What do you do after you’ve changed everything?
It’s been 9 years since Beyoncé released her self-titled album without warning and single-handedly changed pop music promotion. Every project since — her opus Lemonade, her Jay-Z collaboration Everything is Love — has presented a superstar in creative chrysalis. She leveraged her immense culture-shifting capital to openly interrogate her role in motherhood, marriage, adultery, Blackness, intersectionality, and sex. That kind of artistic development often yields career-defining masterworks, like Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.
If Beyoncé and Lemonade were analogs to What’s Going On, then she is overdue for her I Want You. Beyoncé could continue pushing the boundaries, but innovation requires rest. Artists need something relaxed, perhaps less fraught and complicated, to recharge the creative batteries. After an extended period of transformation, Beyoncé deserves a break.
“BREAK MY SOUL,” the first single from her upcoming album Renaissance, fits the bill. It is Beyoncé’s most carefree song in years, buoyantly rejecting life’s stresses, with the energy of an immensely powerful woman. (A gentle reminder: just because Beyoncé can talk about quitting her job, doesn’t mean you can or should.) You can hear in her delivery how few fucks she has to give, and how delighted it makes her feel. She is arguably pop music’s most dynamic vocalist, but on “BREAK MY SOUL,” she practically cruises over the beats. She’s having fun, living her best life and recording the results for our amusement (and purchase).
Beyoncé gets some help in achieving “BREAK MY SOUL’s” transcendent, conditional liberation. The track, co-produced by The-Dream, borrows heavily from ‘90s house music. (Alongside Drake’s very contentious new album Honestly, Nevermind, house music is having a moment.) It samples Robin S.’s seminal club classic “Show Me Love,” lowering the song’s temperature from searing romance to brunch-appropriate warmth. It’s a smart transformation and an explicit statement of Black artists’ role in the development and proliferation of house.
“BREAK MY SOUL” also pays dues to Black queer musicians and their importance to the genre. The song’s calls for liberation come directly from Big Freedia, the queer New Orleans rapper who helped popularize bounce music. Freedia’s demands are boldly queer, in subtext and plain text, just in case. You can’t undersell her substantial presence on the track. Beyoncé knows that house music without a queer lens is besides the point. She gives that community space to breathe and, most important of all, dance.
Dancing is the ultimate goal of “BREAK MY SOUL.” It’s easy to ascribe deep meaning to a song by someone whose mystery is central to her persona. Reading “BREAK MY SOUL” as an anti-capitalist text or a mental health boost has its appeal. The world is a mess right now. What’s more likely is that Beyoncé is just making a simple request: to get your ass to the dance floor. The song is Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” via the height of ‘90s dance music. The song isn’t much deeper than that. It probably isn’t helpful for it to be more.
That doesn’t make “BREAK MY SOUL” less interesting or important. After everything she — and we, for that matter — have been through, we should seek relief. For at least a moment, we should find the few bright spots. We should celebrate them, and draw strength from them as we move forward in the fights ahead. That is what “BREAK MY SOUL” promises, and Beyoncé delivers.