For the majority of 叠别测辞苍肠é's 27-year career, her name has been synonymous with the pursuit of perfection. It’s an association that’s central to the mythology surrounding her, from her tightly controlled public persona to her tireless work ethic, one whose challenges she references on songs like “Pretty Hurts.” This endeavor has led to her becoming the musical artist with the most Grammy wins in a lifetime, a cultural icon who is, in the words of her husband, Jay Z, “the greatest entertainer our generation has seen.” Perfection has long been 叠别测辞苍肠é’s calling card, but with her new concert film, Renaissance: A Film By 叠别测辞苍肠é, the superstar makes it clear that she’s less concerned now with being perfect than she is with being free.
“This tour…I feel liberated,” she says. “I have transitioned into a new animal.”
The documentary, which releases in theaters on Dec. 1, charts the preparation for and execution of 叠别测辞苍肠é’s six month-long Renaissance world tour, promoting her seventh studio album, while offering a rare glimpse into the world and personal life of the famously private artist. In the film, 叠别测辞苍肠é grants viewers a level of vulnerability not shown in previous projects. Past concert films, like 2019’s Homecoming, showcased the hard work and unbeatable drive that produced her awe-inspiring Coachella performance. But with Renaissance, she’s the most open she’s been to showing not just the process, but the challenges, sacrifices, and mishaps that come with being a larger-than-life artist of her caliber.
The three-hour film splices together performance clips from many of 叠别测辞苍肠é’s 56 tour stops with footage of rehearsals, tour planning, and her personal life, including intimate interviews with her family and colleagues. Viewers get fantastical montages of her flawless choreography and many dazzling tour costumes, a veritable front-row seat to her concert experience. But they are also privy to the hard and, at times, unglamorous process of bringing the show to life, from building the set to the inevitable glitches that happen on tour, like a power outage that shut down lights and audio during a show or a now-viral moment when she fumbles her sunglasses while dancing on-stage, something she laughs about in the documentary.
While 叠别测辞苍肠é may be open to giving us a peek behind the curtain, she’s still very much in control—she wrote, directed and produced the film, building on a filmography that began with her 2013 HBO documentary, Life Is But a Dream, which some viewed as a more staged offering of her vulnerability. So to the extent that we see candor and glimpses of her reality, they are the ones she has curated for us to see. But her openness to share the private parts of her life that she does choose to show us, flaws and all, on her terms, is a liberating experience for both her—by all appearances, at least—and the viewer.
The access she offers to her personal life, in particular, is unprecedented: her family, notably, her children, appear in much of the behind-the-scenes footage. The theme of motherhood, raised in conversations with her own mother, Tina Knowles, and a mother-to-be in her band, show the deep investment she has in it both personally and conceptually. She opens up in surprisingly frank interviews about the tough act of balancing motherhood and marriage with her work as a performer and businesswoman and the challenges she faces constantly to be taken seriously as a Black woman in her industry. A knee injury and subsequent surgery provide a constant and tangible reminder of her humanity as she ages, while her children’s indifference to her status as arguably the world’s biggest pop star affirms her priorities.
“I’m a human, not a machine,” she notes wryly in the film. “Balance is my biggest obstacle.”
Some of the most compelling moments of the film come in 叠别测辞苍肠é’s acknowledgement of the many hands that made the tour possible. She gives shoutouts to everyone from personal assistants to light technicians and gives flowers to the pioneers of disco, ballroom, and house, the Black queer musical genres that defined her album and whose artists she worked with to create it. In an especially affecting segment, she and Tina pay homage to her late Uncle Johnny, a queer man who introduced her to house music and inspired her to make the album.
叠别测辞苍肠é’s openness in this moment is hard-won; she attributes it to life experience, the lessons learned from being a mother, and growing comfortable with herself as she’s aged, calling her 40s, “the best time of my life.”
“I spent so much of my life a serial people pleaser and now I don’t give a f-ck,” she says with a laugh in the movie. “I have nothing to prove to anyone at this point.”
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Write to Cady Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org