A hangover I don't want to get over
There was a time before the Beyoncé concert. And there was a time after.
What do Diana Ross, Naomi Campbell, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Holland and yours truly have in common? We’ve all been lucky enough to attend the queen’s Renaissance World Tour.
Mind you, I’m not referring to just any queen. I’m talking about Queen B., aka Ms. Carter. Or simply, Beyoncé. After attending her concert in Las Vegas on the evening of my birthday last month, there is this lingering feeling that I can’t quite shake. It feels like it happened both yesterday and so many years ago – like it’s always been a part of my existence. However, it continues to feel new each time I see a video posted online from a different angle from different concerts. The weight of this feeling has caused my friends and me to jokingly say, “We are living in year 0 AB – After Beyoncé.”
Her seventh studio album, “Renaissance,” is a love letter to the black and queer community. Noted in the liner notes of the album, Beyoncé partially dedicated this album to her uncle, Jonny, who died from an AIDS related illness when she was 17.
“A big thank you to my Uncle Jonny. He was my godmother and the first person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album.”
The music she is referring to is disco and house music. House music evolved from disco, becoming altered, quicker versions of disco tracks played by black Chicago DJs in the ’80s. Eventually, black women became critical in defining the style of house music and expanding its reach across the world. Disco itself started in underground dance clubs where the LGBTQAI+ community could dance and safely express themselves. Disco, which was originally created by marginalized groups, was also listened to by those groups. It represented being able to liberate oneself on the dance floor without fear of racist or homophobic discrimination. Mirroring these statements, “Renaissance” is sold online with the following description:
“(This album) is a celebration of a club era when anyone who felt like an outsider sought each other and formed a community of freedom-seekers to express themselves creatively through the rhythm, which we still celebrate today.”
As for the culture Beyoncé mentions in her liner notes, it is most definitely ballroom culture. I’ve written about ballroom in previous articles, but I think it’s important to keep revisiting this aspect of queer culture. Born in New York City in the ’70s, ballroom provided a safe space for houses to compete against one another. Houses were the found families of queer black and brown individuals. These competitions would often get heated, with lip-syncing, dancing and modeling being the modes of battle. Notable houses include the House of LaBeija, the House of Aviance and the House of Ninja. These houses provided literal and metaphorical refuge for these individuals who were ostracized from their homes or society for being gay, trans or the like. Ballroom competitions became the space where dreams of success, riches and respect could become a reality for an evening. It is also where voguing was born – a form of dance inspired by the modeling found in the pages of Vogue magazine. Madonna would later reference this style of dance in her eponymous hit ’90s song. Ballroom and its competitions still exist to this day and can even be seen on the HBO show, “Legendary.”
The night of the concert, guests came adorned in silver and black outfits, while many others carried clack fans and daringly walked around in stiletto heels. What did I wear, no one asked? I donned a cowboy shirt and hat, high waist pants with a corset underneath, a pair of cowboy boots with a sensible 3½-inch heel, and a platinum-colored necklace. The show was filled with voguing, couture and iconography that celebrated women and ballroom culture. Beyoncé also performed the Queens Remix of her album’s lead single, “Break My Soul,” which samples and interpolates Madonna’s “Vogue.” I found myself joyously repeating the phrase, “If this concert isn’t for the gays, I don’t know what is!” (And that was even after I saw RuPaul’s Drag Race Live the night before!)
But this wasn’t just a concert for the gays. The crowd was filled with beautiful people of all shapes, sizes and colors. By providing a safe space for the queerest of us, she provides a safe space for all of us. That is what this album is – a safe space. And I invite you to join the House of Renaissance and listen to the album if you haven’t yet. For 1 hour and 2 minutes, I hope you find a place that you want to revisit time and time again. As Diana Ross might say, if there’s a cure for this love hangover, I don’t want it.
– Doug Gonzalez