Crawford: Is house music about to have its heyday?

Colin Crawford, Columnist

Beyoncé’s new single “Break My Soul” from her upcoming album, “Renaissance,” is a dance hall banger that makes you want to get up and move. The single was the biggest debut for a solo single by a female artist in 2022. 

But there is more to this track than originally meets the eye — its production borrows heavily from house music.

House music is a genre that was first developed in the 1980s in Chicago before spreading to other cities in the U.S. It became popular in underground clubs and was distinguished by its electronic and up-tempo beats. House music also has sub genres that are more region specific like Detroit techno music and the Jersey sound. Most importantly, it is a core element of Black queer culture and Beyoncé’s new release is bringing it to the mainstream. 

House has had mainstream success before, but this mostly came from European transplants: DJs like Avicii and Swedish House Mafia. It is exceedingly rare for American house music to produce a mainstream hit. C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now),” which reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991, is one example. 

What makes Beyoncé’s new hit so different from past house music crossover or house-inspired hits is that she so openly and unabashedly acknowledges the queer influence on house music and stays true to the roots of the genre, a reclamation of sorts from the white DJs who like to make oontz oontz beats. 

The track features Black queer idol Big Freedia, a bounce music pioneer who was previously featured on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” in 2016. Beyoncé is lyrically and creatively bringing house music in its purest form to the mainstream music industry.  

By sampling Robin S.’s “Show Me Love” and using Big Freedia’s vocals, Beyoncé doesn’t give us a watered down, more marketable version of house music – she defiantly does it her way, not caving to pressure. She is giving us a record that is purely creative and not about selling units or going viral. 

Other artists have reached success by focusing on house music. The controversial Azealia Banks is widely recognized for bringing more attention to the genre after her critically acclaimed hit “212” in 2011. However, her antics on social media and her penchant for beefing with other celebrities prevented broader acceptance of the genre. 

The upbeat tempo of house music with its musical stings and electronic sounds made it popular in clubs, but less successful on the radio. But after an unprecedented global pandemic that prevented many from going out to clubs like they used to, the new age of house music may take to the radio as people try to replicate that exhilarating rush of the underground club scene in their own homes. 

Beyoncé is not the only artist experimenting with house music. Drake’s surprise album “Honestly, Nevermind,” which he released on June 17, is also heavily influenced by the genre. 

But the album failed to reach the success his previous projects achieved with only three songs debuting within the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 (“Certified Lover Boy” had nine). Not only was the release itself unexpected, the content itself was a surprising shift from a traditionally one-genre artist. 

Though the album itself is not bad, it is difficult to understand who the audience is. His traditional fans enjoy his sing/rap hip hop that he is known for and house music lovers are unlikely to place Drake on their list of top house music artists. 

And further, by relying on the same producers he always has and including no features of queer or house artists, Drake’s foray into house music comes across as disingenuous.

House music is undeniably surging right now. This new focus on house music also comes at a time when its conventions are perhaps more popular than ever. Quick bursts of danceable sound are perfect for TikTok, an app that seems to make or break projects. 

Drake and Beyoncé’s use of the stylistic markers of house music are moving it to the mainstream, making it the sound of this summer. 

Colin Crawford is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.