Beyoncé’s new single wants us to dance our doom away
The track from her upcoming album is blissful amnesia for bleak times.
When the world is at the point of smoldering and we’re too tired to do anything about it, you dance. And apparently, when the most iconic pop stars of our age have sat at the apex for so long, pushing into middle-age after decades in the business, you take a swerve into the sweaty thrum and blissful amnesia of the nightclub. With Beyoncé’s new house-heavy single, “Break My Soul,” the first track from her upcoming album act i: Renaissance, coming days after Drake’s own left turn into a similar dance sound on his surprise album Honestly, Nevermind, we are hearing, in real-time, one of the more interesting concerted evolutions not only for two of our biggest stars but also potentially for the state of pop music at large.
The new track from Beyoncé is a thumping anthem for joyous, if tested, self-determination that reconfigures Big Freedia’s bounce hit “Explode” and Robin S.’s “Show Me Love” (another sign of this wider shift in pop music: Charli XCX’s own recent flip of “Show Me Love” on “Used to Know Me” from her latest album Crash). And though this is only one song so far, it’s also an example of how to play with this sound with a bit more thoughtfulness and zeal — amid some shining moments and his first creative breakthrough in years, Drake’s new dance album often turns more into a lazy, ambient version of its genres.
Beyoncé sings of finding herself and a “new foundation” as Big Freedia (who previously appeared on Beyoncé’s 2016 hit “Formation”) instructs us to release it all: your anger, your mind, your job, your stress — to “forget the rest.” The switch-up into this kind of late-night club abandon lands as a rejoinder to the exhaustion and doom of bleak times. “You won’t break my soul” in our current ethos reads less as a proud declaration, but more as something we can adopt as truth for four and a half minutes, in the haze of the dance floor’s mind-numbing euphoria.
It is a song about throwing up a middle finger to your job — what is truer to that desire than being a weekend warrior at the club — at a time when we are rethinking our relationship to labor more than we have in decades. (Although, glorifying this kind of deeper meaning and message as it is sung to you from a billionaire is hellish in its own way.) But, interestingly, the song can be seen as a “political” track that is deliberately generalized. Pretty much anyone can graft their own experiences onto a song about being tired from your job, tired from it all, and wanting to let it all loose.
The vaguely apolitical politics of the song are an indication of the state of the times — there’s too much, all of the time, and in our nihilistic age, it’s hard to make an earnest and pointed political statement that feels right, or worse yet, that feels like it matters at all. Not that this is a mark of something bad for the track itself — dance music isn’t exactly meant to be weighted by incisive statements anyway. It’s meant to click something viscerally, and “Break My Soul” gives us the right kick onto the club floor.