For the past year or so, artists have marketed delirious new music by talking about the doldrums of lockdown. The signature example is Beyoncé’s Renaissance, a whirligig tour through gay, Black dance history that features the type-A superstar performing her wackiest vocals ever. Renaissance, Beyoncé wrote on Instagram, was born from dreaming of freedom at “a time when little else was moving.” In the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to albums by Janelle Monáe, Jake Shears, and Jessie Ware that offer similarly uninhibited takes on life after stir-craziness. Joy, extremity, and cheesiness—not to mention queerness—are the mood.
Pop has, of course, always embraced a good time. But to understand the vibe shift I’m detecting, think back to the circa-2020 “disco revival,” whose origin predated the pandemic. Artists such as Dua Lipa and Sam Smith peddled musical products whose nostalgic, easy cheer served streaming services’ endless demand for inoffensive grooves. The nightlife of the 1970s was an obvious touch point, but the wildness of, say, Donna Summer’s orgasmic squeals on “Love to Love You Baby” was hardly being conjured. Yet when the coronavirus arrived, this rewarmed disco suddenly sounded more urgent. Figures such as Lipa came to feel like saviors of the nation’s mental health for helping us dance while doing the dishes.