Renaissance — the album, the tour, and now the movie — is a spectacular.
Beyoncé’s dance album, released last summer, is meant to be played on booming sound systems, the kind that shake your bones and thump your heart. The concerts that followed were, by all accounts, transcendent; they were also made for cameras, allowing you to witness Beyoncé hit every beat of choreography — which she does down to a bat of an eyelash.
Seeing Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé in an IMAX or giant movie theater brings it all to life. There’s something else happening in Renaissance, though, that elevates the experience beyond merely witnessing the biggest superstar on the planet put on the best performance of her life.
Every scene, every shot, every spotlight, every wardrobe change, every curved piece of steel on stage conveys a message: This work of art is extremely hard work. Beyoncé’s drive is part of her lore. That isn’t new. But in Renaissance we see new aspects of what it takes to be a generational talent. When we say that there’s no one in the world like Beyoncé or that Beyoncé just isn’t human, it’s meant to be a compliment. That praise can also cut the other way, negating not only the amount of effort and thought Bey puts into her craft, but also all the times that people, even in her own camp, have told her she can’t do the things she knows she can.
Midway through the film, Beyoncé establishes that Renaissance is the culmination of four years of planning and dedication. She says that she didn’t want to hide the effort to make this all happen. She gave the crew reflective uniforms to make sure their work, like lifting huge screens piece by piece, would be noticed. Stadiums don’t come with roofs, Beyoncé says, so she and her team built a few. While one of her stages is being installed in a city, another is being taken down and transported to the next stop. The lights, she ensures, are scrutinized down to every second of individual placement. Each moment of the tour can be broken down to a million decisions, all approved by Beyoncé herself.
Beyoncé being a perfectionist is not surprising. What is surprising is the amount of people willing to fight Beyoncé on her creative choices. It’s shocking how different (and worse probably!) this concert could have looked if those people had their way.
After explaining all these intricacies of the show, the film shows footage of people — predominantly men — telling Beyoncé that the things she’s asking for can’t be done. At one point she’s told by an expert that the bigger camera size she wants doesn’t exist. (I am not a video or lighting professional, so please take this recollection with a grain of salt.) Beyoncé responds that, actually, she did her research, and that they do exist and that she needs them on tour. After she presents this information, he finally tells her that he’ll look into it.
“I feel like, being a Black woman, the way people communicate with me is different ... Everything is a fight. It’s almost like a battle against your will,” she tells the camera, explaining that she’s faced this kind of pushback throughout her entire career. “Eventually they realize, this bitch will not give up.”
Telling Beyoncé how to perform is like giving LeBron James tips on how to dunk or telling Steven Spielberg how to shoot a closeup. It takes an immense amount of audacity or, worse, disregard for Beyoncé’s experience to shrug off feedback from one of music’s greatest performers. Yet, Beyoncé tells us it happens all the time and this instance won’t be the last.
That she’s always had to fight for everything and she’s still fighting; this is the key to Beyoncé’s entire career. Multiple decades into her storied legacy as a premier solo artist and as part of one of the biggest groups of all time, Beyoncé still has to deal with people who think they know better than she does. Imagine all the pushback Beyoncé had to deal with on her last tour, or the one before that, or the one before that, or all the times that people talked down to her and her fellow members of Destiny’s Child.
Bey’s greatest talent might not be her dancing, her charisma, or even a singing voice that spans multiple octaves, but rather the endurance to advocate for herself time and time again.
The things that have made Beyoncé a superstar might not have happened if she had listened to all the people who told her no. The woman who Michelle Obama praised for setting the bar higher and higher has had to deal with a career of people trying to push that bar back down. They tell her to aim a little lower and be satisfied. Beyoncé then asks her audience to imagine all the Black women who aren’t Beyoncé and what they’ve had to deal with. Imagine what potential they weren’t allowed to fulfill.
For all the strength that’s required of her, Beyonce is willing to show us her moments of vulnerability. She speaks about a knee injury that she was rehabbing while the tour started. She talks about feeling protective over her daughter Blue Ivy’s criticized onstage performance; social media came for Blue’s dancing, and Bey regrets not being able to protect her. She also questions if she made the right decision in allowing Blue to dance with her onstage at all. Toward the end of the film, she speaks about the bittersweet milestone of turning 40. She talks about releasing the pressure that pushed her to be great, and the very real problem that she can’t keep performing like this forever.
These different moments come together to paint a portrait of an artist’s humanity. Throughout Beyoncé’s career, it’s been made to appear that this woman is something closer to deity than one of us. She is the closest thing to perfection, a once-in-a-lifetime talent. But what’s made her so spectacular to us is, privately, exhausting. Renaissance is the merging of the two, showing us the sheer amount of determination and work it takes to produce a show like Renaissance, and the toll it takes on the very human woman behind it all.
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