For the last decade, Beyoncé has been steadily redefining pop, and with Renaissance - 2022’s shimmering ode to black and queer clubbing culture - she has hit her peak. An album of dancefloor fillers, concocted during lockdown and released just as everyone began going wild again, it doesn’t just stand out for the songs; brilliant as they are.
By dedicating the album to her late Uncle Johnny, and then letting the incredibly creative influence of the LGBTQ+ community do most of the talking, Bey has tapped into what true support and allyship looks like. In an industry where causes can be cynically appropriated for clicks, this feels warm and genuine.
Renaissance flows like a DJ set, and delves into the rich tapestry of disco, soul, and house history along the way, shouting out the often-marginalised architects behind the music. Now, it’s enjoying a final victory lap in the form of a concert film. It makes her the latest star, after Taylor Swift, to take a concert into cinema screens.
Out of all the leading women in pop right now, Beyoncé has always felt like the most flawless of the lot. The precise acrobatic vocals she unleashes on the biggest ballads come straight out of the school of Whitney Houston; her choreography is near-perfect, and her stage shows meticulously planned.
The Renaissance tour felt different; watching Beyoncé soaring through the air on a zipwire in Tottenham Hotspur stadium several years later - astride a mirrorball horse the hive have nicknamed Reneigh, no less - it felt like a big gear shift, tonally. Often, there was a distinct touch of camp to proceedings; even Bey couldn’t hide a smirk as she presented a segment on fictional news station KNTY News, gently flung a pair of unwanted sunglasses into the front row, or rode atop a comically slow metallic jeep as it gingerly reversed between a pair of giant thighs.
Joyful as these moments were, many were also chosen carefully; Reneigh, for instance, is a tribute to the moment that Bianca Jagger (supposedly) rode a horse into Studio 54. The extended segment midway through the show served as a nod to the influence of ballroom - the New York scene from which voguing originated. Ahead of the singer taking to the stage, a giant test card steadily morphed into the colours of the pride progress flag.
Beyoncé has a history of quietly showing solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community - her late uncle Johnny, who played a huge role in raising her, and helped to sew some of her first stage costumes, died of AIDS-related complications when she was just 17. In 2019, the singer said in an acceptance speech that his death was “one of the most painful experiences I've ever lived... I'm hopeful that his struggle served to open pathways for other young people to live more freely.” Since early in her solo career, she has been a supporter of the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
I applaud the efforts of any straight artist who chooses to use their vast platform to talk about LGBTQ+ rights; even somebody like The 1975’s Matty Healy, who caused widespread outrage when he decided to snog a male fan during a Dubai concert in an act of protest. Sure Taylor Swift ended up with some fairly clunky lyrics on You Need To Calm Down (“Control your urges to scream about all the people you hate/'Cause shade never made anybody less gay”) but it's far better than the silent, unbothered alternative.
Even Beyoncé doesn’t have a flawless track record, and her decision to perform in UAE earlier this year (despite their appalling record on LGBTQ+ rights) attracted sizable criticism. If, to give it the benefit of the doubt, the gig was intended as a quiet act of rebellion or an attempt to reach queer Emirati fans, it certainly didn’t pan out that way; Renaissance didn’t feature on the setlist, and the hyper-exclusive show was invite-only. But should we scrub every other supportive moment from her slate, because of this misstep? For me, that feels counter productive. There really is no such thing as a perfect display of allyship.
I often think back to growing up in the early Noughties, when mainstream representation for LGBTQ+ people amounted to a handful of TV characters, and t.A.T.u. reluctantly pretending to enjoy snogging each other. Compare that with today, when one of the year’s biggest concert films will centre around celebrating the joy and euphoria found with LGBTQ+ culture? I’ll take it every single time.
Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé has its UK premiere in London tonight