Image credit: Raph_PH

This is Beyoncé’s house, we’re just living in it

The Renaissance World Tour was a ubiquitous highlight of pop culture this summer. As Beyoncé took the songs from her seventh studio album across Europe and North America, fans were relentless in their support of Queen Bey’s first solo live show in seven years.

It was hilarious to watch concertgoers yell at their peers who failed to be quiet during the viral mute challenge and to see past attendees despair that shows in Atlanta, Houston, and Los Angeles were graced with the rare ‘Big 3’ – “Thique”, “All Up in Your Mind”, and “Drunk in Love” – in their setlist.

The tour also proved that Beyoncé is the celebrities’ celebrity as many stars flocked to see her, including Paul McCartney, Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande, Tom Holland, Zendaya, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle.

When the time came for the acclaimed show to be released in cinematic form, the Beyhive’s buzz was understandably intense. Expectations were high, especially after her Grammy-winning Coachella film Homecoming on Netflix, but any anxiety was assuaged within minutes of the documentary starting. Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé is a marvel and, even barely a week after its premiere, will clearly go down in history as one of the most impressive concert films in recent memory.

Even for people like myself, who had seen much of the tour unfolding on social media as it happened, the film provided a fresh perspective of the show. In particular, the dynamic views of the CGI interludes were a feast for the eyes, plugging fans directly into the structure of the concert in a way that couldn’t have been possible in real life.

Additionally, the constant switching between footage from different concerts during the same song demonstrated Beyoncé’s commitment to impeccable fashion. This was most clear during the opening set of ballads, where the jaw-droppingly beautiful gowns on display accentuated the emotions behind “Dangerously in Love” and “Flaws and All”.

The film was undeniably visually impressive, but all this is set dressing for Beyoncé’s vocals, which have only improved with time. Her now-infamous magisterial runs during “Drunk in Love”, premiered during a private concert in Dubai, were thrilling to watch. The film also indicated that Beyoncé knows how obsessed her fans are, inviting them to sing the runs along with her. She was undoubtedly surprised to hear them mimicking her vocals on the first night given that her Dubai show was meant to have no phones allowed.

The documentary element of the film was also sublime, with the tour performances being interspersed with candid discussions of the tour’s creation, Beyoncé’s headspace during the pandemic, and her familial relationships. It was no accident that the film was released on World AIDS Day in honour of her Uncle Johnny, who is name-dropped on fan-favourite track “Heated”.

The scenes involving Blue Ivy, Beyoncé and Jay Z’s eldest daughter, were especially touching. Fans had been hyping up her dancing since she first began accompanying her mother during performances of “My Power”, but it was incredible to watch her practice and gradually improve as the tour progressed. It was disheartening to see how the 11-year-old’s dancing was criticised when she first stepped out, but also a lesson to all viewers that Blue Ivy was able to take those comments and channel them to better herself.

There is not one element of the Renaissance film that falls short: the vocals, the dancing, the fashion, the visuals, the editing, the cinematography, and the personality on offer are all top-tier. My only personal gripe was that the entirety of the ballroom dance break after “Pure/Honey” was not shown, simply because it’s such an impressive display of queer talent, but admittedly the film was already almost three hours long. Cuts made were extremely judicious, allowing the whole show time to breathe while still keeping things moving at a good pace.

The crowning glory of the Renaissance film, and the entire era that it tied up, was the simultaneous surprise release of “My House”, Beyoncé’s first solo release since the album itself. The song features a bombastic horn intro and an infectious rap beat that gives her the chance to stunt on her naysayers: “don’t make me get up out my seat / don’t make me come up off this beat”, she threatens.

The track is the ideal encapsulation of everything that made Renaissance appealing: the unbridled confidence, the old-school influences, the vibrant sensuality. It wouldn’t work in any other context than as the cherry atop this film’s calorie-rich cake. As the credits roll, acknowledging everyone and everything that went into the creation of this project, Beyoncé brings the lyrical nexus of the album into view: “lend your soul to intuitions / Renaissance, new revolution / pick me up even if I fall / let love heal us all”.