The 50 best albums of 2022, No 1: Beyoncé – Renaissance

At last, a post-pandemic party album we could all get behind, as the artist rode her glittery horse through house, disco and ballroom culture to reimagine Studio 54 in her image

Over the last 20 years, very few artists can claim to have operated at the same level as Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. A global icon since her teenage days in Destiny’s Child, her name has become synonymous with empowerment, glamour and a tireless work ethic bordering on the seemingly superhuman – a reputation she deepened over the past decade by releasing two radically personal, political and deeply referenced albums in Beyoncé and Lemonade.

In a pandemic, though, even the most accomplished of artists are allowed to go back to basics, to dig for the things that simply make them feel good. “Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” Beyoncé wrote in a rare letter to her fans when she announced her seventh album, Renaissance. “It allowed me to feel free and adventurous … A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking.” As Beyoncé rides her glittery horse through the middle of her very own Studio 54, it’s clear that two decades into a multifaceted solo career, now in her 40s, she is still intent on finding new parties to make her own.

Beyoncé: Cuff It – video

And party she does. Capturing the unspoken connectivity that so many of us crave from the club, Renaissance sees Beyoncé at her most lyrically playful, political by destiny rather than design. Break My Soul, the dance single of the summer, felt faintly ridiculous – a millionaire inviting us to “release your job!” amid a developing cost-of-living crisis – but nonetheless it resonated with a post-pandemic re-evaluation of personal priorities. Cuff It, the TikTok challenge sensation and roller-disco big sister to 2014’s Blow, also unapologetically threw caution to the wind, seeking out chaos in commitment: “I feel like fallin’ in love / I’m in the mood to fuck something up …”

Like an expert DJ set, Renaissance was sequenced and blended to create a sense of proper nighttime immersion, resisting the lull of the smoking area. There are no ballads, just endless horny bops: Church Girl invites you to “pop it like a thotty”, while America Has a Problem twerks its way around a skittering blend of trap-rap and 90s techno, dancing like everybody is watching. Only Plastic on the Sofa comes close to being genuinely lovey-dovey, but it’s still deeply rooted within the record’s lane of cheeky, purring self-celebration: “I think you’re so cool / Even though I’m cooler than you,” Beyoncé giggles at Jay-Z.

With minimal features from heteronormative guests, Beyoncé appears to have recommitted to Destiny’s Child’s recommendation that you leave men at home if you want to have a good time. Borrowing from Chicago house, Detroit techno and New York disco, the album is a tribute to the influence and endurance of the Black LGBTQ+ community, made in collaboration with producers and samples whose lived experiences and historical weight bring gravity to the sound. Arguably the first song to successfully interpolate Right Said Fred without invoking full-body cringe, Alien Superstar is a dramatic, pose-holding homage to ballroom culture, as is the orgasmic, shape-shifting stomp of Pure/Honey, which samples drag queen Kevin Aviance’s 1996 track Cunty.

Cozy, one of the record’s highlights, at first appears to be another chest-puffed self-love anthem (with a stair-climbing beat not dissimilar to Mr Fingers’ Mystery of Love), but it expands into a perceptive embrace of trans-inclusive womanhood: “Might I suggest you don’t fuck with my sis?” Beyoncé sings before listing the colours of Daniel Quaser’s Progress pride flag (designed to acknowledge Black trans people and those lost to the Aids crisis within the wider LBGTQ+ community). It’s a note of solidarity in the face of unjust threat, a lyrical theme that has always suited her well.

Renaissance proves two things: that turning 40 isn’t the artistic death knell that a sexist industry may present it as, and that music of great emotional and historic resonance can still come from a place of fun. By shimmying away from expectation, Beyoncé has created another glimmering facet in the immaculate disco ball of her artistry.

Contributor

Jenessa Williams

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2022: No 3 – The Weeknd: Dawn FM
Abel Tesfaye’s luridly spectacular album continued his trangressive and dazzlingly deranged themes with gorgeous, grand music voiced by his depressive alter ego

Shaad D'Souza

21, Dec, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2022
In an unprecedented year of change in music, albums of all genres confounded expectations – from vulnerable rap to pop with gravitas. Listen your way to our No 1 album of the year

Safi Bugel, Shaad D'Souza and Laura Snapes

23, Dec, 2022 @9:59 AM

Article image
The 100 best albums of the 21st century
We polled 45 music writers to rank the definitive LPs of the 21st century so far. Read our countdown of passionate pop, electrifying rock and anthemic rap – and see if you agree

Ben Beaumont-Thomas (1-50); Laura Snapes and April Curtin (51-100)

13, Sep, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
The 50 best albums of 2022: No 4 – Charli XCX: Crash
For the final album on her major-label contract, the contrary pop auteur decided to dance with the devil to make a nakedly commercial record – though her self-awareness still shone through

Laura Snapes

20, Dec, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
The 20 best songs of 2022
Alongside landmark records from Kendrick and Beyoncé, the year saw standout tracks from Steve Lacy, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more

Safi Bugel, Shaad D'Souza and Laura Snapes

05, Dec, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Jessie Ware: That! Feels Good! review – 21st-century disco packed with personality
The retro mood of Ware’s brash pop never feels like a costume, as her tight melodies, killer choruses and dry humour wear vintage details with style

Alexis Petridis

27, Apr, 2023 @11:00 AM

Article image
Beyoncé: Renaissance review | Tara Joshi's album of the week
On her unapologetically escapist seventh album, the pop superstar unleashes everything from disco bangers to global house hedonism

Tara Joshi

28, Jul, 2022 @11:01 PM

Article image
The 100 greatest UK No 1s: 100-1
Look back on our complete countdown of the greatest UK No 1s, from the Beatles to Baby D, and So Solid Crew to Suzi Quatro

Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Alexis Petridis and Laura Snapes

05, Jun, 2020 @8:00 AM

Article image
Pop, Prince and Black Panthers: the glorious life of Chaka Khan
The self-described ‘alpha chick’ has weathered addiction, dodgy managers and the death of Prince to remain as funky as ever. She describes how she went from gun-toting activist to teetotal vegan

Alexis Petridis

15, Feb, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Raye's lockdown listening: 'Nina Simone tears your skin and burns your eardrums'
The British dance-pop star considers Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come amid the Black Lives Matter protests, and picks out tracks by Otis Redding, Miraa May and more

Interview by Ben Beaumont-Thomas

12, Jun, 2020 @9:30 AM