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21 June 2022

Will Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” usher in a new era of dance music?

Anchored by an unstoppable house beat, Beyoncé’s new song is a readymade soundtrack to a big night out.

By Ellen Peirson-Hagger

It’s the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and Beyoncé is calling for workers’ rights – or something like that. “Work by nine/Then off past five/And they work my nerves/That’s why I cannot sleep at night,” she sings breathily on “Break My Soul”, her first release in two years and first new song from an album project since she released Lemonade in 2016.

It’s hard to imagine Beyoncé, one of the world’s most successful pop stars, stuck in an unfulfilling day job but that hardly matters: this song was made for other people to sing along to. Eagle-eyed fans may have anticipated a switch-up to dance last week when photos from Beyoncé’s British Vogue cover shoot were released. In them she sits atop a horse (a not so subtle nod to Bianca Jagger in the nightclub Studio 54), wears an Eighties-inspired, high-collared gold sequin coat, and perches atop a disco ball in brilliantly obnoxious platform boots. Edward Enninful, British Vogue’s editor-in-chief, who wrote the accompanying piece, used just two quotes from the artist, but it was the shoot that spoke volumes: Beyoncé was ready for a big night out.

“Break My Soul” is anchored by an unstoppable house beat. Like the best songs that pay tribute to music of eras past, it samples: from Robin S’s inescapable Nineties banger “Show Me Love”, and from the New Orleans bounce rapper Big Freedia, who also sings the song’s intro and outro (and whose call to “release your wiggle” is bound to become a catchphrase). The Robin S sample in particular gives the track a sense of tantalising familiarity – “You know this song, dance to it!” your brain tells you – while Beyoncé’s new vocal line, in which she rhymes “motivation”, “foundation” and “salvation”, is distinctly 2022.

Beyoncé’s exceptional voice is on full display here. She purrs the verses, performs the chorus with such tactility it is as though she is lying down inside of it, and even hurtles through a rap verse: “I’ma let down my hair ‘cause I lost my mind/Bey is back and I’m sleepin’ real good at night.” The second half of the track becomes a party in and of itself, as an electric guitar doubles the vocals for a couple of lines, and then a hubbub of people is heard in the background – some sing along, others are talking among themselves. As you’d expect from any Beyoncé track, the production is immaculately clean.

“Break My Soul” is the first single to be released from Beyoncé’s seventh studio album, Renaissance, due out on 29 July. Sceptics would argue that tapping into dance music – a genre that instilled a new sensibility into nightlife over three decades ago – is hardly revolutionary. But “renaissance” – a rebirth, a revival – is just about right. And if Beyoncé says dance has come back round again, who are we to argue?

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[See also: Drake’s Honestly, Nevermind: best served tepid]

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