The pop star’s seventh solo album is “Act I” of work born during the pandemic, a time she “found to be the most creative,” she said in a statement.
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Ben Sisario and
The new Beyoncé album has officially arrived. In a rare breach of the pop queen’s carefully choreographed release plans, an unauthorized version of “Renaissance,” the singer’s seventh solo studio LP and the first part of a teased trilogy, leaked two days early online.
Beyoncé acknowledged the hitch in a statement upon the album’s wide release on streaming services at midnight on Friday. “So, the album leaked, and you all actually waited until the proper release time so you all can enjoy it together,” she wrote to her dedicated fans. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she added, thanking her followers “for your love and protection.”
The debut of “Renaissance” followed a marketing rollout that, for Beyoncé, was oddly conventional. After years of ripping up the standard playbook for releasing new music — eschewing early radio singles and interviews for surprise drops and elaborate multimedia spectacles — Beyoncé spent six weeks beating the promotional drum. She announced the album more than a month ahead of time, did an interview with British Vogue, put out the single “Break My Soul,” revealed a track list and finally began posting on TikTok.
Yet on Wednesday, about 36 hours before the appointed release time, high-quality copies of the album’s 16 tracks appeared online, spreading across social media even as Beyoncé’s most vigilant fans encouraged one another to hold out (and to tattletale on the bootleggers). “I appreciate you for calling out anyone that was trying to sneak into the club early,” Beyoncé wrote in her statement on social media as the album was released.
Sleuthing observers speculated that the tracks may have come from copies of the CD that were being sold in some European stores early. In a perverse way, the old-fashioned leak of a blockbuster album seemed to fit the throwback theme of “Renaissance,” which throbs with the sound of dance music from across the decades.
Referencing disco, funk, house, techno, bounce and more, the generally upbeat songs draw from a wide array of writers and producers, with some tracks crediting more than dozen people. In addition to reliable Beyoncé collaborators like The-Dream, Pharrell Williams, Hit-Boy and Drake, experimental songs like “Energy” and “All Up In Your Mind” also feature electronic producers including Skrillex, BloodPop and A.G. Cook of PC Music among their eclectic personnel.
The samples and interpolations run the gamut as well, from the regional and esoteric to the indelible: “America Has a Problem” pulls from the Atlanta bass pioneer Kilo, while “Summer Renaissance,” the closing song, includes an interpolation of Donna Summer’s 1977 electro-disco classic “I Feel Love.” On “Move,” a feature from the cultural chameleon Grace Jones is paired with the rising Afrobeats star Tems; elsewhere, Beyoncé links the sounds of traditional Black music genres like soul and R&B with subcultures like ballroom vogueing.
“I’m one of one/I’m number one/I’m the only one,” she intones on “Alien Superstar.” “Don’t even waste your time trying to compete with me/no one else in this world can think like me.”
In an explanatory statement posted to Instagram last month that Beyoncé expanded on her website on Thursday, she said “Renaissance” was part of a “three act project” she recorded during the pandemic. She called the album, which she refers to as “Act I,” “a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world.”
Adding that she hoped the dance floor-focused tracks would inspire listeners to “release the wiggle,” she added: “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom.”
Beyoncé also cited her late “Uncle Jonny,” whose battle with H.I.V. the singer has spoken about before, as an influence for the music and its historical ties to the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
“He was my godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as an inspiration for this album,” she wrote. “Thank you to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long.”
Since “Lemonade” (2016), her last solo studio LP and accompanying film, Beyoncé has tided fans over with a number of ambitious in-between projects.
In 2018, she performed as one of the headliners at the Coachella festival, where her show paid tribute to the marching band tradition of historically Black colleges and universities, and was widely hailed as a triumph — one that “reoriented her music, sidelining its connections to pop and framing it squarely in a lineage of Southern Black musical traditions,” as The New York Times critic Jon Caramanica wrote. The performance was later turned into a Netflix special and an album, both titled “Homecoming.”
Also in 2018, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, her husband, released a joint album, “Everything Is Love,” credited to the Carters. And in June 2020, at the height of national protests in wake of George Floyd’s murder, she released a song, “Black Parade,” with lines like “Put your fist up in the air, show Black love.”
“Black Parade” took the Grammy Award the next year for best R&B performance, one of four prizes that night that brought Beyoncé’s career haul to 28 — more than any other woman. This year, Beyoncé was nominated at the Academy Awards for best original song for “Be Alive,” from the film “King Richard,” a biopic about the father of Venus and Serena Williams.
How the early leak will affect the commercial prospects of “Renaissance” remains unclear. Years ago, the unauthorized release of music in advance could have devastating consequences for an album. But that danger has been mitigated by the shift to streaming.
And Beyoncé, like most other artists today, took advance orders for physical copies of her album, which will count on the charts as soon as they are shipped — usually the week of release. On Beyoncé’s website, the four boxed sets of “Renaissance” and its limited-edition vinyl version are sold out.