“You won’t break my soul…”
Granted, we always vaguely know that new Beyoncé is imminent. We’re never safe.
Ever since 2013’s game-changing self-titled digital drop, we as a society have been conditioned over the past decade to expect a song or full body of work to suddenly appear out of nowhere, sending everyone into a midnight/mid-day panic: she’s quite literally synonymous with the surprise release. (Ex. “Did you see that Bad Bunny just pulled a Beyoncé?”)
Leave it to the woman who is at least partly responsible for the shift from Tuesday release dates to New Music Fridays to troll the music industry and go right back to a Tuesday release nearly a decade later.
And so here we are. Act 1: Renaissance. With a known release date, for once: July 29. And at least one photo shoot, for British Vogue, featuring eyebrow-raising imagery (a disco ball, a Bianca Jagger white horse Studio 54 reference), and one description of the new music, courtesy of editor-in-chief Edward Enninful, featuring tantalizing keywords (“clubs of my youth,” “dance floor,” “fierce beats”) – all of which screams…disco.
Instantly, a wall of sound hits me. Soaring vocals and fierce beats combine and in a split second I’m transported back to the clubs of my youth. I want to get up and start throwing moves. It’s music I love to my core. Music that makes you rise, that turns your mind to cultures and subcultures, to our people past and present, music that will unite so many on the dance floor, music that touches your soul. As ever with Beyoncé, it is all about the intent. I sit back, after the wave, absorbing it all.
The description sent fans spiraling with a quickness: how old is Edward Enninful, anyway? And when would he be at the clubs of his youth? Late ’80s to early ’90s? Okay, sure, check.
As it turns out, the calculations were accurate: “Break My Soul,” the lead track off of Beyoncé’s forthcoming project, which arrived just slightly ahead of schedule (ahem) on Monday night (June 20) – her first non-surprise drop in ages – is exactly reminiscent of that sweet spot in club culture, vaguely pulling from classics like Black Box (a la “Everybody Everybody”) and, perhaps more directly, Robin S – the co-writers of tracks like “Show Me Love” and “Luv 4 Luv,” Fred McFarlane and Allen George, are credited here.
The song’s credits offer an array of heavyweights for that matter, including the Queen of Bounce and “Formation” collaborator herself Big Freedia, who brings us in from the very top of the track with a sample from Just Be Free‘s “Explode” with her longtime producer BlaqNmilD, JAY-Z, and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart and The-Dream, the dream team (quite literally) behind “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).”
Cooly gliding across an immediately familiar Korg Organ 2-esque beat and bright House piano chords, Bey shakes off the stresses of that 9-5 job: “Now I just fell in love / And I just quit my job / I’m gonna find new drive, damn, they work me so damn hard,” she laments.
I’m sorry: what 9-5 is Beyoncé working, exactly? In what parallel universe? This is clearly a generous show of solidarity dedicated to the locals with office and retail jobs (all of us), and not the actual Beyoncés of the world.
Obsessed with Beyoncé's decision to cosplay as a 9-5 employee on "Break My Soul." All I can see is that "Celebrities as Average Americans" series. pic.twitter.com/oJ3rjp0kTt
— Bradley Stern (@MuuMuse) June 21, 2022
Of course, Bey’s club-minded comeback is perfectly timed for Pride season, now in full swing. (It’s funny: as a card-carrying Rowland Stone, it actually reminded me of what fellow Child of Destiny Kelly Rowland, the true gay icon, did with her own Pride offering with Amorphous, taking on CeCe Peniston‘s “Finally” a year ago.)
Along the way – the song clocks in at a healthy 4:38, unheard of by today’s streaming standards – Bey is unmistakably having herself a good time while shaking off the soul-crushing powers that be: “Bey is back and I’m sleeping real good at night / The queens in the front and the Dom’s in the back / Ain’t takin’ no flicks but the whole clique snapped,” she declares, vaguely recalling the days of B’Day‘s “Get Me Bodied (Extended Mix)” in a communal club celebration way.
There’s also a maybe Madonna lyrical reference to a classic from the same era: “You can have the stress and not take less, I’ll justify love.” (She is a stan, after all…)
Much has been made of the return of Beyoncé – her first non-live, non-Disney related, non-couple, solo body of work since 2016’s Lemonade. Impossible standards have long since been set for the peerless icon, who’s established herself as one of the generation’s once-in-a-lifetime talents. Ever since 4, the last campaign that felt relatively conventional, she’s taken her sound far left and dabbled in experimental productions, tackled deeply personal relationship issues and heavy themes like sexism and systemic racism, and ambitiously endeavored to introduce a wide array of African talent to global audiences. That’s one hell of a lot of responsibility for one legend to shoulder. And yet, Beyoncé continues to thrive.
It’s empowering (“you won’t break my soul, you won’t break my soul…“), uplifting (she’s on that new vibration) and feels deeply intentional, from the message to the musicians involved (as so much of Beyoncé’s work is), and it’s also a pleasure to hear Bey let her hair down, shake out the stress of her 9-5 job (let her cosplay), and have a night out on the dance floor.
The possibilities of just how deep she’ll explore the territory (and which references she’ll pull from next) are endless, and endlessly exciting to consider.