Disclaimer: Solange is my favorite Knowles. Hopefully, that doesn't warrant an angry swarm.
I do not dislike Beyoncé. I just didn't get it.
Then again, I don't "get" any fervent fan base. There has never been an artist I would be moved to tears simply by sharing that person's space. My inability to identify with that feeling fuels my standoffishness with her ethos.
That said, I found her overall artistic vision and execution in "Lemonade" and "Black is King", stunning. It masterfully aligned a visual and audible experience, which remains unmatched. They both were reminiscent of old MJ. This is what music videos were meant to evolve into. Two parts of a whole, elevating each other, but never leaving one feeling inadequate on its own.
When Renaissance was released, I was one of the many quiet dissenters. Unable to see beyond the surface of samples and remixes. Been there, done that. There was nothing about it that I felt was new.
I didn't get it.
Kelley, my wife, did. So much so that I sprung into action last winter and tried to find tickets while the world was crashing Ticket Master on every ticket release date. To get around the rush, I made every city with a non-stop flight an option. I decided to treat the show as a highlight to an otherwise separate travel experience. We ended up with two sets of tickets in two different cities. Our kids' schedules dictated which show we would eventually attend.
Atlanta, here we come.
Hailing from Washington, D.C., the city formerly known as "Chocolate City" I didn't have to look for a black mecca, or The Mecca, for that matter when growing up. In 2023, and now residing in a far more vanilla wafer'esque suburb, I was intrigued about a major city that still felt very Black. I was in town for the sites, food, drinks, and people, which all were mere appetizers for Kelley. Beyoncé was the main course.
As the night drew closer, I saw more people dressed in silver, sequins, short shorts, and lace than I had even seen in Las Vegas for the Electric Daisy Carnival. And while the audience for this show was pretty diverse, it was still very much Black. As a people, we showed out.
I still didn't get it.
To be blunt, the show was loud. For me, painfully so. There were moments I could feel my heart beat out of rhythm, and I'd lose my breath from the pressure of the sound waves on my chest. My ears would ring during every passionate eruption of the crowd.
I found myself distracted and abhorred by the incessant selfies and poses. A woman in particular had brought her friend to ensure she captured her best moments; for herself and her followers. The friend carrying a separate camera phone, mobile lighting, and extra makeup. The budding influencer gaudily sung along to the camera while live streaming.
I don't think I'll ever get that.
My wife loved the show, and that was the point after all. I wanted to facilitate her enjoying the show first and foremost. Though I did enjoy some aspects much more than I had expected. I was often lost in the passion that Beyoncé's dancers and band exuded. It was intoxicating. I'd watch a smaller version of the show in a cozy venue - or, better yet, on a screen where I could sit comfortably and enjoy witnessing them experience Beyoncé.
Not five months later did Kelley inform me we'd be seeing Beyoncé again. This time, in a theater. What I assumed would essentially be a behind-the-scenes documentary amounted to mostly rewatching the live show, except this time, with curiosity instead of judgment, for her fans. The movie, maybe most importantly, provided context on what Renaissance is - and, dare I say, who it's for.
What I learned to see and love about the project is less about what it is but about what it means to others. Kelley is fond of saying, "If you like it, I love it," which she means sincerely despite its largely cynical use.
I sit somewhere between a baby Gen X'r and an old Millennial, open-minded enough to keep up with the world my Gen Z kids call home but also sufficiently scarred so I struggle with the level of freedom in self-expression they too have access to.
In other words, I think it's great that Black kids are playing golf, tennis, and taking ballet classes - but I'm also like... how do you not like hip hop though?! I think it's great that we aren't forcing gender stereotypes down kids' throats, but I still have to break decades of programmed "You're going to wear THAT" attitudes towards how those same kids express themselves.
I'm starting to get it.
There is a freedom I may never learn to embrace myself. Raised by young Black Boomers, by way of weekend Methodist church sermons, daily Catholic school learning, and all while navigating Washington, DC, in the 80s - I'm still unlearning bad habits. While leaning into moments to support those searching for their own version of happiness.
It breaks my heart that there are still people unable to live their truths: People dealing with debilitating sadness; Empaths who are raw from the woes of the world; Those in the LGBTQ community who are still left feeling unsafe and unloved.
I've learned that Renaissance is a celebration of love and freedom. An exchange of energy is what I think Beyoncé called it. The samples and remixes were an homage to a time and a community that endured so much. It's a mirror that shines back the light within so many, unapologetically gives space for them to show the fuck up, however they see fit. Not to be tolerated, but to be celebrated.
What I learned to love about Renaissance, is the joy that it brings others. I don't think there will ever be a time I'll put one of those songs on a playlist, but I look forward to watching the celebration of those that do. Participating in that exchange of energy however I can. Life is hard, and we're all going through something. Beyoncé's Renaissance helps make it that much more beautiful and bearable for so many.
If they like it, I love it.
I get it.
While I still consider that woman with her one-woman mobile camera crew at the concert nauseating, I see the exchange of creative energy and love more clearly with most everyone else in attendance.
Every vulnerable lyric, booming bass, and shining sequin shapes how her fans dance, dress, speak, and move throughout their lives. In this way, Beyoncé is the muse for everyone else's self-expression.
Art that begets art.
I get it.