Much of the early fallout surrounding the discharge of Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” — within the sense that there will be any true fallout from a militarily precise rollout that moves in stealth and is staffed by armies of writers, producers, marketers, lawyers and social media savants — got here right down to matters of acknowledgment and credit.
These are concerns which can be, in essence, legal, but really more philosophical and moral. Acknowledging a source of inspiration, direct or indirect, is correct business practice but additionally, within the era of internet-centric hyperaccountability, something akin to playing offense as defense.
This is probably unusually true with reference to “Renaissance,” a meticulous album that’s a wealthy and thoughtful exploration and interpretation of the past few a long time in American dance music, particularly its Black, queer roots, touching on disco, house, ballroom and more. The credits and the list of collaborators are scrupulous — Beyoncé worked with producers and writers from those worlds and sampled foundational tracks from those scenes.
But there have been still quarrels, or quirks, because the album arrived. First got here the ping-ponging songwriting credits on its first single, “Break My Soul,” which initially included the writers of the Robin S. club classic “Show Me Love,” then removed them, then reinstated them. (The credits don’t, nonetheless, acknowledge StoneBridge, the remixer who popularized the unique song.)
Just a few days before the album’s release, its full credits were circulated online, suggesting that the song “Energy” had interpolated a Kelis song that was produced by the Neptunes (Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo). Kelis, the early 2000s alt-soul innovator, posted a series of Instagram videos expressing frustration that she was not advised of the borrowing, regardless that she isn’t the publishing rights holder. (Kelis wasn’t a credited author or producer on a lot of the early albums she made with the Neptunes, owing to an agreement she signed with the duo when she “was too young and too silly to double-check it,” she told The Guardian.) That opened up conversations about legal versus spiritual obligations, and the potential two-facedness of Williams. Without comment, Beyoncé updated the song, removing the interpolation of Kelis’s “Milkshake.”
When these kinds of dissatisfactions spill over into the general public eye (or within the worst cases, the courts), often the text is about money however the subtext is about power. And it has been notable that even Beyoncé, ordinarily beyond reproach, couldn’t safely traipse across the trendy web totally without incident.
Conversations about who has the best to borrow from whom — and whether it is appropriate — are heightened when the person doing the borrowing is amongst essentially the most powerful figures in pop music. But on “Renaissance,” Beyoncé largely deploys her loans savvily — working with the long-running house music D.J. and producer Honey Dijon, sampling the hugely influential drag queen and musician Kevin Aviance — providing an enormous platform for artists who are sometimes relegated to the margins.
Days after “Renaissance” officially arrived, Beyoncé released a series of remixes of its single, most notably “Break My Soul (The Queens Remix),” which blended her track with Madonna’s “Vogue.” That 1990 song, in fact, represented an early mainstreaming of Recent York’s queer club culture. But Beyoncé brought latest cultural politics to this version, turning Madonna’s roll call of white silver-screen idols right into a catalog of crucial Black women musicians: Aaliyah, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Santigold, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone and more. (The concept for the remix seemingly originated with a D.J. named frooty treblez on TikTok, who received a miscellaneous production credit.)
The remix is electrical, each philosophically and musically — it displays a transparent continuum of the ways wherein pop stars are themselves voracious consumers, and have been granted certain latitude when their borrowings are perceived as respectful. (Naturally, each Beyoncé and Madonna have received some criticism from queer critics who find their work appropriative.)
Three a long time on from “Vogue,” nonetheless, Madonna remains to be demonstrating her ongoing, deep engagement with queer culture. She recently released “Material Gworrllllllll!” a collaboration with the rapper Saucy Santana remixing his own song, “Material Girl” (named, naturally, for her 1984 hit). It’s a little bit of a messy collision — Madonna’s vocals sound as in the event that they’ve been run through type of a hyperpop vocal filter, and her segments of the song feel more aspirated than his. It’s peppy but lacks flair.
Saucy Santana, a gay rapper who first found fame on reality television after working as a makeup artist for the hip-hop duo City Girls, began achieving TikTok virality a few years ago. Of his song snippets that gained traction online, “Material Girl” was essentially the most vivid, an ode to transactional luxury just as raw as Madonna’s original.
However the wink of the title was his handiest gambit, a way of linking his insouciance to Madonna’s. This strategy spilled over into “Booty,” his most up-to-date single, which is predicated on the identical ecstatic horn sample as Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.” Even in a yr wherein countless pop stars have plundered the past for obvious samples, this was a very audacious maneuver. Especially provided that the borrowing isn’t, in actual fact, from “Crazy in Love,” but relatively from the song that “Crazy in Love” samples, “Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)” by the Chi-Lites.
Here, again, the linkage to the past is a sleight of hand. To the uninitiated, “Booty” appears like an official cosign from Beyoncé herself. To the marginally more savvy, it’d appear that Beyoncé’s approval was implicit, the results of a behind-the-scenes understanding. Or perhaps Saucy Santana simply audaciously outflanked her.
Whichever the case, these borrowings mark Saucy Santana as a pop star who understands that fame is pastiche. He’s constructing a persona from parts which can be there for the taking, risking asking forgiveness relatively than worrying about permission. Or more succinctly put, doing exactly what the divas before him did.