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.

Beyonce Renaissance

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

Beyonce Goes To Bollywood (w/ColdPlay)

Looking to get your weekend getting started right? Well look no further than this video of “Hymn For The Weekend” from ColdPlay’s new album, A Head Full of Dreams. The band is also playing at the SuperBowl half time show. I am not really a fan of ColdPay — too mainstream pistache for my weird musical takes — but I did like the new video of the song featuring Beyonce.

The video which combines various elements of Indian Exotica — Bollywood, Bioscopes, Mystics, Swamis, Peacocks, Festival of Colors and various gods is actually yet another musical interpertation of India that I sometimes struggle to find. The song features Beyonce – as a Bollywood Star and a goddess – and she fits into the exotic locales.

I am a huge fan of Beyonce, not just for her music but also for her mastery of the media business and her as a person. Her talent is impressive. What would be cool – to see Beyonce collaborate with newer talents from India on an album co-produced by Nitin Sawhney and Jay-Z. That will surely be magical sound for the 21st century.

Watch the video on ColdPlay’s YouTube Channel or see it ad-free on Director Ben Mor’s Site.  Stream it on Spotify if you don’t much care for the video, but video really makes the song.


Jenna Wortham

Jenna Wortham is a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine. A graduate of the University of Virginia, she worked at Wired before joining the Times in 2008 and more recently, the New York Times magazine. Wortham is an important voice on digital culture and new technologies. Introduction Like any popular mass medium, the … Continue reading Jenna Wortham

What I am reading today

The meaning of Beyonce’s haircut. [Sarah Sloat] The drab stupidity of Soylent. [Greg Stevens] Kids can’t use computers and it should worry you. [Code2Learn] Flatland. [The New Inquiry] To get users to make smarter choices now, show them their future. [Fast Company] The NSA is commandeering the Internet. [Bruce Schneier] On Writing. [David Lee] On … Continue reading What I am reading today