Beyoncé and Drake reinvent Rave

The wisdom of the phrase “Dancing Like Nobody’s Watching” will be put to the test this summer. The two Drakes Honestly it doesn’t matterthe 14-song album the rapper dropped without warning on Friday, and Beyoncé’s highly anticipated single “Break My Soul” the singer released last night, are seeing superstars resetting their sound on the to bump boom Boom of the 90s house. Their music aims for the same power as a rave, a disco or a drum circle – the ability to move listeners in a way that is not tied to reason and reputation. . Are we ready to submit?

Predictions of a disco and house craze in mainstream pop have swirled since the start of 2020, when Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa’s heart-pounding, throwback albums clashed with the reality that a deadly pandemic had cleaned the dance floors. Two years and plenty of global trauma later, Drake and Beyoncé seem to be betting that the mainstream is ready to club again. But Drake’s initial reception Honestly it doesn’t matter included a pretty savage mockery. For listener and performer alike, enjoying a four-on-the-floor rhythm isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Scrolling through social media in the hours following the release of Drake’s album, you could see two forms of backlash brewing. The anti-inhibition properties of dance music make it ridiculous, even threatening, to some people – and therefore to some listeners, Honestly it doesn’t matter brings up things they consider silly, like shopping centers, video gamesand homosexuals. Other listeners understand the album’s influences on house, techno, and related subgenres, including South African Amapiano and Baltimore club, and deem Drake’s efforts to be the work of ‘a suitor.

But really the album is a fascinating failure because it doesn’t fit into anyone’s rubric, including Drake’s. His music is all about constriction – the feeling of curling up under a weighted blanket sewn together by expectations, haters and ego. As a result, his past albums tended to move wearily along, guided by Noah “40” Shebib’s atmospheric production style. Every once in a while, a crisp, clubby beat would come in, then fade away. These exciting passages were like poignant little dreams of happiness. Their rarity reinforced the fact that in Drake’s world, having a good time is hard.

This harassed vision has only darkened Honestly it doesn’t matterdespite – or perhaps because of – his musical swing. For many, the words electronic dance music conjure up ecstatic outdoor festivals laden with confetti, but Drake and his producers mostly channel dimly lit basements and afterparties. They choose rhythms that are both insistent and uncomfortable, like rain or the chattering of teeth. The best moments of the album are mainly instrumental and very visceral: elegant and hair-raising rhythm changes; majestic piano riffs and slowly decaying guitar solos.

Drake himself is almost a distraction in this mix. With the exception of two crowd-pleasing tracks (“Sticky” and “Jimmy Cooks”), he sings instead of rapping — or really, he does something in between. Call it melodic rantings or 4 a.m. whispers. Past hits such as “Hotline Bling” and “Passionfruit” sounded like sharp-minded songcraft, but here it often seems like it’s working on instinct. The first single, “Falling Back”, features Drake repeating a single chorus 20 times in a row, in an irregular tone that almost feels anti-musical. It blends more easily into the second half of the album, while the samples, beats, and other vocalists provide most of the action.

This vocal approach does not signal a new emotional complexity. As always, Drake dwells on the betrayal by girlfriends and comrades who let him down. “Got you Mercedеs Benz / But that don’t make you drive”, says a line on “A Keeper”, a track on which the clash between lyrical bitterness and musical beauty is particularly shocking. Just like with last year’s boring Certified Loveryou want Drake to tell a new story – not to mention help himself – by examining his own choices rather than complaining about those of others.

Yet, listen closely and you hear something interesting in the lyrics: an incessant angst of being known. The album’s first verse is about him “guarding me while I’m all exposed”; a song later, he asks, “If I come around you, can I be myself?” The moment he accuses a partner of being “afraid of being completely open / even though you can see all my cards” on “Overdrive”, a narrative crystallizes: it’s an album about sloppy vulnerability. Drake looks like he’s about to confess all along, but all he’s able to say is that the last time he shared his truth with someone, it didn’t go well. . So the promise of dance music to relax people is doomed from the start here. Drake wants to vent all his problems, but he’s afraid to let go, which makes it unlikely the listener will be able to either.

Beyoncé’s new song, on the other hand, underscores a cheery neon command: “Release!” That’s the key word that New Orleans rebounding legend Big Freedia breathes throughout the frenetic, grinning “Break My Soul.” Yet the song is unmistakably the product of tight control, not release. One of the world’s most cunning superstars is striving to get a very fractured audience moving at the same pace again.

This rhythm is familiar in several ways. Freedia’s queer drill sergeant voice also echoed in “Formation,” the 2016 single that heralded Beyoncé’s success. Lemonade. The production team of Tricky Stewart, The-Dream and Beyoncé conjure up a tight, slamming groove like the one the same trio used on the 2008 hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”. Most notably, “Break My Soul” features a keyboard riff so clean and imposing that it sounds like what one might imagine to be God’s own ringtone. He evokes Robin S.’s “Show Me Love,” the early ’90s hit that defined the sound of house music in the public consciousness.

These musical components work together like pistons in an engine: “Break My Soul” undeniably goes. But what elevates the song from formula to fabulous is Beyoncé’s taste for excess. The verses, pre-choruses, post-choruses and bridges add up to take the song to over four minutes – something of a statement in the TikTok era. Although the rhythm is regular, Beyoncé is not; it goes from velvety singing to joking rap through religious discourse. About three minutes later, when the energy of the song already seems to be at its height, an instrumental swell pushes the affair into an even heightened emotional register. From there, the song floats and breathes, cloud-like and shimmering.

This sensory boon surrounds lyrics about work burnout, quitting and finding a new purpose: a well-timed inspirational message for America’s supposed “great quitting.” Beyoncé’s rap about the joys and dangers of being “outside” also conjures up thoughts of social distancing. Maybe his next album, Renaissance, will expand on Beyoncé’s views on capitalism and the pandemic, but for now, she simply advises listeners to withstand the grueling conditions with inner strength. “We go up and down, lost and found / Searching for love / Searching for something that lives inside me,” she sings with a tenderness that effectively cuts through the shrillness of the music.

Calls for resilience have long run through house music, befitting its origins in places where black people, gay people and working people have found refuge. Over the past decade, however, dance-pop has fallen out of favor on the Billboard Hot 100 as a different kind of music rooted in fringe survival has come to power: hip-hop. The taciturn memoirs of a Drake album and Beyoncé’s socially conscious celebration of a song feel like they’re trying to access the fantasy and freedom of a rave without sounding naïve. As exciting as their music may be, they can’t make us forget a key lesson of the past few years: when we connect with others, it’s always a risk.

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