“I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to choose what I want to share,” she told Harper’s Bazaar last year, in a short, extremely rare interview that reads like it was taken via email. “One day I decided I wanted to be just like Sade and Prince. I wanted the focus to be on my music because if my art isn’t strong enough or meaningful enough to keep people interested and inspired, then I’m in the wrong direction. My music, my movies, my art, my message – that should be enough.”
Beyoncé has hardly said anything about her excellent new album Renaissance, which didn’t stop her lead single, “Break My Soul,” becoming her first No. 1 hit in 14 years. Nor has it stopped the album from dominating musical discourse for weeks, both exegesising the thicket of references to the history of dance music and news stories generated by the twists and turns of a seemingly never-ending series of controversies.
The new episode of Rolling Stone Music Now delves into the details of those controversies, while also providing an exclusive look at the making of one of the songs through producer Hit-Boy. To hear the entire episode, including segments featuring Rolling Stone’s Mankaprr Conteh and Jeff Ihaza, listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or hit play above.
Points of controversy addressed in the episode include:
Activists pointed to civilized language in “Heated,” while Kelis complained about Beyoncé, including an interpolation of her hit song “Milkshake” without giving her advance notice; in both cases, Beyoncé responded by retroactively changing the album. In the episode, we discuss that criticism, and the change itself, which turns recorded music into an endlessly repeated digital product rather than a permanent work of art — a moment Kanye West anticipated with his famous 2016 “Ima fix wolves” tweet. Jeff Ihaza explains why such changes can feel “dystopian.”
Bishop Patrick L. Wooden Sr. said from the pulpit that he found the gospel samples in the libidinous “Church Girl” sacrilegious, not long after Fox News also criticized the album’s gleefully raunchy lyrics. Wooden went so far as to accuse Beyoncé of selling her “soul to the devil.” In a segment with Mankaprr Conteh, we discuss Conteh’s piece that lays out the album’s real messages, including the “distinctive portrayal of dedication as non-conflicting by the profane” on “Church Girl,” as well as how the song can be read as a critique of religiously driven homophobia.
In a fully advised subtweet to which she subsequently apologized, songwriting legend Diane Warren asked how a single song could have 24 writers – an obvious reference to “Alien Superstar” on Renaissance. “It started because we couldn’t afford certain things to start with, so we started sampling and it became an art form, an important part of black culture (hip-hop) in America,” frequent collaborator The-Dream retorted.
In the episode, Hit-Boy explains how he was part of the team behind Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode,” which had even more writers than “Alien Superstar” — and how the credits tend to reflect multiple producers, melody writers, and lyrics. writers, in addition to multiple names associated with the samples and/or interpolations a song might use. Additionally, after Marvin Gaye’s estate successfully sued Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for “Blurred Lines” for borrowing only the feel of Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” artists seem to be giving credit to what appears to be small or questionable loans from older numbers, for purely legal reasons.
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