The cultural impact of Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’ Album

Beyonce in Rome in the On the Run Tour on 8 de June, 2018 – Wikimedia Commons

On January 21, 2023, Beyoncé performed for the opening of a luxury hotel in Dubai and was paid 35 million dollars to do so. This was her first concert in over four years, and it was invite-only, featuring journalists, influencers, and celebrities such as Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Chloe x Halle, and Rebel Wilson. 

Beyoncé opened her concert with a cover of Etta James’s “At Last.”  She was accompanied by a full orchestra, a dance ensemble, and even a duet with her daughter Blue Ivy on their song “Brown Skin Girl.” 

Despite releasing her new album Renaissance in the summer of 2022, her Dubai performance did not feature any songs from the multi-Grammy nominated album. Instead, its setlist consisted of—in order of appearance— “XO,” “Ave Maria,” “Halo,” “Brown Skin Girl,” “Be Alive,” “Bigger,” “Freedom,” “Beautiful Liar,” “I Care,” “Crazy In Love,” “Countdown,” and “Naughty Girl,” to name a few. 

By embracing black queer culture, Beyoncé raises awareness for the community that threw the first bricks at Stonewall and is responsible for the majority of queer culture we have today.

Beyoncé ended the show dancing in a fountain with an ethereal and powerful rendition of “Drunk in Love” in the Phrygian mode. A video of her final riff went viral after users uploaded footage of her concert to TikTok which had viewers all over the world entranced. 

While Beyoncé’s concert in Dubai was sensational, it did leave some of her fans upset that she would perform in a country where one of her biggest inspirations, her Uncle Jonny, to whom she even dedicated Renaissance, could be sentenced to death for existing. 

In Dubai, it is illegal to be gay, and is an offense punishable by death due to the Sharia Law derived from the Quran. Beyoncé’s fanbase did express concern about her choice, but then again 35 million is 35 million. 

Beyoncé is not a shallow person for this, and she must have been eager to perform for the world after such a long hiatus. In addition, she has released limited visuals for her recent album, with only “I’m That Girl” and “Break My Soul” receiving teasers. With this lack of visuals, she wants her fans to experience the music for themselves, to draw their own conclusions and associations with the music.

 On the other hand, some fans and sources speculate that Beyoncé may be releasing another film in the same way she did for her previous album, Lemonade. Only time will tell, as it has been six months and she has still not released a single music video for the album. 

Beyoncé’s album Renaissance is grounded in black queer ballroom culture. It debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 and had the third highest album debut of 2022.

Contradictingly, Beyoncé’s Renaissance features a wide range of music: disco, electro-funk, afrobeat, techno, breakbeat, and house, which ballroom culture used as a form of resistance against racism and homophobia during drag pageants for gay black men and transgender women. 

Beyoncé samples drag icons of the era such as Kevin Aviance and Moi Renee, and on her lead single “Break My Soul” she samples Big Frieda’s 2014 track “Explode.” DJ Honey Dijon, who worked on the production of Renaissance, is a black trans-activist herself and remixed “Break My Soul” with Beyoncé. The album cover of Renaissance is a shout-out to designer Telfar Clemons and pays homage to Harlem’s ballroom scene.

Voguing ball as part of “Give me life” voguing festival in Berlin, November 2018 – Wikimedia Commons

 A remix of “Break My Soul,” The Queens Mix features a reworking of “Vogue” by Madonna that replaces the names of golden-age Hollywood singers and actors with powerful black women and queer artists such as Lizzo, Janet Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Grace Jones, Missy Elliott, Diana Ross, and Lauryn Hill. 

The song also pays homage to multiple Drag houses—a house of chosen family that one competes with at Drag Balls—in the following verse. This brings the song back full circle to the title of the classic Madonna hit. 

Voguing is a dance that is judged in ballroom pageants. Voguing’s roots are in the Harlem Renaissance—a dance form created to rebel against the “traditional” dance that was used to express the flow of movement and sexuality, as well as a way to fight against racism and homophobia. 

The reason why the outro of the Renaissance track “Heated” is so iconic is because it portrays the life, celebration, and queerness of a drag ball seen in the lyrics “tip, tip, tip on hardwood floors / ten, ten, ten across the board (with a waist that whines like it) / Give me face, face, face, face, yah / Your face card never declines my God.” 

By embracing black queer culture, Beyoncé raises awareness for the community that threw the first bricks at Stonewall and is responsible for the majority of queer culture we have today.

Fourth Former Aaron Bonaparte is a part of the BeyHive, Beyoncé’s online fanbase, and feels liberated that the community is finally getting national and worldwide recognition.

Renaissance is one of the first times that we’ve had a big artist make an album, for us [the POC queer community]… people can take our rhythm, music, and our dances and say ‘oh were voguing, oh were appreciating the culture’ but it just devalues, appropriates, and gentrifies it,” Bonaparte said. “For the first time, [Renaissance] is truly cultural appreciation. Beyoncé has done her homework, she has sampled the icons of Ball culture, and she made something completely new and beautiful. She is ‘That Girl.’”