While Beyoncé has certainly never been far from the forefront of popular music, it’s been a little while since we’ve seen her in the top tier of the pop charts — at least as a lead artist. While she hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2020 as a guest on the remix to Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” and in 2018 on the duet version of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” — and No. 3 while appearing on the remix to J Balvin and Willy William’s “Mi Gente” in 2018 — she hadn’t made the top 10 on her own since “Formation” debuted at No. 10 in 2016.
That changes this week, on the chart dated July 9, with her new single, the house-inspired perseverance jam “Break My Soul.” While the single, which previews her upcoming Renaissance full-length, debuted at No. 15 on the Hot 100 following an incomplete first week of metrics, it jumps to No. 7 on the chart this frame after its first full week of tracking — making it her highest-peaking Hot 100 hit as a led artist since the Jay-Z collab “Drunk in Love” went to No. 2 in 2014.
What does the song’s success mean for Beyoncé’s career? And is house music now officially back? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.
1. Beyoncé released “Break My Soul” on a Monday night — almost exactly halfway through the chart tracking week, and just a few days after Drake surprise-released his whole Honestly, Nevermind album — and consequently, the song debuted at No. 15 on last week’s Hot 100. Given that the song jumps to No. 7 in its first full week, how much of a chance do you think the song would’ve had at a No. 1 debut if it was released at the beginning of a non-Drake week?
Katie Atkinson: I don’t know that it would have been a sure thing for a No. 1 debut with a full release week – even without Drake in the way. I think the real ticket is going to be releasing a music video for the song along with the arrival of Act I: Renaissance on July 29. Seeing that it bumped up in its second week and assuming that it will only grow at radio, the video/album one-two punch should make it a lock as a streaming fixture.
Stephen Daw: Given Drake’s ubiquity on the charts, I’d say Beyoncé would’ve had a shot at a No. 1 debut had either of the two projects been released on a different week. That being said, Bey hasn’t had a solo No. 1 on the Hot 100 since 2008 with “Single Ladies,” and has never debuted at No. 1 on the chart, so the likelihood of her actually climbing that summit would be a tough feat, even for someone as universally beloved as Bey.
Jason Lipshutz: A pretty good chance, in hindsight. Debuting at No. 15 on the Hot 100 would have been impressive for any song that was released halfway through the tracking week, but considering the universal appetite for new Beyonce music — including from radio, which swiftly adopted “Break My Soul” upon its release — the single could have pushed much higher had it been released on the Friday of a non-Drake week, and maybe even to No. 1. That’s just how the chips fell, but regardless of its start, “Break My Soul” is a bona fide hit, and is going up to help define this summer.
Heran Mamo: It’s pretty possible. Despite this year’s Hot 100 containing a lot of old holdover hits and not too many new top 10s that stay within the top 10, Beyoncé is in the upper echelon of superstars, like her Columbia labelmates Harry Styles and Adele, who could have a splashy No. 1 debut with “Break My Soul” and remain there for several weeks. Even though the 21 Savage-assisted “Jimmy Cooks” Honestly, Nevermind debuted at the top of the chart last week, the song earned 42.2 million streams, 3 million radio airplay audience impressions and 6,000 downloads sold in its first week (June 17-23), according to Luminate, following the album’s arrival on June 17. But after the song was released on June 20, Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” registered 14 million U.S. official-on demand streams, 11.1 million in total audience impressions and 22,000 sales downloads in the week ending June 23. Given the shorter time frame, “Break My Soul” could’ve made that No. 1 debut during Drizzy’s off season.
Andrew Unterberger: A little skeptical she could’ve had a No. 1 debut in her sights — maybe a few months ago when the Hot 100 was in a real lull, but tougher with cross-platform hits like Harry Styles’ “As It Was” and Future’s “WAIT FOR U” in the mix. Still, it seems very likely it could’ve bowed in the top five — a bow more befitting a song of this immediate cultural impact — which in itself would’ve been a medium-sized victory for Beyoncé, considering how the conventional big pop smash has eluded her somewhat as a solo artist in recent years.
2. “Break My Soul” is off to a dynamite start at radio, already in the top 20 of Billboard‘s Pop Airplay chart — the highest any of her singles as a lead artist has reached since “Drunk in Love” in 2014. Why do you think it’s moving so much faster there than her other most recent singles, and do you see its momentum continuing all summer?
Katie Atkinson: To me, this is the poppiest song Beyoncé has put out since she released 4 in 2011. That’s not to say she hasn’t made great music in the past decade-plus, but she’s been more experimental and far less beholden to radio. It’s made her an incredibly fascinating artist, but it’s also meant that she’s not releasing a wedding-dance-floor filler like “Single Ladies” anymore. However, while house music is a new sound for Beyoncé, it’s not that far removed from top 40 to get major airplay all summer long – especially with how upbeat it is and its references to being “back outside.” This could all be a recipe for her first No. 1 as a lead artist on the Pop Airplay chart since – hey! – “Single Ladies,” back in 2009.
Stephen Daw: I think a lot of it has to do with her marketing and her sound. Since her 2013 self-titled album, Bey has been dedicated to the “world stop … carry on” philosophy of dropping an album in the middle of the night with little-to-no warning or pre-marketing. So, with her upcoming LP Renaissance being given a release date and a formal lead single drop, Beyoncé is buying back into the hype-focused process of selling fans on her album, and it’s clearly working — the Hive is buzzing loudly over this song and what’s to come. That also has to do with the fact that the song is undeniably catchy and such a fun shift in Bey’s sound; not a full-on reinvention, but rather a delightful re-flavoring of the work that already made her an icon.
Jason Lipshutz: The answer is in the question — it moves so much faster! After mid-tempo hits like “Drunk In Love” and “Formation,” “Break My Soul” returns Beyoncé to the dizzying speed of smashes like “Crazy In Love,” “Deja Vu” and “Single Ladies,” a sound which she moved away from following 2011’s 4. That’s almost a decade without a true Beyoncé dance hit, and although it’s been a while, “Break My Soul” scratches an itch that radio knew still existed.
Heran Mamo: It just sounds like a radio smash out the gate. Not only do you have the brilliant inspiration from Robin S.’s “Show Me Love,” but “Break My Soul” employs an infectious and empowering hook, and adds Big Freedia’s revitalizing post-chorus (“Release ya anger/ Release ya mind…”). “Break My Soul” is also one of the more feel-good, dance-pop tracks that Beyoncé’s released in her career, which makes it more versatile for different platforms and different audiences. It’s all fodder for an airplay giant in the making, and I can only see radio embracing the song even more throughout the summer.
Andrew Unterberger: The sound is certainly radio-ready — albeit perhaps more for 1992 than for 2022 — but I do think this is more about Beyoncé putting this song so firmly front and center as the beginning of her new era, while still leaving the accompanying full-length project at arm’s length (and not, say, releasing the whole thing mere days later). Not only does it mark Beyoncé’s long-awaited return — and not just some topical one-off, but a true first taste of something bigger to come — but it’s all we’re getting from her for a little while still, so it’s not surprising that any platform would jump on it. I imagine it’ll only continue to grow from here.
3. Between Drake and Beyoncé’s new releases, house music has gotten a bigger mainstream spotlight — particularly as performed by Black artists — than it has in some time. Do you see this being the beginning of a trend that will persist throughout 2022, or will the moment mostly be contained to these projects?
Katie Atkinson: I hope it’s the beginning of a trend! “Break My Soul” instantly transports me to one of my favorite times on pop radio, the early to mid-’90s, when the previously underground sounds of dance clubs were all over top 40. There’s of course Robin S, but also the Eurodance explosion with Real McCoy, La Bouche, Culture Beat – I would have given anything to be an adult who could go to clubs then instead of an 11-year-old. So that’s my long-winded way of saying: Yes, please, bring house back to the radio!
Stephen Daw: I would say that Drake and Beyoncé have confirmed house’s comeback. The genre has been slowly bubbling up in new releases over the last few years, but with Drake and Bey putting their house projects out, we are about to see a lot more house music in the next few years. I say that’s a great thing — house music deserves its time back in the spotlight, and it most definitely deserves to have its deeply Black, deeply queer roots dissected for the general public so they know where it came from.
Jason Lipshutz: The warm reception to these high-profile house explorations makes me believe that we’re on the precipice of a mini-revival (and yes, I’m classifying the response to Honestly, Nevermind as “warm,” even though it’s been slightly divisive among Drake purists). Not only are the history and various permutations of house music rich and rewarding, the sound is also due for a mainstream re-imagining — something that Drake and Beyoncé separately sensed, and now are leading the way to solidifying.
Heran Mamo: It’s hard to think of Black artists performing house music as one of this year’s trends considering Black artists created house music in the late ‘70s. My Billboard colleague Elias Leight wrote about the relationship between hip-hop and house back in 2015 and how rap superstars like Drake were already demonstrating crossover success with house, while even breaking down the “Show Me Love” sample on Kid Ink and Chris Brown’s 2013 smash “Show Me.” Just looking at this year alone, Drizzy and Bey didn’t technically lead the pack on this one (although they are the biggest artists to do so). IDK dropped the Kaytranada-produced Simple. EP in May, and Tinashe and Channel Tres teamed up on “HMU for a Good Time” from the deluxe version of her 333 album in March.
Drake and Beyoncé are giving house music a lot more momentum within the mainstream scene, in a similar way to how The Weeknd and Dua Lipa were at the forefront of 2020’s synth-pop/disco-pop sound that allowed us all to dance through the darkness and unknown that plagued that year. Given the current socio-political climate and ongoing Covid pandemic, this newer house music wave is also meant to give us a much-needed escape. So it’s safe to say it’ll be here to stay.
Andrew Unterberger: It feels right on time, doesn’t it? Pop music and hip-hop were both due for something of a shake-up, and Drake and Beyoncé both arriving at house music — though from fairly different vantage points — at almost the exact same time does feel like a portend of something bigger to come. Which isn’t to say that Hot 97 is going to start sounding like Friday night at The Shelter anytime soon, but I imagine we’ll see some of the more adventurous (and/or opportunistic) artists in popular music stepping onto the dancefloor in the months to come.
4. With her status as one of pop music’s all-time greats nearly beyond question at this point — and her success in the past decade coming more via long-form statements than one-off releases — does Beyoncé still need hit singles? What, if anything, does the early success of a song like “Break My Soul” still offer her at this point in her career?
Katie Atkinson: Beyoncé hasn’t had anything left to prove to anyone for a long time, and yet she still keeps proving new things every single year. She certainly hasn’t lost any cultural relevance while she’s made more left-field musical choices, but she’s also made super savvy feature selections, like hopping on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” J Balvin’s “Mi Gente” and Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect.” Now that she has a Hot 100 top 10 hit all by herself for the first time since “Formation” barely cracked the region back in 2016, I think she’s just proving once again that she can do things on her terms and pop culture will bend her direction eventually — this one is just moving a little more quickly.
Stephen Daw: The short answer is no. Beyoncé does not need hit singles — she’s got 11 Hot 100 No. 1s (if we’re counting Destiny’s Child, which we absolutely should) under her belt already, she’s got more Grammys than almost anyone alive, and she’s one of the most celebrated artists on the planet. If she wanted to, Beyoncé could easily quit music tomorrow and her legacy would be that of perhaps the greatest pop star of the 21st century. What the success of “Break My Soul” shows is that she still can make hits at this stage of her career, and it offers her the freedom to do whatever kind of music she feels like for the rest of her life, with the validation that she never once lost her power as a superstar.
Jason Lipshutz: Beyoncé has nothing left to prove at this point in her career, but she undoubtedly wants her cultural dominance to continue — and a hit single like “Break My Soul” goes a long way toward keeping that reign intact. After all, the beginning of her solo career was nearly two decades ago, and a whole generation has passed since those songs were in the zeitgeist. Beyoncé has accomplished far more than just what can be counted on the Hot 100, but hits matter when reaching new listeners, and “Break My Soul” extends a hand toward younger listeners still waiting to discover her artistic power.
Heran Mamo: Let’s be honest, she doesn’t need anything at this point: Beyoncé is… Beyoncé. Forgoing the industry standard of releasing new music on Fridays and still landing in the top 10 of the Hot 100 within the song’s first full tracking week proves Queen B doesn’t fold to any mold of success – she breaks it (pun intended). Unlike a Drake or Billie Eilish who puts out music a lot more frequently, she hasn’t released any solo music (outside of one-off soundtrack singles) in the last five years. And the early success of “Break My Soul” shows the BeyHive’s eagerness to consume her music even after such a long wait.
Andrew Unterberger: To put it simply, it never hurts to have a hit single. It proves you still have cross-platform appeal, that you still have your finger on the pulse, that a very large number of people are still interested in what you have to say, not just what you’ve already said. Even for an artist as massive and legendary as Beyoncé, that still matters at least a little bit — it’s just the way pop music has always worked, for better or worse.
5. “Break My Soul” belongs to a proud pop legacy of dancefloor killers that also offer a message of defiance and/or perseverance. What’s your favorite such empowering dance anthem?
Katie Atkinson: “I’m Every Woman,” 100% – Chaka Khan’s original or the Whitney Houston cover, you can’t go wrong. I know the song is addressing a romantic partner and saying how you can be every woman to them, but as a kid singing along to the Bodyguard soundtrack, it just made me feel like I had the power of every single woman in me – like Superwoman, basically, which is what Whitney was to me then anyway. I have a feeling there are little girls out there who feel the exact same way about Beyoncé now.
Stephen Daw: There’s literally so many — classics like “I Will Survive” and “Got To Be Real” immediately come to mind — but I personally would have to pick Janelle Monáe’s “Americans” off of her 2018 album Dirty Computer. It’s an incredible dance-pop single that is filled to the brim with this critical messaging about the current state of affairs in the U.S., before throwing a middle finger in the face of bigoted right-wingers on the chorus. It’s a phenomenal track that did not get the attention it deserved, so I highly recommend listening if you somehow haven’t yet.
Jason Lipshutz: Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” doubles as a stick of dance floor dynamite, and an essential treadmill jam. How can you not persevere when two French robots are pushing you to be the best version of yourself?
Heran Mamo: “Lost in Music” by Sister Sledge. The “I quit my nine to five, we’re lost in music” lyric reminds me of Bey’s line, “Now, I just fell in love/ And I just quit my job/ I’m gonna find new drive.” Regardless of the recession we’re in, I think we all get the message metaphorically speaking.
Andrew Unterberger: Let’s go back to the late ’80s with Sterling Void and Paris Brightledge’s enduring house anthem “It’s All Right” — a tale of worldwide devastation (“Dictation being forced in Afghanistan/ Revolution in South Africa taking a stand”) that finds comfort and strength in the heartbeat of the dancefloor (“I can hear it on a timeless wavelength/ Never dissipating but giving us strength”). The Pet Shop Boys maintained the song’s vibrancy on a cover version a couple years later, and it’d probably sound just as urgent redone by any number of artists today.
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