Queen Bey herself, Beyoncé, took the stage by storm during her groundbreaking “Renaissance” tour. An electrifying shimmery 16-track album, released at the height of the pandemic, showcased her ever-evolving genius. But this tour wasn’t just about the music; it was a movement that celebrated LGBTQ+ history, culture, and more. She’s the bar, as she outly proclaims in Alien Superstar. The innovator, symbolist and culture archivist was back on the stage in 2016 promoting another body of work up her sleeve-Renaissance.
Why the Album is an LGBTQ+ History Reference
“ …to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long,”Beyoncé
The silver studded album is undeniably queer! Before its release, Bey explicitly mentioned being inspired by Uncle Johnny, Tina Knowles’s nephew, and being the pioneer who introduced her to music and culture. On ‘Heated‘ she blurts out the lyrics ‘…Uncle Johnny made my dress that cheap spandex, she looks a mess.’ Bey also paid homage to “all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long,” she said in her statement.
The album brings back post-70 Black queer Ballroom culture. Breaking all the rules of neatly curated sound we have known Bey for in the past. ‘Move’ featured vocals from Grace Jones a gender-bending artist although not outright queer (and Tems–worthy of mention). Trans DJ and Producer Honey Dijon produced ‘Cozy’ and ‘Alien Superstar’. ‘Cozy’ credited to ‘Bitch, I ‘m Black’ is a famous monologue from Ts Madison who is popularly known for her reality show ‘ Ts Madison Experience’ and as the first trans woman to star and EP(executive produce) her own show. The latter allegedly samples an uncredited anthem from Right Said Fred’s (a British pop duo ) classic 1991 hit I’m Too Sexy ( or am too classy…?) The band’s lead singer, Richard Fairbrass, came out as bisexual in “The Sun” in 1991. The fierce anthem continues to see Beyoncé honour the vernacular of ballroom culture as she declares, “Category: bad bitch, I’m the bar”, Gay Times reported.
The silver studded album is undeniably queer!@muthoningei
Pure/Honey samples an under-celebrated drag queen artist of the 90s Moi Renee called Miss Honey. Kevin Aviance, whose song “Cunty” is credited on the same track is a drag queen musician, fashion designer and nightclub personality-he does it all! ‘Plastic off the Sofa’ the sexual intimate song was produced by Syd, formerly known as Syd tha Kyd. Syd is a gay singer, songwriter, DJ (from Odd Future hip-hop group) producer and an LGBTQ+ advocate.
Break My Soul heavily samples Big Freedia’s 2014 bounce track Explode. Big Freedia is known for her work in New Orleans as queen of bounce, a hip-hop genre in the 90s. The thumping dance anthem also features Syd’s vocals who previously collaborated with Beyoncé on Formation, as she chants: “Release ya anger, release ya mind, release ya job, release the time, release ya trade, release the stress, release the love, forget the rest!” The last track ‘Summer Rennaissance’ contains a queer favourite Donna Summer which sampled I Feel Love.
If this doesn’t represent a vibrant renaissance of ballroom, queer, and trans music and culture, I’m not sure what does!
5 months, 39 cities in 2 continents the Queen of Pop strung her millions of Beyhives from all over the world across Europe and North America. Her euphoric stage performance (dance, visuals, fashion and of course music) is a creative evocation of all your sensory organs that the New York Times dubbed the performance ‘ a 3-hour somatic workshop. Bey’s intentions to engage with her audience were seen as she took the time to engage her audience, paying homage to various artists, inviting some on stage too, letting her diverse set of dancers shine and reading out messages like this particular one held out by Candace Persuasian a hashtag started by Lavern Cox #TransisBeautiful
We can’t forget the climactic voguing interlude with dancers Amari Marshall famous for directing Blue Ivy and basically bodied the ‘body’ category, Honey Balenciaga (House of Balenciaga ) Aliya Janell and the dolls. (find the list here) . Voguing is a dance move that originated from ballroom culture way before Madonna brought it to the mainstream. It began as poses in rhythm copying model poses from the fashion magazine Vogue.
The Dark Side
Yet, there’s a darker side to this tale. Tragically, during the tour in August, a young black man named O’Shae Sibley was stabbed to death voguing to Bey’s song at a petrol station in Brooklyn raising questions about the impact of radical liberation ideologies. Beyoncé has faced accusations of cultural misappropriation in the past, and her artistry exploration sometimes raises eyebrows.
The last time Bey came to Africa (Egypt and Ethiopia) was in 2009 and the Renaissance World Tour was another chance to include more African countries only to be completely alienated. The album an ode to black queer and trans culture has been criticised to be pricey and inaccessible to the communities it purports to represent.
The journey continues with the “Renaissance” film, to premiere on 1st December 2023 offering a glimpse into the tour’s magic and the celebration of LGBTQ+ history. Whether you see it as an entrée or the main course, one thing is clear: Beyoncé’s influence on culture and activism is indisputable.
Opinion Piece By Muthoni Ngei
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