She’s back. In the final hour of Juneteenth 2020, Beyoncé dropped her first non-soundtrack solo single since “All Night” from 2016’s landmark Lemonade. The new single, “BLACK PARADE,” is a celebratory track that revels in black joy, black pride, and black love.
Co-produced by Derek Dixie (Homecoming) and Beyoncé herself, “BLACK PARADE” blends a stuttering trap beat with robust horns and a sublime layer of flute. As opposed to utilizing the flute in a forefront riff (think: Future‘s “Mask Off”), Dixie and Beyoncé use the flute’s weightlessness as a counterbalance to the almost militant drum and bass that anchor the track. The horns, which are utilized in a beautiful intro on the song’s extended version (only available on TIDAL), provide an earthy sense of power that programmed beats simply can’t bring to the table. We all know Beyoncé loves her brass instruments; she’s never put out an album that didn’t include them in some way. More often than not, horns are inherently jubilant instruments, and they work especially well in this celebratory track for Juneteenth. On the production front, “BLACK PARADE” is in a class of its own.
The production is further complimented by Beyoncé’s intricate and otherworldly vocal arrangements. Like on her remix of Megan Thee Stallion‘s “Savage,” Bey sprinkles the most flawless runs and layers of harmonies over the track like it’s nothing. With “BLACK PARADE” she pushes her rap-sining trademark further. She seamlessly switches between flows and utilizes untraditional pop melodies in a traditionally structured pop song. Vocally, Beyoncé sounds exquisite; her voice is very crisp and clear. Sure, she’s not belting at the top of her range and singing familiar pop melodies, but the intricacy of her runs alone shows that she’s still in top shape. Structurally, the song is in a very traditional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus form. This structure results in a track that runs a little over four minutes, something that feels like an anomaly in the streaming era. On first listen, the length of “BLACK PARADE” is a bit shocking and the song does start to drag toward the end of the bridge. After a few listens, the length becomes of less of an issue because the catchy chorus melody lodges itself in your brain.
And then there are the lyrics. Plainly put, “BLACK PARADE” is filled with corny lyrics. It seems that Bey is in a sort of hotep phrase with a first verse that references a “Baobab tree,” an “Ankh chain,” and “Oshun energy.” Beyoncé has gone deeper than history/her-story wordplay and “melanin, melanin, my drip is skin deep,” so this feels reductive. Nevertheless, her delivery sells the track. She makes you feel every word, even if you’re fully aware of how cheesy it all is. The second verse is substantially better. Bey shouts out Black icons and activists (Mansa Musa, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Naomi Campbell, Tamika Mallory, etc.) as she contemplates different forms of resistance: Black art, Black love, Black business, Black fashion, and protesting. There is, however, a line about “rubber bullets” that falls flat. There’s a disconnect that occurs when a Black billionaire sings a lyric about the harsh, sometimes fatal, reality of protests that are organized and led by lower and middle class Black people.
“BLACK PARADE” is fun. It’s not a protest song and it wasn’t positioned as an anthem to the liberation movement, so don’t dissect it with that lens. It’s a song by a Black Texan woman in celebration of Juneteenth, and her joy is uncontrollable. Above all, it’s nice to hear Bey on a track all by herself again, it’s been a while.