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Spirit of Life

Break My Soul? More like break my ass dancing to this song

Updated April 5, 2023

As you no doubt know by now, Beyoncé released her new Renaissance album a couple weeks ago, teasing it with her first foray into disco, Break My Soul. The single received mixed reactions, but I was still shaking my booty along to it.

On Friday, she released Break My Soul – The Queens Remix, and when I tell you I have it on non-stop repeat!!!

Lemme start by telling you two facts: one, this song, which combines Break My Soul with Madonna’s Vogue, is so much more than just a mashup. Two, don’t attribute my enthusiasm for this song to a mistaken belief that I am a Beyoncé or Madonna stan. While I enjoy their music, have joyously danced to it, even cried while watching Lemonade, I don’t think I’ve ever, for example, spent money on either of them.

HOWEVER.

As a lover of pop music, I gotta say: this track is a crossing of cultural streams that honestly feels historic.

There, I said it. 

If you were either queer or following pop culture in the ’90s (or both), you would know that, when she initially released Vogue, Madonna was accused of cultural appropriation. Voguing was a dance birthed by the Black queers of the house ball scene in New York City in the 1970s and ’80s. A wealth of now-commonplace language (including nearly all of the lingo you hear on Ru Paul’s Drag Race)–throwing shade, reading, boots the house down–comes from that sub-culture. The documentary Paris is Burning is the most accessible record of that powerfully nascent scene (one that would go one to directly impact drag culture everywhere). You may also be familiar with the TV series Pose, starring the fabulous Billy Porter, which is a fictionalized account of this time and place (shout out to my friend Ryan for not letting it go when I dragged my feet on watching it, and for texting me this track that totally overtook my Saturday!)

Back in the day, the accusation against Madonna was that she lifted the dance styles of the Black and Latinx gays, drag queens and trans folks of Harlem’s ballroom scene wholesalewithout appropriate credit, collaboration or compensation. Madonna not only failed to give appropriate credit to the Black drag queens and trans women who created voguing as a dance form. In writing Vogue, she whitewashed the house ball scene’s homage to glamour entirely. 

But with the Queens’ Remix of Break My Soul, Beyoncé repairs this long-standing cultural wound by returning Vogue to the Black queers who created the dance in the first place. It is a cultural repair, a beginning of making things right, and an absolute banger.

At one point, she snips out all the lyrics that reference entirely white performers. You know the refrain: Gerta Garbo and Monroe, Dietrich and DiMaggio… Instead, she pays homage to many Black performers, past and current, including Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Anita Baker, Grace Jones, Whitney Houston, Sade, Lizzo, her Destiny’s Child sisters, and more.

When she calls out some of the most significant families of the ballroom scene past and present—the legendary Houses of Labeija, Xtravaganza, Mugler, Mizrahi, and so on—she provides the acknowledgement of the ballroom scene that Madonna should have given from the jump.

Other elements that absolutely sent me:

  • when the concluding bars of “Vogue” play, you think it’ll also be the end of the Queens Remix–but of course it’s not, because why would Beyoncé cede the closing of her own song to another artist?
  • There is something profoundly satisfying about the presence of Big Freedia’s voice finding its way to Vogue. Having this powerful rapper’s voice interwoven with Vogue feels like another righting of pop history.
  • The fact that THIS is the first time Beyoncé and Madonna have ever done anything jointly together fills me with delight because it’s happening squarely in Bey’s sandbox; it’s almost like Bey is the first diva Madonna has ever been able to handle being in the presence of 

With the Queens Remix, Beyoncé is not necessarily throwing shade on Madonna. Rather, Bey refers to Madge as “Queen Mother,” a brilliant acknowledgement of Madonna as a powerful predecessor within Beyoncé’s lineage, yet no longer the reigning monarch. Instead, she’s giving Madonna a lesson in how to honour their shared history. Perhaps the fact that Bey is righting a historical wrong while further entrenching her own position in the pop firmament is the best part of it all.