In New York City’s queer bars, Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’ remains unmuted

"Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé," which debuted earlier this month, chronicles the music star's 2023 world tour.
“Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé,” which debuted earlier this month, chronicles the music star’s 2023 world tour.
Vincent Anthony

When Beyoncé rode into the “Renaissance” era atop a disco horse, fans reveled in her reign. Upon its July 2022 release, fans brought the music of the dance/house-inspired album to life in organic celebrations, chrome-coded affairs usually dubbed “Club Renaissance” — and once again during her summer 2023 world tour, and once again in movie theaters this month.

Though Beyoncé is known for surprises, it seems the “Renaissance” era is coming to an end. Following the December 1 release of her film, “Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé,” and with the once-teased notion of a visual album seemingly squashed, barring the streaming release of a live album or the film, the curtain is likely closing on “Act 1.”

While the spectacle may be over, the music will continue to live on in the very spaces that inspired it: queer bars, clubs, and safe spaces.

“This record will stand the test of time as [Beyoncé’s] dance opus and will be filling dance floors for years to come,” says Sean McMahill, a DJ who has played queer bars and clubs in New York since 2010. A Chicago native, McMahill DJed in his hometown before landing in the Big Apple.

McMahill plays residencies at a pair of progressive queer bars in Brooklyn, C’mon Everybody, in Bed Stuy, and Good Judy, in Park Slope. At both, artist-themed nights are a frequent occurrence, and McMahill notes they’ve hosted plenty of Beyoncé and “Renaissance” themed nights since its release. This summer, he DJed an after-party for Beyonce’s show at MetLife Stadium. 

Naturally, Beyoncé’s local BeyHive assembled in shimmering silver, Renaissance-inspired looks. McMahill says that while C’mon Everybody is a welcoming safe space every night, “Definitely on the night of the Beyoncé party, that was in full effect. People were embracing the silver looks, and wearing Beyoncé t-shirts; there was a spectrum.”

Beyonce appears at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on March 14, 2021.
Beyonce appears at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on March 14, 2021.AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Across the city, DJ Paul Leasure also hosted a Renaissance Tour after-party in Hell’s Kitchen. Leasure has been a DJ since 1997 and has managed various gay bars in Hell’s Kitchen, including Therapy (RIP), Boxers, and Rise. He currently DJs full time, hosting parties at Rise, The Spot, and elsewhere. Having begun his DJ career the same year Beyoncé debuted with Destiny’s Child, Leasure has been behind the boards for all of her defining moments. From Beyoncé’s very first hit with the group (“No, No, No Part 2”), to her breakout solo hit (“Crazy In Love”), through her current “Renaissance,” Leasure is a first-hand witness to how each era impacted the dance floor at the gay bars he’s DJed and managed.

“Every time Beyoncé drops an album, it’s an event, but I don’t remember ever — her album lasting this long,” he says, noting that over a year and a half after its release, it’s “still popular.”

Even compared to other artists, Leasure notes how “Renaissance” has had more longevity on the dance floor. “Most albums, they’re done after six months,” he says. “This is still going. I’m still getting a ton of requests for Renaissance tracks.”

So, what’s the most requested song from “Renaissance”? That depends on who you ask. Leasure answered immediately: “‘Heated,’ for sure,” he said, without hesitation. 

“It’s one of those songs,” he says, comparing its dance floor impact to that of “Crazy In Love,” which he says DJs often refer to as a “save a party song” because of its ability to bring the crowd back to life when energy gets low.

“I don’t know if it’ll have the long-lasting effect of ‘Crazy In Love,’ but, definitely in this moment, it does the same thing. You put on ‘Heated’ and they hear that opening beat? They snap right into it,” he says.

For McMahill, on the other hand, the answer wasn’t as clear-cut.

“From the beginning, people were coming up, requesting all different songs which I think speaks to its strength and the breadth of the material,” says McMahill. “There was something for every person who wanted to come and dance to it … I’ve played every song from the album.”

McMahill notes that while the album’s #1 hit single “Break My Soul” and subsequent viral hit “Cuff It” could be played and requested anywhere and by anyone, in queer spaces, none of that matters.

“I’m prepared to hear a request for literally any track off the record,” he says. 

“At first, it was ‘Summer Renaissance,’ because that was certainly one that was easy for everyone to wrap their heads around and be excited about.” 

Now, he says, “It’s probably ‘Thique’ and lately, ‘Energy” and ‘Pure/Honey’ still get a lot of buzz.” 

Of course, “Energy” in particular had a “summer renaissance” of its own this summer while Beyoncé was on tour, subjecting millions of BeyHive members to the “mute challenge.”

In the song, Beyoncé sings, “Look around, everybody on mute,” and during the show, fans noticed it seemed as though she wanted the stadium to mute at that moment. As the realization spread across social media, the notoriously devoted BeyHive sprang into action to make it happen. City by city throughout the tour, crowds attempted to “win” the mute challenge. However, the challenge wasn’t exclusive to tour crowds. It happens in clubs too.

“I definitely made a point during ‘Energy’ of hitting pause that moment,” says McMahill. “You would see people on the dance floor sort of like looking around… like, we all know what’s going on, she’s the queen, we’re gonna give her a moment.” 

In a way, she returns the favor. “When you put on a Renaissance track, there’s a feeling, for a DJ, safety, calmness,” says Leasure. “We’re always trying to grab hold and control the energy. That’s what these tracks do. You put on a Renaissance track, you know you got their attention.”

“You get those goosebumps, and you feel the energy,” he explains. “You feel like you’re getting control of it. And that’s what a lot of the ‘Renaissance’ tracks do now, even still, a year and a half later.”

While the era may be ending for Beyoncé, it’s clear fans, and DJs, won’t be putting the  “Renaissance” music on mute any time soon.