After six years, Beyoncé released her latest album on Friday. Renaissance Act I is the first of a promised three-act project. Created during the pandemic, the star set out to create a project that allowed her “to dream and find escape.” As such, she worked to “create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking,” she wrote in a note. “A place to scream, release, feel freedom.” References to the LGBTQ+ community are found throughout the escapist album, as is the work of queer collaborators.
Most notably, in her song “Cozy,” the second of the album, Bey paints the colors of the Progress Pride flag. As a fan noted on Twitter, the flag, which was an update on the original design, aims to “bring to the forefront marginalized LGBTQ+ people of color, trans people, and those living with/lost to HIV/AIDS.” And it tracks.
Before Renaissance Act I’s release, Beyoncé wrote that she wanted to give “a big thank you to my uncle Jonny. He was my godmother and the person to expose me to a lot of the music and culture that serve as inspiration for this album.” She continued: “Thank you to all of the pioneers who originate culture, to all of the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long. This is a celebration for you.”
The “Uncle Jonny” Beyoncé refers to was her cousin but she and her sister, Solange, referred to him as their uncle. In 2019 Beyoncé dedicated her GLAAD award to him, and has spoken about how he helped make some of her early costumes and the emotional experience of watching him die from AIDS-related complications. She shouted out his costume work at the end of “Heated.”
The album comes full of samples from LGBTQ+ talent as well. "Cozy" includes a production credit by Honey Dijon, an iconic DJ and producer that is trans. (She also did production work on “Alien Superstar.”) In “Cozy” she uses the voice of TS Madison, an equally legendary trans entrepreneur, host, and actress. It’s pulled from a video where Madison talks about how proud she is to be Black.
Many are already aware of Big Freedia’s inclusion. The lead single of Renaissance Act I was “Break My Soul” which includes a sample of Big Freedia’s “Explode” throughout. What fans didn’t know is that Big Freedia’s voice would be used at the end of the preceding song, “Energy.”
Track 15 “Pure/Honey” brings explicitly ballroom vibes that many expected from the project. It begins with a sample of DJ Mike Q’s track “Feels Like” featuring Kevin Jz Prodigy. It then goes on to include Kevin Aviance’s “Cunty” and Moi Renee’s “Ms. Honey.”
Syd, a lesbian musician and producer who rose to fame with the group The Internet, is also credited as the sole producer on “Plastic Off the Sofa” outside of Beyoncé.