Beyoncé is back, y’all.
A celebration of the queer and black icons who largely pioneered house music, RENAISSANCE is multi-faceted, genre-hopping, transcendental, and incredibly genuine. Though she is not a queer woman herself, as far as we know, Beyoncé’s ability to infuse important cultural references and language from the LGBTQ+ community, especially ball culture, into nearly every song shows her passion and reverence for the topic.
From track to track, she slips in and out of 70s soul, funk, hip-hop and rap, house/dance, and Latin-afro beats all in one album (sometimes in one track), which shows her versatility and creativity. It’s a marvel of performance art and production alike.
Before I jump into the songs themselves, I want to acknowledge that I’ll be ignorant about certain topics and their significance or impact. I’m not qualified to speak about the cultural importance about such things (there are better sources for that), but I wanted to emphasize up front that a knowledge gap exists. I’ve done my best to educate myself, but something will slip through the cracks.
Though this album is truly an experience to be played front to back, I want to talk about each song, ranked from my least favorite to most favorite. The first song on the list is my least favorite, while the next song up is one I like better than that, and so forth until the end (my favorite track).
However, the album is hard to contain and define this way. That’s why I am also putting the songs into 3 tiers. The tiers serve to show that everything in that category is on the same playing field, even if I might prefer one track over another.
Enough pointless disclaimers! Let’s break down some songs.
B Tier – B is for “Because they just don’t do it for me”
“ALL UP IN YOUR MIND” – I like the hook, but it just kind of sounds like an interlude–half-baked, building up to nothing, repetitive. I guess I’m not alone in this because it’s by-far the least-streamed song on the album, as of the time of writing this, at 834,000 streams.
“AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM” – I’m guessing I just don’t really get this one, but regardless of whatever there is to “get”, it’s not my cup of tea. Beyoncé’s rapping is good though, as always. I do find myself getting this part stuck in my head: “Tony Montana with the racks; Double C’s on my bag, double Gs on my dash; N***a, I’m bad, I’m bad.”
“HEATED” – I like the beat and rhythm, and generally everything about the song, except for one thing. Beyoncé fans are divided into two camps on this song: those who stan her rap verse at the end and those who think it’s campy, with first-draft lyrics, and a persona that seems so affected that it’s hard to enjoy. Okay, maybe I’m the only one in that second camp. I respect what that verse is and wants to be, but it is not for me.
“SUMMER RENAISSANCE” – Caught between a dance track and a soulful, breathy R&B song, this song pulls off neither for me satisfyingly. It has some nice moments and is certainly enjoyable while you listen to it, but it overall doesn’t excel at anything.
A Tier – A is for “Always Going Hard”
“I’M THAT GIRL” – This makes for a great album mantra/hype song with the whole “please, motherfuckers ain’t stoppin’ me” sample and lyrics about knowing you’re the shit. It’s a whole mood that I want to embrace more.
“THIQUE” – This might be the most hip-hop song on the album and it goes pretty hard with themes of celebrating one’s body, revenue, and status. I want to embody Beyoncé’s “bad bitch energy”. This couplet early in the song is my favorite: “He thought he was lovin’ me good, I told him go harder/ She thought she was killin’ that shit, I told her go harder.”
“PLASTIC OFF THE SOFA” – The closest thing to a ballad on the album, this song slows things down a bit, gets a little softer, a little more vulnerable. For what it’s worth, Beyoncé pulls this off effortlessly in the middle of a tribute to queer people and house/dance music icons. It’s a beautiful, 70’s-style jam that has Justin Timberlake in shambles.
“MOVE” – I hope you all have a group of girls that you go out to the dance floor and command attention with. While I personally don’t see myself hitting many dance floors in the near future, I so appreciate the energy. The Grace Jones and Tems features are a nice complement to the track. The music video in my head sure goes off.
“COZY” – I am living for the groove on this one. She celebrates her body for all it is capable of, scars and stretch marks included. Of course, many of the lyrics are about embracing one’s blackness, too, but I think it’s incredible that she chose to make it a universal anthem for body positivity and loving yourself the way you are.
S Tier – S is for “So Fucking Perfect”
“VIRGO GROOVE” – When people say something is a “vibe”, I think we all sort of collectively have an idea of what that means. This song is a vibe for me in that I am cruising in a 1960s red convertible on some back road in California with my friends, while we jam to summer tunes and pretend we don’t have any problems. It doesn’t make me want to dance, it makes me want to sway back and forth in my seat and say, “waiter, can I get some more of this shit?”.
“ALIEN SUPERSTAR” – After seeing someone at The Ringer describe this as “Prince being resurrected for 3:35”, my whole opinion on this song changed. “Category: bad bitch. I’m the bar – Alien Superstar” is so dope, first of all. Second, of all, I know this song (and album) aren’t for or about me, but that speaks to how powerful the songs are that I resonate with them all the same.
“CUFF IT” – Despite the absolute retro, creamy-goodness of this song that is right up my alley, as a lover of 70s and 80s funk and soul, I took longer to come around on this song than I should have. Not to worry though, I have seen the light, “CUFF IT” stans! The black light, you might say.
“CHURCH GIRL” – I love the gospel intro that lulls you into a false sense of security before dropping that Triggerman beat. I’m just waiting on the Megan Thee Stallion remix because this song has Megan written all over it. While using “thotty” liberally, as well as the phrase “tig ole bitties”, is a bit cringe, the song is so good and so fun, I can’t help but not care.
“BREAK MY SOUL” – I loved this song instantly. Again, the queer and black icons who pioneered house music were lost on me as a little girl when I heard extended club remixes on the radio Friday nights. Regardless, “Break My Soul” evoked that 90’s nostalgia all the same because of its flawless execution and pure passion. I don’t give a shit if Beyoncé is relatable in this song or not. She did work hard to get here and the lyrics are still relatable to someone. You know someone gonna be screaming those lyrics about “I just fell in love, I just quit my job”. Or, “they work my nerve, that’s why I cannot sleep at night”.
“ENERGY” – I just love this fucking song, especially as a transition from “CUFF IT”. You know I love me a good transition. And also shout out to my favorite lyric, “cuz them Karens just turned into terrorists”. Everything about this song is iconic–the Latin American influence in the middle, the contributions from BEAM, the beat, the high-energy (no pun intended).
“PURE/HONEY” – What do I even say about this behemoth of a song that couldn’t even be contained in one song? I’m a big fan of songs that transform and change, morphing into something else over time. Part house track, part Soul Train-esque soul number, “PURE/HONEY” is more than a song; it’s an experience in of itself. Yes, I want to strut a runway and dance all night even though I would actually never be caught dead doing either. Yes, I want to embrace my inner goddess and not care what anyone thinks. This song makes me feel like I can do anything.
Some iconic lines: “4, 3, 2 fuckin’ busy.” “Check my technique/comin’ for my technique/study my technique.” “It should cost a billion to look this good.” “Bad bitches to the left, money bitches to the right. You can be both, meet in the middle, dance all night.” “Get your money money, cunty hunty/Don’t be funny with my money, honey.”