Music

Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’ pays tribute to Black queer roots of house and disco music

Influenced by the underground LGBTQ-dominated ballroom scene, Beyoncé incorporates the stylings of Black queer and trans performers in her new work.

In this Nov. 4, 2016 file photo, Beyonce performs at a Get Out the Vote concert for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Cleveland. Beyonce, Blake Shelton, Barbra Streisand and Oprah Winfrey will headline a one-hour benefit telethon to benefit Hurricane Harvey victims that will be simulcast Sept. 12, 2017, on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CMT.
Andrew Harnik, AP
In this Nov. 4, 2016 file photo, Beyonce performs at a Get Out the Vote concert for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Cleveland. Beyonce, Blake Shelton, Barbra Streisand and Oprah Winfrey will headline a one-hour benefit telethon to benefit Hurricane Harvey victims that will be simulcast Sept. 12, 2017, on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CMT.

It's likely to be one of the biggest – if not the biggest – albums by a Texas artist this year: Beyoncé's seventh studio album, "Renaissance," dropped on Friday, bringing fans a joyous mix of danceable hits inspired by disco and house music. Influenced by the underground LGBTQ-dominated ballroom scene, Beyoncé incorporates the stylings of Black queer and trans performers in her new work.

Taylor Crumpton, a music and pop culture writer from Dallas who called the album "a love letter to the Black queer roots of dance music" in an article for Essence, noted that one would be remiss to not classify house music as Black queer music because Black queer individuals and communities are the reasons why it is such a popular genre today.

"‘Renaissance' is in equal parts an educational lesson in the history of dance and house music, as well as an education in Black queer studies," Crumpton said. "When you look at the references that she pulled from, whether it's the disco divas of Diana Ross and Donna Summer – which we know their anthems throughout the generations have been popularly used at Pride and came out in an era where LGBTQ folks were fighting and still continue to fight for their basic civil rights – as well as the voices of folks like Big Freedia, an ambassador of bounce music from New Orleans who she's used before on ‘Formation'; as well as individuals like DJ MikeQ, a prominent DJ in the ballroom community; Moi Renee, a legendary drag queen; from the production of someone like a Honey Dijon, who is a black trans woman and is an architect of the contemporary sounds we hear from dance and house. There is so much reverence of the Black queer musicians from the generations of the past to present day that are featured on this album."

Shortly before the album's release, Beyoncé said it was a tribute to her Uncle Jonny, her godfather, a proud gay man who lost his life to AIDS. Houston was one of the hot spots during the HIV/AIDS epidemics where it was spread throughout disproportionately Black LGBTQ communities like the ballroom scene, Crumpton said.

"So there is this parallel to the current treatment that's happening with the monkeypox vaccine and rollout and its impact on the LGBTQ community – specifically, Black and brown folks in there – as well as knowing, you know, right now we are in this cultural moment where people want to go outside and they want to dance and they want happy music and they want to feel joyful," Crumpton said. "I think a lot of this album draws from Drake's ‘Honestly, Nevermind,' and he is a contributor on the album. You have these two pop stars, you know, worldwide, and their albums of this summer encouraged people to get out and dance and be free and really have that liberation from their bodies.

"And that's what house music was. It was a safe space for folks who had been kicked out of their home because of their gender identity and gender expression and sexual orientation to feel safe around others and just really lose themselves to the music. You know, house music and dance music is a very euphoric experience because it is a liberation from so many of the societal stressors that we experience on an everyday basis."

Crumpton said the way Beyoncé raps on "Renaissance" very much pays reverence to Texas hip-hop, Houston in particular.

"She's always had a rap alter ego, but the sampling on here very much makes me think about these Dirty South anthems: It feels like a very Afro futuristic UGK-type of album. And you know, she's paid tribute and worked with Bun B and Slim Thug and so many of the architects of the contemporary Houston sound – and her being one. You know, I think in a lot of years, people have written about how Beyoncé may be the best rapper in her household compared to her legendary husband, Jay-Z.

"But she is flexing her position as a singer and a vocalist, especially on ‘Summer Renaissance,' where she does an interpolation of Donna Summer. You know, and I, for one, as a Texan, hear a little bit of Megan Thee Stallion in there – I think someone who she'd classify as a mentee. But there are little peaks where I'm like, I hear a Meg, I hear a Lizzo. And it's so beautiful to see her be in community and relationship with these two Black women musicians from Houston that were inspired by her."

Days after the album's release, Beyoncé changed a lyric in the song "Heated" to remove an offensive and ableist term amid backlash from disability rights advocates. Lizzo had previously removed the same term from a song in June following a similar outcry.

"In recent years, as we are becoming more aware of triggers and language that can be very much harmful to people of marginalized backgrounds and identities, what Beyoncé – and very similar to what Lizzo – is doing is modeling what it means to be an ally and taking back that feedback and criticism," Crumpton said. "And I think, you know, she continues to be that exemplary example of what it means to be a superstar."

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