The new live action remake of The Lion King (starring Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen, and more) opens next Friday (July 19). Yesterday (July 9), it was revealed that in addition to The Lion King Original Soundtrack, Beyoncé would be executive producing and curating The Lion King: The Gift, a compilation album featuring the brightest musicians of Africa for music inspired by the new telling of The Lion King.
Last night after the world premiere of the Lion King in Los Angeles, Beyoncé released “Spirit.” The song serves as the joint lead single from both the soundtrack and The Gift. Written and produced by Beyoncé, Ilya Salmanzadeh, and Labrinth, “Spirit” is a rousing and uplifting gospel-influenced power ballad about taking control of your destiny and gathering the courage and strength to do what may seem impossible. According to reports, “Spirit” is performed in a key moment in Nala’s expanded storyline in The Lion King.
“Spirit” is easily one of the best original songs written for a film in recent memory and one of the best songs of the year. To be clear, there isn’t an ounce of hyperbole in that statement. The most stunning part of “Spirit” is Beyoncé’s voice. The song, vocally produced by Mrs. Carter herself, is a perfect showcase of her vocal prowess. There is no one in mainstream music that can hold a candle to Beyoncé’s resonance, volume control, or vocal agility.
In the first verse of “Spirit,” Beyoncé’s voice sinks down to a chilling D3 that evokes memories of Toni Braxton and offers a beautiful contrast to the phrased Bb5 that she sustains on the bridge. Beyoncé utilizes perfectly placed runs to breeze through multiple octaves on the four-minute track. Her tear-jerking vocal performance is accentuated by plucking piano chords that shine right before the chorus and trademark drums from Labrinth throughout the song. Ilya ties the song together with his ear for pop music melodies, but Labrinth and Beyoncé breathe real soul into the track. There is also a choir made up of both background vocalists and layers of Beyoncé’s own vocals.
It’s quite incredible how effortlessly Beyoncé is able to transition from mixed belts to her head voice. Furthermore, her mixing is so precise that she rarely has to dip into her full chest voice and sound “shouty” during her belts. The gospel influence is apparent from the instrumentation to the vocal production, but it’s Beyoncé’s vocal performance that really steals the show. Her emotion is almost overwhelming on the track, especially after the climax and during the final chorus. Also, some of the runs and ad-libs sound almost improvised, like a true gospel singer. And did I mention that sublime key change?
All in all, “Spirit” is a winner and puts Beyoncé, Ilya, and Labrinth in the #1 spot for the race for the Oscar for Best Original Song.
Listen to “Spirit” here.