Beyoncé has a new album, Renaissance. You might have heard it. Or you might have heard about it. It is the summer musical event, and that has everyone in a tizzy. Reviewers are gushing. Social media is lit with euphemisms from fans. And why not? The Economist notes:
Beyoncé Knowles, who now appears to occupy a cultural position somewhere between Maya Angelou, Billie Holiday, James Baldwin and St Bernadette. She had become, in an increasingly popular phrase, “culturally dominant”. Her seventh solo album, “Renaissance”, arrives not so much as a release, but as an event, heralded not just by reviews, but by reviews of reviews, previews, analyses of track titles and parsings of the lyrics.
I have been listening to the album — on Spotify. Unlike the critics and reviewers, I am not having an eargasm. Except for two songs, Church Girl and Move, the album left me underwhelmed. She has done better work and will do better work in the future. (I am partial to I am Sasha Fierce and Lemonade, though Dangerously in Love is a guilty pleasure.)
I love her music too much to be upset. And life is too short to be upset over something, anything. More importantly, I don’t have a reason to be upset. After all, I didn’t drop a Jackson to buy the album. The upside of streaming is that if you don’t like something, you move on to something else.
Still, I appreciate Beyoncé bringing attention to house music and its legends. As someone who has been a house music fan since the earliest days, this made me happy. But that doesn’t mean I will go ga-ga over the album, which is a bit ho-hum, at least to my ears. My reaction is very different from that of critics and reviewers. According to Metacritic, it scored 93, and 19 out of 19 reviews are positive. Fans gave it 9.4. I understand that taste is subjective, and not everyone likes the same thing.
Beyoncé has not only got the fans and reviewers in the palm of her hand, but she is also smartly manipulating the algorithms. And it is not just the Queen Bee. Every artist needs to play this game. Let me explain
Shortly before Beyoncé’s album is about to be released, rumors start flying on Twitter and elsewhere. On the day of the release, Beyoncé (or her record company) pushed the content on social media. She has 56 million followers on Facebook, 25 million on YouTube, 4 million on TikTok, and 263 million on Instagram — that is enough to rev up the hype machine. Everyone is talking about it, and it’s trending news everywhere.
The media machine sees page views and clicks. It needs to ride this wave. News pieces roll in. Reviews roll in. Most of the reviews are good, and good reviews beget more reviews. Fans share reviews on social media. The echoes reverberate. No one wants to upset the apple cart. The Economist deftly explains:
Many superstars enjoy unquestioning critical veneration. This is driven by a number of factors—chief among them journalists’ fear of a social-media backlash.There is also the fact that the biggest stars rarely let their records go to reviewers before release, resulting in articles written on the fly, in which no one wants to be the person out of step.
Artists have figured out that — herd mentality is good for business. As long you know how to herd the herd. The more people listen to something, the more it will force algorithms to push the songs in front of others. The engagement pushes the message on social platforms. And more people are listening. The “recommendation” gods are smiling on the album.
Regardless of what I think or feel about the album, it will soon be on top of the Billboard 100, and it is rising on Spotify charts and is already leaping up Apple Music charts. It doesn’t matter whether the album is good or not — everyone says it is, and in today’s climate, that is all that matters.
After all, everyone is getting paid: the artist, the record company, the streaming company, the media company, and the platforms. It is the culture of today. It is Renaissance 2.0!
August 4, 2022. San Francisco