A tour through key samples, references and influences on the pop star’s 2022 album as her world tour arrives in North America.
Last weekend, I traveled to Toronto to catch the first North American date of Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour. I returned home feeling like the human incarnation of the starry-eyed emoji (so many sparkles!) and with a new appreciation for “Renaissance,” the loose and sprawling album that Beyoncé released this time last year.
“Renaissance,” Beyoncé’s seventh studio album, is a sonic odyssey through the history of dance music, with a specific focus on the genre’s Black and queer pioneers. It achieves the perfect balance of many opposing forces: “Renaissance” is studied and referential but still maintains a fun lightness. It celebrates community and a kind of artistic plurality while still centering Beyoncé’s singular star power. It contains a few of Beyoncé’s strongest stand-alone singles and yet plays like a continuous D.J. set: Sometimes I will get an urge to hear one particular song and, before I know it, I will have listened to the rest of the album in its entirety — again!
Witnessing the way Beyoncé staged some of these songs live has helped me hear new elements in an album I have already played approximately four billion times. Some of that has to do with the way she contextualized the “Renaissance” songs within the evolution of her own catalog (the vampy, hard-hitting “Diva,” from 2008, sounds like a transmission from Beyoncé’s future), but she also made sure to situate “Renaissance” within a larger continuum of pop music, electronic sounds, and Black and queer culture.
That’s a project I’d like to continue with today’s playlist, which is a kind of musical tour of the samples, references and influences heard on “Renaissance.” It is highly indebted to a great piece that the music journalist and electronic dance music scholar Michaelangelo Matos wrote for The Times right after the album was released, which served as a listening guide to its many sonic footnotes.
Come along for the ride as Beyoncé pays homage to the Chicago house of Adonis, the postmillennial bounce of Big Freedia, the pulsating bass of Reese and much more. May this playlist help you hear “Renaissance” anew, learn a little about electronic music history or maybe just make like Beyoncé and Grace Jones and move.
1. Adonis: “No Way Back”
One of the formative early classics of Chicago house — a localized subgenre of dance music that spread through the Windy City’s underground club scene in the mid-80s — Adonis’s 1986 track “No Way Back” has a menacing intensity and a grimy low-end that would prove enormously influential … (Listen on YouTube)
2. Beyoncé: “Cozy”
… and “Cozy,” the second song off “Renaissance,” certainly bears that influence. Production and a writing credit from the Chicago-born D.J. and musician Honey Dijon also add some house-music credibility to this hypnotic track. (Listen on YouTube)
3. Chic: “Good Times”
Sumptuous, timeless, transcendent — Chic’s glittering “Good Times,” from 1979, remains one of the best-known and most frequently referenced tunes in the history of dance music. Bernard Edwards’s bass line is a thing of beauty, rightly given its own extended solo. (Listen on YouTube)
4. Beyoncé: “Cuff It”
If you’re going to pay homage to Chic, as Beyoncé does on this groovy disco throwback, you might as well get Nile Rodgers on the track. “When I got called to play on this song, it was the most organic thing that ever happened to me,” Rodgers said, accepting a Grammy when “Cuff It” won best R&B song. (Beyoncé was fashionably late.) “I heard the song and I just said, ‘I wanna play on that. Right now.’ And it was one take, I promise.” (Listen on YouTube)
5. Robin S.: “Show Me Love”
Driven by the unmistakable sound of the Korg M1 Organ 2, this 1992 hit — technically a remix, by the Swedish producer StoneBridge, of a little-heard 1990 track by Robin Stone — brought house music to the mainstream in the early ’90s, and its much-sampled keyboard riff is still ubiquitous today. (Listen on YouTube)
6. Big Freedia: “Explode”
Beyoncé first sampled Big Freedia, a.k.a. the Queen of Bounce, on her 2016 hit “Formation.” She once again drew upon the New Orleans musician’s highly flammable energy on “Break My Soul,” which samples her 2014 single “Explode.” (Listen on YouTube)
7. Beyoncé: “Break My Soul”
A house homage updated with some fresh zaps of New Orleans bounce, the “Renaissance” leadoff single “Break My Soul” was a worthy introduction to the album’s kinetic, highly referential sound. (Though, as the reporter Rich Juzwiak found when speaking to StoneBridge and Robin S., exactly how directly “Break My Soul” references “Show Me Love” is up for debate.) (Listen on YouTube)
8. Reese/Kevin Saunderson: “Just Want Another Chance”
The term “Reese bass” refers to the dark, warbling low-end that rumbles through the foundation of “Just Want Another Chance,” a pivotal Detroit techno track released by Kevin Saunderson — under the moniker Reese — in 1988. The Reese has become so popular that there are innumerable patches and presets that now replicate Saunderson’s groundbreaking bass sound. (Listen on YouTube)
9. Beyoncé: “America Has a Problem”
The most bonkers staging on the Renaissance World Tour comes when Beyoncé plays this one live — donning a custom Mugler bee costume and performing from behind a desk like she’s a newscaster attempting to brainwash the world. The Reese-indebted tones give this song, and its live performance, an ominous edge. (Listen on YouTube)
10. A.G. Cook: “Beautiful”
In the mid-to-late 2010s, the experimental production collective PC Music pushed pop to its most frenetic, gloriously synthetic extremes, reveling in surface sheen and outré ideas. The English producer A.G. Cook was at the forefront of this wave (sometimes called hyperpop), and his zanily infectious “Beautiful,” from the 2015 compilation “PC Music Volume 1,” is emblematic of his distinct sound. (Listen on YouTube)
11. Beyoncé: “All Up in Your Mind”
Beyoncé goes hyperpop — sort of — on this distorted earworm co-produced by Cook himself. The instrumentation sounds like a malfunctioning computer program, but there’s a growly physicality to Beyoncé’s vocal that gives the song an intriguing textural friction and keeps things in the realm of flesh and blood. (Listen on YouTube)
12. Donna Summer: “I Feel Love”
Arguably the most innovative and influential dance record of all time, “I Feel Love” is Giorgio Moroder’s wholehearted embrace of electronic music’s nascent, seemingly boundless possibilities. Donna Summer plays the ghost in the machine, unfurling an ecstatic vocal and achieving a kind of cyborgian bliss. (Listen on YouTube)
13. Beyoncé: “Summer Renaissance”
It’s risky business, referencing the iconic “I Feel Love” as blatantly as Beyoncé does here. But over the course of four-and-a-half minutes of airy falsetto and giddy sass, she effectively makes the argument that quoting Summer is the only way to end an album like “Renaissance.” It’s the ultimate, inevitable conclusion — a fireworks-display finale to this dazzling tour through dance music past, present and future. (Listen on YouTube)
Release your wiggle,
The Amplifier Playlist
Listen on Spotify. We update this playlist with each new newsletter.
“Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’ References” track list
Track 1: Adonis, “No Way Back”
Track 2: Beyoncé, “Cozy”
Track 3: Chic, “Good Times”
Track 4: Beyoncé, “Cuff It”
Track 5: Robin S., “Show Me Love”
Track 6: Big Freedia: “Explode”
Track 7: Beyoncé, “Break My Soul”
Track 8: Reese/Kevin Saunderson, “Just Want Another Chance”
Track 9: Beyoncé, “America Has a Problem”
Track 10: A.G. Cook, “Beautiful”
Track 11: Beyoncé, “All Up in Your Mind”
Track 12: Donna Summer, “I Feel Love”
Track 13: Beyoncé: “Summer Renaissance”
Speaking of dance floor anthems that pull knowingly from house music history: I am very much digging Troye Sivan’s new single “Rush.” I don’t know if the Song of the Summer is a thing anymore, or if it ever really was, but I nonetheless appreciate him making a run for it.
“Rush” is just one of the 11 new songs we recommend in this week’s Playlist. Check out the full selection, featuring tracks by Billie Eilish, Jamila Woods and Jlin, here.