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Beyoncé remixes the Renaissance

29 July 2022

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

It has been six years since we last had a solo album from the phenomenon that is Beyoncé. While Rakewell is used to waiting – and is well aware that good things come to those who do – this has been a particularly acute form of torture. Beyoncé has transcended her role as a singer to become a cultural force through the careful deployment of statements that break convention and make a political point. Convention-breaking was most apparent in the ‘visual album’ Beyoncé (2013) and the full-length film of Lemonade (2016), which translates motifs from contemporary art and cinema into a barnstorming, lush, hour-long pop video. Political inferences might be drawn from her friendship with the Obamas and the way in which she embodies being the change one might wish to see.

Between her new album Renaissance, which came out today, and Lemonade there was the thrilling (for museum-goers) moment in 2018 when Beyoncé and her husband Jay Z made a video in the Louvre. Never has pop music looked so in touch with the Old Masters. For those of a certain bent, the title Renaissance promised further flirtations with what some might call ‘image-makers of the past’.

Alas, it is not to be. In an exciting evolution of Beyonce’s sound, Renaissance combines global house, gospel, disco, rap… hell, it even quotes Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ (1992). This album may be the first act of a three-act project for Beyoncé, but with its talk of casting off diamonds and pearls, its opening track, ‘I’m that Girl’ suggests that its creator is not, alas, a hard-core fan of the Renaissance. No Renaissance artist worth their salt would dismiss diamonds or pearls – and artists from Cranach to Titian impressed their patrons with their ability to depict both. (But perhaps modern art has also fallen out of favour? Why, in the same song, is Beyoncé ‘knocking Basquiats off the wall’?)

There is a sense in which, rather than reaching back to the Renaissance, Beyoncé is recasting its spirit to create a 21st-century cabinet of curiosities as she mashes up musical styles, forging a brand new sound that propels listeners on to the dance floor and full of joy. After so many years of being patient, Rakewell cannot wait to join the party.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.