Remember that thing? You know, the thing that stopped basically everything, bar the world turning on its axis. Every event cancelled, every social calendar wiped, every club emptied. No (legal) parties, no (legal) 3AM snogs, no (legal) fun. As we scrolled endlessly through TikTok and baked the loaf of the week, we yearned, pined and prayed for brighter days and dirtier nights. Please, God, if you’re listening, just let me lose my shit on the dancefloor one more time, yeah?
It all felt particularly cruel considering the spread of the Virus Which Shall Not Be Named happened to coincide with a mini disco renaissance. The viral success of Doja Cat’s silky disco-rap hit Say So, along with dance floor-ready albums such as Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia, Lady Gaga’s Chromatica and Jessie Ware’s What’s Your Pleasure? only rubbed salt in the wound, reminding us of what could have been.
When freedom eventually knocked on our doors in 2021, the great return to nightlife turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax, the “pingdemic” and yo-yoing case numbers forcing us to club with caution. The vibes were off. By 2022, the disco ball had stopped spinning.
Although underground electronic music artists had kept the wheels turning throughout That Thing, it was, unexpectedly, Beyoncé who would prescribe medicine for the masses. In recent years, Bey’s been more focused on identity-affirming concept albums (Lemonade, Black is King, Everything i/s Love) than shake-your-arse bangers like Crazy in Love. But then, on the June solstice, she dropped Break My Soul – a track that paid homage to dance music’s past, while looking to the future and encouraging listeners to do the same.
From the backing track plucked from Robin S’s house classic Show Me Love to New Orleans bounce legend Big Freedia’s vocals – “Release ya anger! Release ya mind!” – there was no doubt that someone had done their homework. Appealing to both the mainstream and the underground, the high street huns and the club kids, Break My Soul is familiar enough to get your mum on the dance floor without sounding like a paint-by-numbers bid for #1 (where it peaked in the US).
Lyrically, Beyoncé told everyone exactly what they wanted to hear: fall in love, quit your job, let your hair down and live. She sings in first person throughout, but somehow everything sounds more like a command to listeners. After all, Bey isn’t waiting on her pop star P45. She’s ventriloquising the thoughts, feelings and desires of her audience, knowing full well that they’ll soon be belting out those words for themselves on a dancefloor. And what’s more cathartic than screaming “You won’t break my soul” at the top of your lungs in a sweaty club?
In true Beyoncé style, Break My Soul was just the beginning. Her seventh album Renaissance dropped a month later, rammed with bangers, genre-twisters and collabs with legends such as Honey Dijon, Grace Jones and Nile Rodgers. There’s still more to come, apparently, with a further two Renaissance “acts” teased, which may or may not include those long-awaited visuals.
But Break My Soul broke the seal, not only on a new Beyoncé era, but a summer of proper back-to-normal partying – for real this time. Alongside mainstream releases like Drake’s house album Honestly, Nevermind and B.O.T.A. by Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal, helped get us out of our joggers and back into nightclubs. For some, it was a gateway to discover the stalwart DJs and dance music producers who kept the culture going against all odds. For others, it was simply a reminder of the specific kind of liberation that can only be found on the dance floor.
All hail Queen Bey, who, riding on a holographic horse, made us forget about That Thing for four minutes and 38 seconds.