On Friday, Beyoncé released her seventh solo album, “Act I: Renaissance”, six years after the huge success of “Lemonade”. She gave fans and critics a taste of her latest work last month when she released the surprise single “Break My Soul.” (It debuted on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay Chart top 10 on Billboard.)
The Iconic Artist runs a famous tight ship, with a carefully curated image and studio presence. And yet, “Renaissance” leaked out two days before its scheduled release this week, leaving a stream of headlines that clouded the premiere. Of course, leaked content in the music industry is: not something new. But this (minor) chaos shows how even Beyoncé can lose control right now. And in the end, we may have more to do with this lack of control than with her songs themselves.
This (minor) chaos shows how even Beyoncé can lose some control right now.
Beyoncé writes that her new album represents a creative awakening and personal evolution that emerged from the darkness and isolation of the 2020 lockdown. She says she dreamed of an escape “to feel free and adventurous when little else was moving.” And she’s counting on the rest of us to feel the same existential longing and ultimately rejuvenation and reinvention.
It certainly seems as if the pandemic and lockdown have sparked a wave of personal reflection, especially in terms of what we value, who we want to spend our time with, and the role of money and work in our daily lives. This sentiment arguably culminated in the Great Resignation, when millions of people quit their jobs in the hope that they would not only survive, but thrive creatively, professionally and emotionally. Beyoncé’s single “Break My Soul” seems to capture this feeling.
It also seems about two years too late.
Indeed, after an early wave of perhaps overly optimistic emphasize media reports those who, like Beyoncé apparently, have been able to create new businesses or more flexible work experiences, others have now expressed regret for leaving their jobs without an adequate plan or alternative in place in a society where so much of our quality of life and well-being is lost being can be traced back to work. It’s no surprise that some have panned “Break My Soul” as “tone deaf.”
It’s also not surprising that Beyoncé has experienced a personal renaissance in recent years, with so many of us feeling more personally and professionally insecure than ever. “Renaissance” reflects the “Good vibes onlyatmosphere from a few years ago. Now we have articles being published about how this kind of attitude can actually happen become poisonous when it rejects more complex experiences and emotions. Americans have long been relentlessly optimistic – an interesting side effect of our national singularity. This album takes advantage of that quality, but it’s a feeling that is becoming increasingly scarce as our political rights and the environment deteriorate.
Public frustration runs deep. A majority of the population has been over and over again support for reproductive women rights, stricter gun laws and more action on climate change. Our collective inability to promote more humane and socially progressive government policies has left us in a state of social decline, more than a state of renaissance.
This is just not quite the taste of cultural awakening we desperately need right now.
In this climate, music about feeling good and the dreamy escapes of the very rich is hard to get excited about – even if we have a less critical view of Beyoncé’s celebrity and lightning-fast success as hook the late bell. Beyoncé may be a musical genius, as evidenced by unexpected collaborations such as working with Grace Jones on the number ‘Move’. She mixes and samples across genresand they pure determination is compelling. But this just isn’t quite the taste of cultural awakening we desperately need right now.
Because this is about renaissances: they refer to: collective change and social transformation, not personal private evolutions. The Italian Renaissance was not only about the great works and achievements of figures like Leonardo da Vinci or Galileo Galileo, but above all about a definitive break with older traditional ways of thinking and organizing society. Closer to home, few would pin the Harlem Renaissance on the shoulders of a single person, even the formidable of Langston Hughes or Zora Neal Hurston. no, the Harlem Renaissance was about a fundamental reorganization of everyday life and social space, boldly centered around black life. In order to not only envision, but also sustain lasting personal evolution, we need broader social transformations and safeguards that enable that greater personal expression.
Yes, we need good vibes and good music, but we also need better socio-economic plans so we don’t get confused when those dreams of escape don’t quite catch on. Beyoncé’s personal renaissance may well inspire her biggest fans. Perhaps it will also provide a catchy soundtrack for the rest of us as we push ourselves, each other, and our social institutions toward a brighter future.