All the tracks on Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’, as ranked by us (spoiler: there’s no filler)
From the sun-soaked sounds of ‘Summer Renaissance’ to the house-infused, socially astute bops of ‘Break My Soul’, David Levesley rates Bey’s new banger
Friday 29 July By David Levesley Photo by Carlijn Jacobs
When Beyoncé teased the list of collaborators on Renaissance, you best believe my gay ass was tantalised. The Neptunes? A Donna Summer sample? Kevin Aviance’s ‘Cunty’? Beyoncé had really said queer rights, and I was both excited and scared.
But why be scared? After all, Beyoncé ’s best song – ‘Blow’; don’t come for me – is pure disco. The woman knows how to do dance music. And we’re all just lucky to get to dance to it.
Trying to rank the songs on Renaissance is a bit like trying to rank different types of orgasm. Nevertheless, this is my very subjective list of preferences for all DJs until the end of time to prioritise on their set lists. The ranking runs from worst to best, if such a thing as ‘worst’ exists here. (It doesn’t.)
16. ‘I’m That Girl’
There’s nothing wrong with ‘I’m That Girl’, but it is quintessentially a prologue to what is to come. It’s not gonna compete with the real highs, and I think she’d be at peace with that.
Every DJ has to give you a moment to order a drink – it can’t be killer, it can’t be filler, but it does have to be a break in the storm. That’s what ‘Heated’ is on this album – a sorbet after the entrée, before we hit the desserts to come.
Honey Dijon really does the damn thing here, creating an empowerment anthem that has real depth. After the pasteurised efforts of Lizzo’s last album, this track’s textural wonderland is evidence of how to do self-love without feeling like a yoghurt advert. That being said, it’s not the album’s highest high.
13. ‘America Has A Problem’
An unmitigated bop by literally anyone else’s standards, this song absolutely goes off. But we are having to split hairs here – this is the All Winners Season of bangers, after all – it’s just not the same calibre as the rest. But we’re still blessed to be bequeathed it.
12. ‘Alien Superstar’
It’s so fun hearing Beyoncé lean into the character of a voguing ball emcee, and ‘stilettos kicking vintage crystals off the bar’ is maybe the album’s most evocative lyric. But there’s still something a bit Broadway about this secondment into queer nightlife, in comparison to much more successful forays later on.
11. ‘Break My Soul’
So eclectic it can at first feel muddy, ‘Break My Soul’ was a great choice of first single: now it’s been an ear worm for weeks, the layers of artistry on this song – everything from the plosive way she raps to the gospel in the final act ¬– sit together exceptionally well. But there’s something about Beyoncé presenting herself as the patron saint of the office worker that does feel a bit off.
10. ‘Plastic Off The Sofa’
This woman knows how to layer a harmony and, even as a solo artist, the curvaceous soundscape of her trilling voice sounds richer than Destiny's Child at their peak. This is probably one of her best ballads, a beautiful return to ‘The Writing's On The Wall’, but let’s be real: that’s not what we’re here for.
When Beyoncé works with The Neptunes, magic is made: whether it's the way Pharrell mixed in Prince’s ‘Sexy Dancer’ into ‘Blow’, or their B’Day track ‘Kitty Kat’. The stilted, lilting moistness of early aughts R&B is all over this track, but angled in such a way as to feel fresh. Beyoncé feels much more comfortable here as the embodiment of a pay-day splurge and therefore it pips the lead single for me.
8. ‘Church Girl’
The production here recalls the rap and R&B Kanye used to make in the early days of this century – Lil Wayne’s ‘Comfortable’, for example, or his collaboration with Brandy, ‘Talk About Our Love’ – but this is a uniquely Beyoncé spin on that mix of vintage and contemporary. Harmonious, layered with Black legacy artists, and hard not to grind to – an instant classic.
7. ‘Virgo’s Groove’
‘Virgo’s Groove’ is ten times the September-banger that Dangerously In Love’s ‘Gift From Virgo’ was. This is pure sex music, perfect for writhing in silk sheets or dancing in a kaftan, with a little bit of the popcorn-popping funk of Montell Jordan’s ‘Get It On Tonite’ thrown in for good measure.
6. ‘All Up In Your Mind’
AG Cook on a Beyoncé album? I regret to inform you I wasn’t ready, but Beyoncé absolutely was. That pots and pans production we’ve come to associate with Charli XCX and her hyperpop progeny works perfect in this spangly, sci-fi song with some of Beyoncé’s growliest vocals. It’s like a ‘7/11’ that has real substance.
Every drag queen in the world just got their next lip sync. This is filthy, groovy music that will be remixed by every DJ who goes on after 2am. I can already feel my top coming off.
Move’unites three generations of black female excellence in Grace Jones, Bey and Tems, and creates something electric. It brings to mind some of the best songs on Black Is King – specifically ‘My Power’ – and aims its percussive fervour at the moment you and your friends enter the club. ‘Get Me Bodied’ after a couple of tins on the Tube.
Raphael Saadiq is a modern master of R&B, and when he works with a Knowles he moves mountains – he is after-all the co-writer on Solange's 'Cranes In The Sky'. When you throw Nile Rodgers on a track too? You have disco perfection – a song that will truly live in weddings, bar mitzvahs and even funerals until the end of time.
If Jesus could turn water into wine, Beyoncé can turn gravel into diamonds – there’s so much about this song that is abrasive and coarse, yet under her guidance it becomes spangly and ethereal. The ‘Cunty’ sample here is so perfectly applied that I feel like that gif of Winnie the Pooh leaving his body and floating into the sky. This is filthy, COBRAH-esque fuel, and then it throws in a reference to Vanity Six’s underrated ’Nasty Girl’? Beyoncé's dedication to Prince continues to be her greatest attribute as an artist.
1. ‘Summer Renaissance’
There are so many great Donna Summer songs to sample that the domination of 'I Feel Love’ feels somewhat unfair. Then again: it is the greatest song ever written. The way Beyoncé has deconstructed it here, so that it doesn’t wear her, is out of this world. This is dance music that goes beyond genre or label, this is pure euphoria. We’re lucky to be alive in the age of such a phenomenal musical mind.