Beyoncé has been extremely open about the influences on her critically-acclaimed new album Renaissance; it’s steeped in black, queer club culture. And it’s packed with classic samples and interpolations of dance records.
But can our tagging AI measure the impact those influences have had on the record? We ask: “Is Renaissance more Chicago house or Dangerously In Love”?
A nuanced genre make-up
The most straightforward way to answer this question would be to look at genre tags. Given the electronic nature of many tracks on the record and the influences behind them, you might expect that the AI would categorise them predominantly with House or Electronic genres. However, that’s not the case. Like all of Beyoncés solo albums, the most common genre tag on Renaissance is R&B.
However, if we look a little deeper into the genre classifier, there’s nuance.
The Musiio Genre classifier applies up to four genre tags per track, each with a percentage confidence score. If we look at the genre tags the AI applies with lower confidence, perhaps we could use these to trace smaller shifts in Beyoncé’s sound.
Sure enough, when we factor these in, 12 of the album’s 14 tracks feature House, Electronic or Dance R&B tags.
Funnily enough, the only track that is definitively house music, according to the AI, is ‘Summer Renaissance’, which uses the whole chorus of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, a song that was foundational for electronic music/diva crossover culture. It originally shot to fame in 1977 when the seventies soul songstress teamed up with Italian producer Giorgio Moroder.
Mood, mood valence and key
Using the mood classifier, we can determine that Renaissance has the most ‘energetic’ tags of any Beyoncé album. It’s the most common mood tag on the record.
And ‘energetic’ feels an apt way to describe a record that pulls so many elements from club culture.
The other elements that set Renaissance apart from the rest of Queen B’s back-catalogue are the mood valence and key classifiers. Interestingly, Renaissance has the greatest use of minor keys of any Beyoncé album (compared to major). As we often find with upbeat club music, these minor keys are paired with overwhelmingly positive mood valance.
In short, people feel better after listening to Beyoncé’s new record. That’s in spite of the music being in a minor key – a feature that could be simplistically interpreted as being “sad”.
And finally, the tempo
But the single factor that’s hardest to deny is tempo. Renaissance has the tightest clustering of tempos of any Beyoncé album. For example, two thirds of tracks have tempos between 110 and 129 BPM – the fundamental tempos for most house music. No other Beyoncé solo album is like this. Her catalogue records all have a wide spread of upbeat danceable tracks and slow ballads that show off the singer’s spectacular voice. Not so, on Renaissance.
So, by any measure, the pop diva has made a dramatic shift in sound, and one that we can detect.
Renaissance shares Dangerously In Love’s overwhelmingly positive mood valence, B’Day’s predominance of energetic tags, the quirks and electronic elements of Lemonade, while paying homage to electronic and club pioneers. In doing so, she walks a fine line between being pop diva Beyoncé and musical CEO Beyoncé.
Part of how she’s done that is by curating a diverse roster of hot production and writing talent. Among them, Drake collaborator The-Dream, Chicago DJ/producer Honey Dijon, Odd Future alumn Syd, and Boi-1da (Drake/Eminem).
How could this data help?
By charting smaller shifts in the sound of artist, and comparing these against their previous work, we can begin to build a picture of artist evolution. We can then use that to understand why listeners are drawn to one set of songs over another, and even make better listener recommendations.
For music publishers and labels, this data can show you where each artist is, and help to build a data-based picture of what is working for them. And for independent artists, it could even help you make data-driven decisions about which potential collaborators to work with or new musical directions to explore.