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Why Beyoncé's 'Renaissance' Is A Love Letter To Queer Black Music

Beyoncé performs in a lime green dress and large earrings, behind her other performers are in the same color.
Beyoncé performs during the Oscars in March. Her latest album was released last week.
(Robyn Beck
AFP via Getty Images)
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The new Beyoncé album has finally dropped and, yes, we are excited. Her seventh solo studio album Act I Renaissance, is a 16-track album fit for a euphoric and sweaty summer dance floor.

We talked to Wynter Mitchell-Rohrbaugh, an L.A.-based writer and host of the Waiting to X-Hale podcast, about Beyoncé's first major work since 2020'sBlack Is King.

So Renaissance — it's dance-y, it's exuberant, filled with with house, disco, and Afrobeat sounds. How does this album build off of Beyoncé's other work?

You know, Beyoncé's other work, even the most recent work — I'm talking about maybe not Black Is King, but more Lemonade — [is] a very deeply personal work. And when we look at sort of the transition from Lemonade all the way here to Renaissance, we're seeing someone who has processed trauma and who's coming out of trauma, which I think — not to even make it even more deep than it is — it's very compelling coming out of COVID. It's very compelling coming out of a period of deep reflection, and internalization. And to have this kind of creative art piece come from that so many years after Lemonade. It's a beautiful body of work. I think she's done an incredible job sort of showing us where she is today.

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The album has a lot of queer influences, could you get into the inspirations and sounds we're hearing?

You know, she's pretty much covered the map in terms of looking at dancehall, bounce, internet pop. She's got Honey Dijon on Cozy, she's got a credit from Green Velvet, also out of Chicago. There's Beam, Jamaican dancehall, and then we've got even Big Freedia from New Orleans Bounce.

And those genres are so key to the LGBTQ community, specifically in the club arena, that it also contributes to sort of like this love letter notion. She's actually going to the source, going to the grain and getting these legends on board to contribute to Renaissance.

Beyoncé is an artist known for her visuals, but this album is a departure from that — 16 songs, no videos...yet. What's significant about the presentation of this album?

I think it's interesting, because we know that Beyoncé is this incredible performer. But what we do know about her, she's able to sort of capture the zeitgeist. And for a long time, for many years, capturing the zeitgeist meant having an amazing music video to sort of support the lead single. We don't have that yet. We're obviously demanding it, the audience demands it!

But the fact that she didn't lead off with a music video is to me allowing the music to sit in front of this body of work, to sit in front of what we can anticipate, visually. And I think it stands on its own, it's a very calculated risk that paid off. It is one of those things that is not typical. A lot of artists today really want you to sort of become them, you know, pull in that vibe that they're presenting to you. She really just wants you to listen to the music.

This album feels personal in new ways for Beyoncé. It's a little more explicit about bodies and desire. Is she showing us a new side of herself ?

Lemonade was — not to compare, but since that is the last major sort of personal work that she presented — Lemonade was an epic storytelling of sadness and despair and rage. And it felt like Black Is King was a fevered dream of Afro futurism, deeply visual efforts. So to drop an album light on visual, letting the music lead, it's actually more risky than anything a pop artists of recent time has done and it reinforces her iconography, right?

It's a calculated risk. It reinforces the fact that she is a vocal heavyweight, that she does know how to layer beats in production, that she does know how to pull sound. She knows how to do that, as a producer, as an artist. It really harkens back to sort of the Quincy, Michael Jackson Off the Wall days where it's really the layers of sound, and then the vocal mastery.

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Real quick... what else are you listening to these days?

I mean, what else am I listening to these days? There's a lot of different music out there. I mean, really, if we're talking about these days, I've only been listening to Virgo's Groove by Beyonce over 20 times in the last two days.

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