Welcome to the Renaissance
When Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour hit the ground in Philadelphia on July 12 as the first date of the American leg, it had been almost a year since the parent album arrived. Without much promotion from the singer, Renaissance’s live outing marked an overdue, joyous, and collective release for over 70,000 fans.
Simply put, Beyoncé’s raised the bar (again) for the art of live performance. Acting as her own opener, she first sauntered out in a gown to start by belting a run of beloved ballads like “Dangerously in Love,” “1+1,” and “Flaws and All.” Then, the true party began.
Lights down, the sun set, and an invitation, “Welcome to the Renaissance,” properly set the seismic scale of the evening. It was a call to stand up and get ready to move.
The mission statement of Renaissance celebrates the unapologetic Black queer artistry that often runs overlooked in mainstream pop culture. The album incorporates elements of house, disco, and electronica amid various samples from the likes of Robin S. (“Show Me Love”) and Donna Summer (“I Feel Love”). Yet, it’s far from pastiche; it paints within the same canvas of queer touchstones and updates it with lean futurism. Even the title Renaissance suggests a callback to history, but the imagery doesn’t so much borrow from the historical period as represent its literal meaning, “rebirth.” At the show, this rebirth manifested as dancing robotics, chic Barbarella fashions, and a floating mirror ball that would rival the size of SUNFESTIVAL’s.
Plus, who knew a rebirth could be so jubilant? Surely, after the pandemic, escapist pop music was bound to be more resonant, but Beyoncé heightens that ecstasy to highlight the importance of community. In the album’s dedication, Beyoncé paid tribute specifically to her “uncle” Jonny—her gay cousin who helped raise her until his death during the AIDS epidemic, and whose photo flashed across the screen in the concert’s final image.
In queer spheres, her commitment to the LGBTQ+ community meant devoting much attention to ballroom culture. Some highlights include Beyoncé channeling her inner ballroom emcee in the electric closing minute and a half of “HEATED” while strutting the runway in the show’s fiercest catsuit. Elsewhere, a transcendent transition from number one hit “BREAK MY SOUL” to its “Queen’s Remix,” sampled and paid homage to Madonna’s 1990 hit “Vogue,” while updating its Hollywood reference points to salute the Black women who inspire Beyoncé.
Not only did that transition feature the introductory “Vogue” synth known to summon all in earshot to the dancefloor, but it also captured an impromptu heartfelt “I love you… thank you” from Bey to drag queen and club artist Kevin Aviance, who was in attendance and whose 90s single “C*nty” is sampled on the penultimate tour number “PURE/HONEY.” A clip circulated after the show of Kevin overwhelmed with emotion, crying into his hands at the recognition. It’s a testament to the power in bringing art previously reserved for the sidelines to the stadium stage.
Later, during “PURE/HONEY,” Beyoncé left the stage while centering the tour’s dance troupe, who launched into a voguing dance-off. It was a stunning display of liberating, LGBTQ+ artistic expression, and a satisfying understanding from Bey for when to step aside.
Perhaps the album’s thesis, “ALIEN SUPERSTAR,” hit the hardest though. It’s a declarative, powerful ode to self-love: “I’m one of one / I’m number one / I’m the only one,” so start the lyrics. It’s a thumping, electronic oddity that understands the queer paradox that in order to cloak yourself with confidence, you must simultaneously be able to not take life so seriously. In other words, it takes some masterful gusto to interpolate the meme track “I’m Too Sexy” and still sound so effortlessly cool.
Indeed, this was one of Beyoncé’s most notable feats: known as one of the industry’s biggest perfectionists, the star is now having more fun than ever with herself on this tour. She’s laughing at flubs, interacting with fans’ signs, and shimmying silly to the “AMERICA HAS A PROBLEM” introductory bassline. Mind you: this is still a well-oiled, tightly produced pop show. But it’s nice to see her adopt the joyful spirit of Renaissance as a chance to let loose.
In essence, Renaissance World Tour became its own safe space to release stress, feel freedom, and join with others to, for a moment, embrace one’s own alien superstar without judgment. The celebration felt earned for its audience. In a time when hundreds of bills and legislation nationwide aim to target the LGBTQ+ community for its existence, one of the biggest popstars in the world is using her platform to show the unfettered defiance of queer joy. Here’s hoping this Renaissance—just like the historical one—becomes a movement. ▼
Matty Brown is the Communications Manager at CAMP Rehoboth.