David Remnick: Summer has its downsides to be sure. Mosquitoes, sunburn, humidity, picnics if you want to know my honest opinion. There's also many saving graces, and the best is music. Summer is when the music festivals happen all across the country in any genre you can name. Joining me to talk about the main event of the summer is one of the New Yorker's music critics, Carrie Battan.
Now, there are two, especially huge tours this summer. Taylor Swift has taken America, of course, and the Renaissance Tour with Beyoncé that's already started in Europe and opens here soon. Carrie, what are you hearing about the Beyoncé tour?
Carrie Battan: The main piece of news besides the tour being very extravagant and theatrical and ornate, was that she seemed to be working through an injury. The tour was much less physical. She did not participate in a huge amount of the choreography, so that was a big change. She hasn't spoken on whether or not she actually is injured, but right now it is speculated that she is like an elite athlete playing through a rolled ankle or whatever.
David Remnick: Before we get to some of your favorite moments and aspects of the album, what is the album overall about? Very often Beyoncé has a theme running through an album or she'll be paying homage to a period or a kind of music. What is Renaissance about?
Carrie Battan: Renaissance is Beyoncé throwing her voice in a way. We're used to thinking of her as she is in this relationship with Jay-Z and her last record was about the turbulence of their marriage. It was in some ways a monument to marriage as an institution. This record is about breaking free of all of those chains. It's about going to the club and quitting your job and dancing and just experiencing the ultimate freedom. A lot of it draws from the history of club music and dance music, and in particular, a lot of LGBTQ influences throughout those scenes that she really studied closely.
David Remnick: What are some of your favorite moments on the album?
Carrie Battan: I loved the early singles, in particular, Break My Soul.
[MUSIC - Beyoncé-Break My Soul]
Carrie Battan: Like many others, I find Cuff It to be just a great song.
[MUSIC - Beyoncé-Cuff It]
Carrie Battan: Today I wanted to focus a bit more on some of the more under-discussed moments. One of those songs is called Cozy.
[MUSIC - Beyoncé-Cozy]
Carrie Battan: Cozy is a song that is a little more pure house than the rest of the album. Part of that is because Beyoncé, when she decides to draw from various genres or styles or cultures or countries, she really goes deep and does her research. For Cozy, she recruited a legendary New York, Chicago, Berlin, DJ named Honey Dijon to be one of the co-producers of the record.
Honey Dijon, she's a transwoman. She is a house music purist who just has played house for rooms around the world for two and a half decades. She just knows her stuff. When Beyoncé was setting out to make this record, Honey Dijon actually provided a list of references, a playlist for her. Then together, they worked very meticulously along with some other house producers to shape, and mold what the house sounds of the record were going to be.
Cozy is one of those records. I just like it for so many reasons I love the beat and also just this idea that Beyoncé is turning the idea of being cozy into something worth bragging about, which is not something we're used to hearing in pop music.
David Remnick: Right. Also, the lyrics are you're cozy or comfortable in your own skin.
Carrie Battan: Yes, exactly.
[MUSIC - Beyoncé-Cozy]
David Remnick: What else are you loving on the album?
Carrie Battan: My favorite record from the album is actually called America Has A Problem.
[MUSIC - Beyoncé-America Has A Problem]
Carrie Battan: I think when the album first came out and people were looking at the track list, it was very easy to just assume that was going to be the political record on the album because of the title. In fact, that was a bait and switch because that track is the grittiest, grimiest, clubiest track that really just has no politics in it whatsoever. It heavily samples a '90s rap song about cocaine.
David Remnick: Yes, you look at the lyrics here, this is not a political anthem at all.
Carrie Battan: No, it's certainly not. Beyoncé compares herself to Tony Montana. It's not what you think it's going to be. I think this song has become a bit of a sleeper hit. It's being performed in the tour. Beyoncé recently decided to release a remix that features Kendrick Lamar. They have a long history of working together and I think it's him at his most fun and I really enjoy it.
[MUSIC - Kendrick Lamar ft Beyoncé-America Has A Problem]
David Remnick: What else on the album is lifting you out of your chair?
Carrie Battan: I think perhaps the thing that I love the most about this record is the way that it is sequenced and how it is mixed. In particular, the transitions in between the songs, it really brings you through eras and styles, and moods as a very savvy DJ might. The transition that I'm interested in listening to right now is, and that I'm really enjoying is between Plastic Off the Couch and Virgo's Groove.
This is a pure point in the album where everything is very gentle and funky. It's a little more of the disco oldies side of the record. It's very smooth and I really enjoy the seamless transition here.
[MUSIC - Beyonce-Plastic Off the Sofa]
David Remnick: I mean, the album is so seamless that it seems to do one bad thing, which is make the DJ's job irrelevant. You just put on the album and you play it all the way through for the better part of an hour.
Carrie Battan: Absolutely. I would hate this if I was a DJ.
[MUSIC - Beyoncé-Plastic Off the Sofa]
David Remnick: Carrie Battan is a music critic for the New Yorker. Beyoncé's Renaissance tour, the US leg of it opens in Philadelphia in about a week. To close out June, we leave you with Beyoncé's nod to the colors of the pride flag in her track called Cozy.
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