Beyonce, "Renaissance" (Columbia)
When Beyoncé told fans about her seventh solo studio album, she hoped the music would lead them to "release the wiggle" — to find the encouragement to be their truest selves. Consider the wiggle released.
The jubilant drive of the lead single, "Break My Soul, foretold a powerful effort built on dance-music styles created by Black and queer people over several decades. Who could've predicted how thoroughly Beyoncé would follow through on her promise with the wild and ravishing "Renaissance"?
The 16-track LP isn't the first foray into club culture from Beyoncé, who commissioned sumptuous disco remixes with Destiny's Child. Nor is she the only pop artist taking up these sounds now; listen to Drake's "Honestly, Nevermind" and thumping smashes by Doja Cat and Dua Lipa.
In terms of the new album's scholarship — its dense weave of samples, cameos, references and interpolations, all deployed as a way to connect broader social and political narratives to the details of her fiercely guarded private life — "Renaissance" is miles ahead of the competition.
In the blistering "Move," Beyoncé enlists Grace Jones and Nigerian singer Tems to deliver a queenly warning to anyone foolish enough to get in their way. "Cuff It," an ebullient disco fantasia, is a living lesson in funk history.
"Pure/Honey" samples drag performers Moi Renee and Kevin Aviance, and "Church Girl" speeds up an old Clark Sisters gospel tune. This is like a carefully curated library that puts Beyoncé, 40, as an arranger and bandleader on a level with Prince and Stevie Wonder.
For all its craft and know-how, "Renaissance" is intensely, almost overwhelmingly emotional as Beyoncé savors the desire and satisfaction in her own life while contemplating the availability of those sensations to people on the margins. The depictions of Black joy in songs like "Plastic Off the Sofa" and "Virgo's Groove" have a kind of steadfast tenderness that acknowledges their hard-won nature. What a gift that the year's smartest record is also its most deep-feeling.
- Calvin Harris, "Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2"
- Lauv, "All 4 Nothing"
- Kasabian, "The Alchemist's Euphoria"