This year, Beyoncé made history at the Grammys. On the heels of her latest album, RENAISSANCE, she became the most-awarded artist in the history of the Recording Academy with 32 wins and 88 nominations. That put her above industry legends like Quincy Jones (28 wins), prodigious titans like Stevie Wonder (25 wins), and even masters of film like John Williams (25 wins).
In addition to her record-breaking wins at the 2023 Grammys, Beyoncé also entered a new realm when she submitted to be included in the dance/electronic category for the first time.
Considering that she built her career in categories like pop, R&B, urban contemporary, and rap, immediately there was resistance in this regard. According to Okayplayer, the Grammys almost denied her submission for the dance/electronic category outright despite the salient dance influence throughout the album. Such decisions fall to the Recording Academy’s National Screening Committee, which includes music experts of multiple disciplines like songwriters and musicologists who agree upon which genre best defines a release.
Initially, the committee thought RENAISSANCE belonged in the pop category (most likely given Beyoncé’s status in the world of pop) but as the sound of the album leans closer to dance, they eventually agreed to accept her submission to the dance/electronic categories. RENAISSANCE and “BREAK MY SOUL,” went on to be nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album and Best Dance/Electronic Recording, respectively, with Beyoncé winning both awards.
But, a lot of people in dance music weren’t happy about those wins.
Some dance artists outright belittled Beyoncé’s wins in the dance category, claiming she infiltrated the territory and used her massive pop influence to skew attention away from legacy dance artists.
The British house music duo, Camelphat, who were nominated for the Best Dance/Electronic Recording Grammy in 2019 for their single, “Cola,” said in a tweet:
“It’s just pure laziness & ignorance from the members. It shows just how out of touch the committee is.”
Dave Dresden, one half of the trance duo Gabriel & Dresden who were in the running at the 2019 Grammys for Best Remixed Recording for the Cosmic Gate remix of their track, “Only Road,” tweeted in the same thread:
“I don’t really want to harp on it too much but Beyoncé taking both electronic categories at The Grammies is just so tragic to all the artists who live this music day in and day out.”
On the other hand, many dance artists celebrated Beyoncé for entering the category, praising her choice to work with legacy dance artists in producing RENAISSANCE.
Billboard reported that Diplo, who himself was nominated against Beyoncé for both awards with his self-titled album as well as his co-production with pop mainstay Miguel, "Don't Forget My Love," said the following in an Instagram post:
“she did the work found the real producers and she made classics .. so she deserves her flowers.”
In short, the debate is centered around a single idea: whether or not Beyoncé served or detracted from dance and electronic music by being included in the dance/electronic category at the Grammys. A key point of contention is whether her contributions advanced the careers of artists who “live this music day in and day out,” as Dresden said.
Well, one thing is undeniable. On RENAISSANCE, Beyoncé worked with artists who not only live and breathe dance music, but have also been crucial in the development of the genre and surrounding culture itself.
From hosting the LGBT Ballroom stalwart Honey Balenciaga to provide some fiery dance moves on her tour, to punctuating her album with the voice of Philadelphia Ballroom legend Kevin JZ Prodigy, to sampling vogue-ball icon Kevin Aviance, Beyoncé infused every moment of RENAISSANCE, both live and on the record, with the lifeblood of dance music culture, which has deep roots with queer and Black artists.
@djfadethefuture Kevin JZ Prodigy performs at the Renaissance Tour Atlanta Show #2 #kevinjzprodigy #Beyonce #RenaissanceTour #Atlanta #Vogue #Ballroom #Commentary #Beyhive #Oldway #Ballroom ♬ original sound - Dj Fade
But when it comes to the Grammys, the primary concern is the music, and Beyoncé certainly did her homework in that aspect as well.
Chicago is the birthplace of house music and Beyoncé dug deep into the Windy City’s roots to honor the genre she was interpreting. One of the most prominent contributors to the album in this regard with Honey Dijon. Not only is she legendary in the realm of Chicago house, but as a Black trans artist, Honey Dijon embodies the true values of dance music culture.
Honey Dijon was one of the four artists to remix “BREAK MY SOUL,” and she also wrote and produced “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” and “COZY” from RENAISSANCE alongside her frequent collaborator and fellow dance music originator, Luke Solomon. “My role for her in creating this album, I wanted to do the community justice,” Honey Dijon said to NPR of working with Beyonce on the album.
The dance community and the Beyhive itself very much appreciated these efforts from Honey Dijon, and it showed. She saw a big spike in Spotify monthly listeners with an immediate 30.2% increase in the two weeks after the album’s July 29, 2022 release, going from 497k to 647k.
Big Freedia, a Black genderfluid artist, and one of the originators of the New Orleans-based fusion between dance and hip-hop called “bounce music” was sampled on “BREAK MY SOUL.” This is the second time Beyoncé has sampled them after she included their voice on the hit single from Lemonade, “Formation.”
Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, Big Freedia said RENAISSANCE is about “being on the dance floor, to feeling alive and liberated and free,” then adding, “It’s going to be motivational and inspirational for all of us.”
Listeners once again clearly appreciated that inspiration as Big Freedia was another collaborator who saw significant growth following the RENAISSANCE release — seeing a 24% increase in Spotify monthly listeners over the next month.
Big Freedia also saw some action upon the release of “BREAK MY SOUL” as a single on June 20, 2022, via their involvement in that track. They’re only credited as a writer for the use of the sample so they don’t enjoy the direct benefits of the single’s over 393.5 million streams on Spotify, but in the week following the release of “BREAK MY SOUL” on June 20, 2022, they got 1.3k new Spotify followers, accounting for a 1.49% increase compared to the 191 new followers, or 0.22% increase, the week prior. The spike also transferred over to Big Freedia’s Instagram, where they got an average of 928 new followers each day over the following week, while the week before it was closer to 60 new followers a day.
One of Beyonce’s other collaborators from the early days of Chicago house is Terry Hunter who, according to Discogs, has been making house music since 1990 (when Beyonce was nine years old) and has been DJing since he was a teenager. Hunter’s father was also a DJ who passed down the craft to his son, and through his remix of “BREAK MY SOUL,” Hunter passed down his talent to Beyonce. His remix is his second most streamed track on Spotify (after 2007’s collaborative effort “Get Down”) at 574.1k streams, followed by his recent remix of “Hit My Line” for the fast-rising duo, DRAMA, which is at 474.2k streams. In terms of audience, Terry Hunter saw huge growth in his monthly Spotify listeners, which more than tripled from 42k to 127k in the month after the July 26, 2022 release of his “BREAK MY SOUL” remix.
So all in all and based on this data, if the debate is centered around whether or not Beyoncé helped advance the career of artists who “live this music day in and day out,” the answer is that she absolutely did.
But, regardless of any tangible results of these collaborations vis-à-vis career improvements, many of these artists expressed their gratitude for being involved with RENAISSANCE.
“I am completely speechless. Thank you @beyonce for inviting me to be a part of Renaissance. I am emotional for so many reasons,” Honey Dijon wrote in an Instagram caption after watching Beyoncé’s RENAISSANCE World Tour in London back in May.
Big Freedia only met Beyoncé after hearing “BREAK MY SOUL,” and upon meeting, later recalling to Entertainment Tonight how “she [told] me how she’s grateful for [me] being a part of this track. I’m like, ‘No, I’m grateful for you calling me to be a part of this track and having me on it.’”
It feels surreal to be on the track with the Queen Beyonce once again I’m so honored to be apart of this special moment I’m forever grateful lord 🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽💪🏾💪🏾💪🏾💪🏾❤️❤️❤️❤️🔥🔥🔥🔥someone please catch me 🤩 #beyonce #bigfreedia #BreakMySoul pic.twitter.com/AL8jn5lX6J— Big Freedia 💋 (@bigfreedia) June 21, 2022
Terry Hunter also took to Instagram to show his gratitude for Beyoncé tapping him to remix "BREAK MY SOUL," stating, “As things are getting back to normal and I’m coming down off that high from being nominated for BEST REMIXED RECORDING."
In truth, the idea that all of these historic dance music artists are thrilled to be a part of the album should be reason enough for the naysayers to change their minds about Beyonce’s inclusion in the Dance/Electronic category.
Though they’re not yet headlining their own tours that rival the RENAISSANCE World Tour in terms of profitability (as it broke the record for the biggest one-month gross in Boxscore history), their future as artists looks even brighter than it already did with her now their corner (and on their resumes).
At the end of the day, it’s not Beyoncé’s responsibility — or the responsibility of any major star, for that matter — to elevate the careers of other artists to her level. But, when it came to dance music, she wanted to do it right, so she worked with artists who have been doing it for decades. As a result, those artists were not only grateful to be involved, but their music subculture and careers were propelled into the spotlight, illuminated by Beyoncé’s disco ball cowboy hat.
Graphics by Nicki Camberg and cover image by Crasianne Tirado; data as of Nov. 15, 2023.