large part to her Uncle Johnny, she has created the biggest musical landmark of her career so far, a creative rebirth like the title alludes to. It’s a record I have been waiting ages for.
And give me “Thique”, any day. What an anthem.