Homage: Beyoncé’s Three-Act Musical Reinvention 

Connecting the dots of the star's ambitious reworking of the Black music continuum...

Taking the form of a three-act saga, ‘Act I’ (Setup), ‘Act II’ (Confrontation) and ‘Act III’ (Resolution), Beyoncé‘s musical journey transcends mere melody, echoing a triumphant evolution across genres: each Act a chapter in a story of cultural reverence and artistic renewal. Throughout music history, there’s always been a hidden thread woven deep within the fabric, a thread that bears witness to the profound influence of Black culture on genres spanning RnB, rock, house, and country. These genres, often perceived as belonging to white artists and audiences, owe much of their essence to the rich heritage of African-American creativity, innovation, and resilience. 

Photo Credit: Carlijn Jacobs for Parkwood

How can we ensure that all artists, regardless of race, creed or background, receive the recognition and respect they deserve? As a conceptualist, Beyoncé is catalysing a deeper exploration of inclusivity and representation in the ever-evolving landscape of music. Understanding and honouring is not just historical acknowledgement; it’s about giving credit where credit is due. The importance of spotlighting others’ contributions and experiences is crucial. Through her work, Beyoncé has consistently acknowledged and validated fringe musicians, or the silent, forgotten heroes of past.

By examining ‘Act I’ and speculating on what we’ve seen from ‘Act II’ so far, the aim is to envision Beyoncé’s intentional trajectory and anticipate her forthcoming releases. The connecting thread is a story of homage.

Act I: The Setup – House Music’s Cultural Revolution

Beyoncé marked a significant departure from her usual R&B and pop sound, embracing elements of house music in several tracks. The ‘Renaissance’ album is more than just a style of music, but a cultural movement; a celebration of diversity and unity on the dancefloor. To fully capture the story of Black queer individuals in House music, one must acknowledge the pivotal roles played by ballroom culture and Drag Queens, shaping Beyoncé’s ‘Act I’. Icons like Crystal LaBeija and Lottie laid the foundation for house music, particularly in its nascent stages in NYC. Their influence reverberates through the genre, even extending to mainstream artists like Madonna, who drew inspiration from this vibrant subculture. The ballroom scene’s creativity, resilience, and innovation continue to resonate, fueling the evolution of house music, serving as a testament to the enduring impact of marginalised communities on artistic expression.

Beyoncé created a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community within her music, honouring its roots and promoting inclusivity from Kevin Aviance, Ts Madison, to Kevin JZ Prodigy. The project serves as the ultimate love letter to her late Uncle Johnny, infusing personal anecdotes into the broader cultural narrative of house music. Beyoncé’s foray into the house genre not only showcases her artistic versatility but also highlights her commitment to embracing diverse musical influences and fostering spaces of empowerment and celebration. 

Act II: The Confrontation – Country’s Unspoken Truths

Country music is often viewed as a bastion of white America, even if it has a deeply rooted history tied to Black culture. From the banjo’s West African roots to the pioneering spirit of artists like Charley Pride, the genre’s evolution is a testament to its diverse influences. 

Amidst systemic barriers and mistreatment, Black artists have significantly influenced country music, challenging stereotypes. Beyoncé’s experience at the 2016 Country Music Awards underscored the industry’s enduring racial struggles. Despite backlash over her performance invitation, the CMA stood firm, highlighting the complex landscape of racial dynamics in the genre. Kenny Chesney’s public support of the CMA’s decision marks a notable shift in attitudes within the country music community, signalling a growing recognition of the need for inclusivity and representation. This acknowledgement reflects a broader conversation about diversity and equality within the industry, fostering a more inclusive environment for all artists.

Throughout her career, Beyoncé has offered glimpses of country influences, from the countrified twang of ‘Suga Mama’ on her B’Day album, to the poignant track ‘Daddy’s Lessons’ from Lemonade. These moments underscore the truth that country music has always been diverse, with contributions from Black, Mexican, and Indigenous artists shaping its sound and narrative. With her forthcoming country album, teased with tracks like ‘Texas Hold Em’ and ’16 Carriages’, Beyoncé is poised to further disrupt the genre’s status quo, paving the way for a more inclusive future. 

Beyoncé’s impact on the country music scene is already unprecedented, with her No.1 debut on the Billboard Country Chart making her the first Black female artist to achieve this milestone. This achievement has catalysed a remarkable surge in streaming activity for both emerging and established Black female country musicians. For instance, Tanner Adell saw a staggering 188% increase in streaming activity, with her song ‘Buckle Bunny’ experiencing a boost from 230,000 to 670,000 official on-demand streams. Similarly, Reyna Roberts witnessed a remarkable 250% surge in streaming numbers, reaching around 200,000 streams. Moreover, K. Michelle’s standalone country track ‘Tennessee’ garnered a significant 185% increase in streams, jumping from 11,000 to 32,000 streams. These statistics underscore the tangible impact of Beyoncé’s influence on reshaping the landscape of country music and amplifying the visibility of Black artists within the genre.

Through tracks like ‘Texas Hold Em’, she invites audiences to witness the richness and diversity of country music, celebrating its roots while embracing its potential for evolution and transformation in the modern era. As Beyoncé ventures into country music, her interpretation promises to ignite conversations about representation, authenticity, and the power of music to bridge divides and unite communities similar to ‘Act I’.

So, what form will ‘Act III’ take? Double R but which R are we getting: Rock or R&B?

Act III: The Resolution – Rock Reverberations

In the realm of rock n’ roll, the narrative is often dominated by names like Elvis Presley and The Beatles. However, beneath the surface lies a trailblazing legacy forged by Black pioneers like Chuck Berry, the undeniable “Father of Rock and Roll”. Berry’s rhythmic complexities and lyrical swagger laid the groundwork for generations to come, with icons like Jimi Hendrix further expanding the genre’s boundaries. Through their artistry, these luminaries infused rock with a soulful essence that remains integral to its DNA. 

Beyoncé, a global music icon renowned for her versatility and innovation, has seamlessly incorporated rock elements into her repertoire, from the raw energy of ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself, to the alternative vibes of her ‘Crazy In Love’ remix for the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Critics have lauded her ability to blend genres, drawing parallels to rock classics and citing her keen ear for rock-infused hits. Inspired by legends like Tina Turner and showcasing her penchant for anthemic rock moments, such as her cover of Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex on Fire‘ at Glastonbury, Beyoncé consistently integrates rock influences into her work. 

This artistic approach not only demonstrates her mastery of diverse musical styles but also serves to honour the progenitors, whilst also challenging conventional notions of genre boundaries. As her career evolves, Beyoncé continues to explore new sonic terrains, leaving an indelible mark on the ever-changing landscape of music. With ‘Act III’ on the horizon, fans eagerly anticipate further rock reverberations from the incomparable Queen Bey, solidifying her place as a trailblazer in reshaping the musical landscape.

Or…

Act III: The Resolution – R&B Resonance

R&B’s true essence shines through the legacies of Black trailblazers like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye. Ray Charles, known as “The Genius,” fused gospel, blues, and jazz to create soulful hits like ‘What’d I Say’, setting the stage for future artists. Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul”, empowered audiences with anthems like ‘Respect’, leaving an indelible mark on the genre. Marvin Gaye, the “Prince of Soul”, explored social issues with depth and authenticity, shaping R&B’s evolution. Their contributions infused R&B with raw emotion and authentic storytelling, inspiring generations to come. As we honour their legacy, we celebrate R&B’s enduring resonance, from its roots in smoky clubs to its influence on contemporary music.

Beyoncé’s album ‘4’, often overlooked during the heavy EDM scene, stands as an unappreciated gem. It serves as the ultimate love letter to herself and her unborn child at the time, Blue Ivy – delivering R&B classics like ‘Love on Top’, ‘Rather Die Young’, ‘I Miss You’, and ‘Dance for You’. For many BeyHive members, this project remains a favourite, showcasing Beyoncé’s vocal prowess and emotional depth. With the current R&B scene lacking authenticity and fans yearning for the return of bridges and adlibs, could ‘Act III’ be another moment where Beyoncé seeks to reclaim the R&B genre and return it to its original form? As anticipation builds for her next musical chapter, fans eagerly await Beyoncé’s potential role in revitalising and redefining contemporary R&B, staying true to its roots while pushing the boundaries of the genre once again.

Beyoncé: The Vanguard of Beyclaiming

Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur for Parkwood

Through her trilogy of albums, Beyoncé celebrates the sounds, spirit and styles that emanate from Black culture, infusing each note with authenticity and passion. Within the Beyhive, a theory has emerged – a theory that Beyoncé’s trilogy of albums represents more than just a musical journey. As a narrative arc, it depicts how Black influence has evolved across genres, from the soulful groove of R&B to the rebellious spirit of rock, to the inclusive embrace of house and to the unspoken truths of country. Each act unfolds like a chapter in a story, weaving together threads of history and culture to create archival art of empowerment and celebration.

As Beyoncé continues to defy expectations, she reminds us of the power of music to transcend barriers and unite hearts. In her hands, genres cease to be mere categories; they become vessels for truth, resilience, and unapologetic self-expression.  Through her artistry, Beyoncé invites us to commemorate the roots, re-imagine narratives, and reaffirm commitment to honour the voices that have shaped the foundation of the musical landscape.

Paying homage to genres goes beyond mere conversation change; it’s a recognition of the past, present, and future contributors to music.  The roots of house, country, R&B and rock solely comes from our silent heroes. As she aptly puts it; in times of Renaissance, there will inevitably be Reformation, leading to Enlightenment. 

This sentiment prompts us to question: What other voices have been marginalised or overlooked in Black music history? 

This column is an opinion piece by Mimi Itseli (@mimitheblogger).

Photo Credit: Parkwood Entertainment

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