Beyoncé’s Renaissance is so much more than a concert film. It’s a superhero epic—as if Bey is filling the void left by The Marvels or Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. It’s a glorious three-hour tour of the Queen in all her creative splendor, on her record-setting Renaissance World Tour from this past summer. The movie would be a blast if it were merely a jubilant live performance, but it’s also a documentary of a year in Bey’s life. “I spent so much of my life a serial people-pleaser,” she says at one point. “And now I don’t give a fuck. I have nothing to prove to anyone at this point.”
Beyoncé wrote, directed, and produced Renaissance: A Film herself. It’s not aimed to be a musical blow-out like the relentless 2019 Homecoming, one of the most astounding concert movies ever. Instead, it’s half live, half behind-the-scenes footage. It’s self-consciously designed as a celebration of her community, where the dancers, the audience, the whole creative team is as important as the star. “My ultimate goal,” she says, “is to create a space where everyone is free and no one is judged, and everyone can be their childlike selves, their sexiest selves. They can all be on that stage. They are the vision. They are the new beginning. That’s what Renaissance is about.”
The tour, like her instant-classic 2022 Renaissance album, is her celebration of Black music and dance culture through the decades, paying tribute to the queer ballroom legacy, honoring different styles and generations of club life. The tour drew controversy by refusing to settle for a greatest-hits tour: Queen Bey was not out to rest on her laurels or rehash her oldies.
Renaissance covers the whole 56-show tour, with nearly every song from the set list. It’s got appearances from the stars who joined her onstage, with Megan Thee Stallion in Houston, or Kendrick Lamar and Diana Ross, who joined for her 42nd birthday show in L.A. It has loving tributes to her late great heroes Tina Turner (“River Deep, Mountain High”) and Donna Summer (“Love to Love You Baby”). She even ends it with a great new song, which is why nobody runs out during the end credits: “My House,” a hard hip-hop banger with The-Dream. It’s a musical departure from the club sound of Renaissance, but as always, Beyoncé does everything her own way.
The movie chronicles how she brought the whole tour and concept together. So if you’re the kind of Bey fan, like most of us, who really loves seeing her give orders, there’s plenty to cherish here. She has a classic description of her management style, when she’s dealing with disobedient underlings: “Eventually, they realize this bitch will not give up.” She also gives tantalizing hints about her artistic process, like how she goes onstage after a ginseng shot and a “pregame sandwich.” We needs to know what the hell is in that sandwich—recipe, please?
Renaissance is the rare concert film to get a theatrical release, instead of debuting on HBO or Netflix. It comes six weeks after Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour movie, and it’s perfect how both megastars have treated the moment like a joint venture, making the scene together at Tay’s premiere in L.A. and Bey’s in London, bonding like the mutual fans they’ve always been. It’s another peak in the long sage of Tayoncé. Both were teen stars initially dismissed as flash-in-the-pan fads, but check on them now—in 2023, they’re the only two supernovae massive enough to get away with dropping their concert movies on movie screens.
One of the best scenes in any movie this year: Beyoncé meets up in Houston for a brief yet fascinating reunion with her old bandmates from Destiny’s Child—not merely Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, but also the long-gone LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett. Despite all their conflicts in the past, they’re presented as one big lovefest. Do they sing? Of course not—just a quickie hug. “It was like a new birth for us,” Beyoncé says. “And a lot of healing.” We don’t know how healed the other four feel, since none of them get to speak a word. It’s a delightful flashback to the Survivor “I’m better than that!” era. Oh, for a documentary on this hug alone.
She devotes much of the movie to her family, with her husband Jay-Z, their kids, her parents. There’s a long-running subplot about her 11-year-old daughter Blue Ivy, who beguiles her into letting her dance onstage to “My Power,” becoming a regular part of the show. Most poignantly, she speaks about about her late Uncle Johnny, a gay disco fan who schooled her early in house music, then designed costumes for Destiny’s Child before his tragic death from AIDS. He became her major inspiration for Renaissance.
She’s got lots of love for her collaborators—especially her dancers. Not since Madonna’s Truth or Dare has a concert movie given so much screen time to the dance squad, especially her MC, the ballroom legend Kevin JZ Prodigy. Beyoncé also undergoes surgery on her knee, for an onstage injury that goes back 20 years, and we see her work through her rehab to get back up to fighting form. “Usually I only rehearse in heels,” she says. But because of my knee, I haven’t gotten that far yet. It’s hurting like crazy, but the best thing to do is to just get back on the horse.”
In classic form, she’s the most obsessively private and emotionally self-controlled of stars. “The biggest growth in my artistry has come from overcoming failure, conflict and trauma,” she says, though if she’s had creative or commercial failures, they’re well-hidden. She speaks movingly about feeling free in her forties. “The next phase of my life, I want it to come from peace and joy,” she explains. “It’s the best time of my life. I thought I was there at 30, but nah—it’s getting better. Life is getting better.”
Renaissance feels like two films in one. There’s Beyoncé offstage, trying to show how she’s just another member of her big happy creative family—as she says, “There’s so many bees in this hive.” She wants to be a team player. But then there’s Beyoncé onstage, transforming into a goddess and proving why she’s an absolutely unique life form in the universe. On the movie screen, as on the stadium stage, Beyoncé is always the presence who reminds you exactly why you’re here. Renaissance is her tribute to the community around her, and the dance-culture legacy that inspired her. But as soon as she steps in front of a crowd and the spotlight hits her, there’s no doubt about who’s the queen.
From Rolling Stone US