At long last, Queen Bey has returned.
Pop superstar Beyoncé released her long-awaited seventh studio album Renaissance on Friday, her first solo project since 2016's critically-lauded Lemonade. So far, the reviews are looking great — but to make things easier on you, we've rounded up some takes below:
It's not peak Beyoncé … but it's pretty dang good
Not only was Lemonade a groundbreaking album, it's also Beyoncé's most recent, meaning critics are understandably (though perhaps detrimentally) inclined to compare Renaissance with the 2016 audio-visual LP that brought fans "Formation," "Hold Up," and "Sorry" (honestly, does the phrase "Becky with the good hair" mean anything to you?!). And that's of course without mentioning other iconic projects, like the eponymous Beyoncé, or 2008's I am … Sasha Fierce. In other words, this new album has Beyoncé competing against a peak version of her past self, at her current self's expense. Still, some reviews have concluded, Renaissance appears to hold its own in the Queen Bey oeuvre.
"One could argue that Renaissance does not feel like a career milestone in the way that Beyoncé and Lemonade did — after all, their surprise releases and visual components only heightened the magic," Nicholas Hautman wrote for Page Six, "but it is a welcome and even refreshing progression for a superstar who consistently rewrites the rule books."
She's relatable! She's having fun!
Widely seen as one of the premier pop stars of her generation, Beyoncé's carefully-curated image is shrouded in a degree of otherworldly secrecy and control — to fans, she's almost god-like. So perhaps it's fitting that, for an album in which she actually seems to be enjoying herself, the project leaked online two days in advance — a "rare breach of the pop queen's carefully choreographed release plans," writes The New York Times. Celebrities — they're just like us!
"Beyoncé has long been an otherworldly being, seemingly operating in a separate ecosystem to us mere mortals," Jumi Akinfenwa wrote in her review for Stereo Gum. "But here, she has completely let loose, becoming less polished, more curious and boundless. After all, if you go clubbing and don't get just a little bit messy, you're not doing it right."
"This is her most relentlessly upbeat and fun record yet, one where she explores love, friendship and relationships across 16 spellbinding tracks," Kyann-Sian Williams mused for NME.
"Is this an evolution from Lemonade? Not quite," Will Dukes added for Rolling Stone. "But with Renaissance, Beyoncé is more relatable than ever."
An homage to Black joy and queer culture
Much of Renaissance pays tribute to the music and language of the drag-influenced ballroom scene, a "campy pageant culture created decades ago by Black and Latino queens in New York City," Joey Guerra wrote for the Houston Chronicle. In the album's CD booklet, for instance, Bey thanked her late "godmother" Uncle Johnny, who she once called "the most fabulous gay man I've ever met," for exposing her to "a lot of the music and the culture that serve as inspiration for this album."
Renaissance is then "a love letter to queer culture in many ways, from its campy lyrical braggadocio to the obscure samples," Guerra concluded. "There's a slow, languid vibe that drives several of the songs, an homage to peak-hour house and Houston's chopped and screwed sound."
And as much as the album pulls from the LGBTQ ballroom scene, Renaissance is also centered around "the pursuit of Black joy," Williams added in their review for NME, as Yoncé "draws on house music — and particularly New Orleans bounce — to join the latest wave of Black stars reclaiming gentrified genres that they were once pushed out of."
It's "another remarkable record" for Beyoncé's repertoire, one that's leading efforts to bring "Black culture back to the forefront of house and dance scenes," Williams concluded.