Pop Culture Deep Dive

A List of Things Less Gay Than Beyoncé’s Renaissance

The superstar’s seventh album is a glittering tribute to queer dance music through the ages, making it a hell of a lot gayer than, say, a bachelorette party at Darcelle's (all love).

By Conner Reed August 1, 2022

On Friday, the world got its first proper Beyoncé record in six years. There was the Jay-Z collab Everything Is Love in 2018, yes, and 2019’s Lion King-adjacent The Gift, but not since Lemonade has the public been treated to a true one-on-one moment with perhaps its most beloved star. Expectations were high. Renaissance exceeded them. 

Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it did. Nu-disco is having a moment, as is house music, and when the Robin S.-sampling “Break My Soul” arrived as Renaissance’s lead single in July, it planted a nagging thought: what if, this round, Beyoncé was trend-hopping instead of trendsetting? About five minutes into Renaissance's mighty sprawl, though, that question was put to rest, and every other alleged trendsetter in the conversation (sorry to Dua Lipa, deepest condolences to Drake) more or less crumbled to dust. We expected good. We got dizzyingly great.

The other big surprise? Renaissance is gay as hell. Full G-A-Y, it ain’t got no alibi, etc. Plenty of Bey's past hits have become gay club staples, but a good half of this album’s 16 tracks are straight ballroom fodder, pulling from Black queer legends as far-reaching as Honey Dijon, Big Freedia, Kevin Aviance, and Grace Jones. In the liner notes, Bey dedicated the record to her Uncle Johnny, her "fairy godmother" who passed away due to AIDS-related illness, and Renaissance gloriously metabolizes all the queer dance excellence he likely introduced her to while he was alive. 

This has inspired a whole host of "Beyoncé is a little bit gay" tweets which, at press time, were funny roughly one hundred percent of the time. It has also led to thoughtful considerations of the way Beyoncé wields her queer and trans influences, including this New York Times review from Wesley Morris. To that end, I have done my journalistic duty and compiled an empirical list of items—people, experiences, concepts, traditions—less gay than the album Renaissance. If you disagree, you're probably right, but have you ever considered having fun? 

1. Every Other Beyoncé Album

A mere eight years ago, being a gay person on the internet more or less meant posting a video of you and the drunkest people you’d ever met inadequately replicating the choreo to “7/11.” One of Renaissance's many achievements is that it makes that song, plus everything on Beyoncé, 4, and B’Day (probably her gayest works until now) look like a pair of khaki shorts from Banana Republic. Sasha Fierce herself would not be allowed into the club where the DJ is spinning "Alien Superstar.”

2. A Bachelorette Party at Darcelle's

We love Darcelle's almost beyond words. It is one of Portland's crown jewels, and the font from which virtually all local drag has sprung in some form or fashion. Thirty seconds of "Pure/Honey" is gayer than every single "same penis forever"-sashed bachelorette party that has ever passed through its doors.

3. Ryan Murphy's Oeuvre 

This one almost feels like a low blow. Ben Platt singing Billy Joel? Sarah Jessica Parker clapping along to "Turkey Lurkey Time" in a nightmare-inducing mashup with "Let's Have a Kiki"? Whatever this was? To crib a Renaissance lyric: move out the way, Mr. Murphy. 

4. The Drag Race All Stars 7 Finale

The latest season of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars concluded the same day Renaissance dropped (a gay solar eclipse, essentially), and Portland's own Jinkx Monsoon snagged the crown. Yay! However, she did it by objectively losing a lip sync to Katy Perry's "Swish Swish" (boo!) in an episode of television that also included a lip sync to P!nk's 2008 pop rock hit "So What" (ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!). All in all, a bit of a comedown from Beyonce's six-minute disco song about astrology.

5. Me

I am gay, but unlike me, there is zero chance that anyone involved in the writing or production of this record has ever had a Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog phase. Which is a blessing.

6. The Madonna/Britney/Christina VMA Kiss

One of history's great instances of queer baiting may have involved actual lady pop star-on-lady pop star action, but a lip lock between the queen and princess(es) of pop is no match for the LGBTQ-phoria of hearing Beyoncé growl "tig ol' bitties" several times in a song about church.

7. Rainbow Streets and Crosswalks

I think these can be nice, but it often confuses me whether/how they are gay. Sometimes, I realize, gayborhoods in cities across the world announce themselves with rainbow crosswalks—a little on the nose, and I am not so sure we need to tether the act of crossing the street to a sexual identity, but I'm more or less on the same page. However, I find myself troubled by ambiguous rainbow street-patches: Why, for example, is the stretch of SE Ankeny between 28th and 26th in Portland rainbow-colored? Is it just an announcement that Ankeny Tap and Table is down with the queers? In cases like these, I would much rather be listening to something I know is gay, like the Nile Rodgers-assisted "Cuff It."

8. The Time I Saw a Guy Who Ghosted Me Collecting Signatures to Legalize Psilocybin in My Neighborhood

No doubt the stiffest competition on the list so far, but even this HBO's Girls-ass situation does not touch the ethereal queer majesty of Renaissance's blissed-out funk moment, "Plastic Off the Sofa."

9. The City of San Francisco as It Exists Today

No one is saying Beyoncé does not have troubling corporatist trappings, nor am I saying that "Break My Soul" and Soul Cycle are mutually exclusive. I'm just saying that when I went to the Castro in February, I saw a Soul Cycle building with a neon sign on it that read "hope will never be silent" and three self-driving Google cars, all of which is significantly less gay than the jaw-dropping ballroom breakdown Bey delivers in the final minute and a half of "Heated."

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