Congratulations, you made it. You endured two and a half years of a pandemic, with accompanying economic instability and civil unrest. It’s been bad out there for a long time, folks, and it’s likely not going to get materially better anytime soon. But there is something wonderful on the horizon, a paradigm shift, the rumblings of which first appeared two weeks ago when Beyoncé Knowles-Carter mysteriously deleted all the profile pictures of her social media accounts. At midnight on June 17, we received confirmation that Queen Bey would release her seventh studio album, Renaissance, at the end of July. Then last night, around 9:30 p.m. central time, she graced us with the first single, “Break My Soul,” a house bop that is both pro-boogie and pro-rest. We’re officially in Beyoncé rollout season, and my God, what a time it is to be alive.
I have publicly complained about too-long album rollouts before, but this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve contradicted myself in the name of Beyoncé. The simple truth is that Beyoncé doesn’t do it like the other girls; specifically, she doesn’t say much. She vary rarely does press, and if she does, it’s photo-heavy and copy-light, as in her recent British Vogue cover story. It featured just two direct quotes from the superstar. The profile mostly served as a vehicle to deliver Easter eggs, juicy little details about Beyoncé’s texting style (“excellent and lengthy”) and the quality and amount of new music on the horizon (“a thrilling abundance of it”). Readers were left to do what Beyoncé fans have grown to love doing: read between the lines, and scan the pretty pictures for visual clues to prepare ourselves for whatever’s coming next, knowing all along that it’s still going to be a surprise.
The British Vogue shoot, in which Beyoncé was dressed as a stunningly wealthy club kid, gave us the first hint that Beyoncé’s house-music era has begun. “Break My Soul” cemented as much with its sample from Robin S.’s 1993 hit “Show Me Love,” the song largely credited with bringing house music to mainstream audiences. Beyoncé doesn’t do anything for purely aesthetic reasons, so her house era is inherently political: not only is she reminding us that house music—and EDM, its whitewashed global counterpart—was born and bred in Black and queer spaces, but she is also attempting to both capture and mold the current zeitgeist (Drake is apparently also trying to revive house music, but I, for one, don’t care). No one reads the room like Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, who is no doubt aware of something Complex said about house music in a recent history of the genre: it “succeeds at democratizing the dancefloor: a new, culturally significant and uniquely connective sound for a radical and significant time in popular culture.” In addition to “hellish” and “awful,” the past two and a half years could certainly be described as “radical and significant,” making Beyoncé club music the perfect soundtrack to this summer.
But this is Beyoncé, so we still don’t really know what’s coming. For the past decade-plus, Bey’s main competition has been herself. In 2011’s 4, her post–Grizzly Bear album, she proved she could be a pseudo-indie darling. She revolutionized the music industry when she surprise-released Beyoncé on December 12, 2013, and Lemonade—with its musical dexterity and apparent revelations about her marriage—similarly stopped the world in April 2016. Beychella blew everybody’s mind not once, but twice, as both a 2018 livestream and a 2019 documentary. But, with the exception of 4, each of those projects was an almost complete surprise, with little to no advance warning, and now Beyoncé’s given us more than a month to anticipate her seventh studio album. Thus, I do something that has become second nature for members of the Beyhive: I ask myself, What is Beyoncé trying to tell us with this? What surprises are coming?
Renaissance is described as “Act I” on Bey’s website, and British Vogue reports that there is a “thrilling abundance” of new music on the horizon. Could there be an Act II that she’s not yet telling us about? A friend has speculated that there could be as many as four acts, corresponding to the four “mystery boxes” Bey is already selling on her website. Variety reports that there’s going to be country music too, though the paper’s source didn’t confirm whether it would be on Renaissance or an accompanying album.
Readers who are not as obsessed with Beyoncé as I am might be annoyed, but fandom is interactive. It’s not just about music, it’s about narrative, and fervid speculation is part of the deal. And by giving us all of this time to wonder, Beyoncé is encouraging us. The time and the speculation are going to play into the narrative—we just don’t know how yet. But I do know this. As of today, June 21, the first official day of summer 2022, we have over a month to wonder about and wait for Beyoncé’s next move. Which means it’s Beyoncé’s summer now.