Editor’s Note: Holly Thomas is a writer and editor based in London. She is a morning editor at Katie Couric Media. she tweets @HolstaT† The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author only. See more opinions on CNN.
Beyoncé’s new song, “Break My Soul,” is here to remind us that yes, we all feel awful – but since we’re all in the same overworked, underslept little boat, the beat echoing through our headphones might as well be flapping. .
The song is Bey’s lead single from her seventh solo album, “Renaissance,” and it’s just right for her stressed-out, post-pandemic audience. “Damn they work me so damn hard, work at nine and then after five,” she sings atop an excited instrumental reminiscent of the hysterical dread familiar to anyone who has devoted themselves to too many projects, then noted that they gasp as deadlines come crashing down around them.
As always, Beyoncé has her finger on the pulse of America, and in the great tradition of burnout anthems, she has conversely produced a song bursting with energy. Like Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” there’s no suggestion that you stop to rest. With a sound designed for heaving clubs at 2 a.m., “Break My Soul” recognizes what a nightmare it is to work under overwhelming pressure and provides a rhythm to keep you awake as you do so.
The song marks a sharp turnaround from Beyoncé’s 2016 hit “Formation,” which exemplifies the “rise and grind” mentality that dominated the 2010s with lyrics like “I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it’. Beyoncé, who is as famous for her unwavering work ethic as it is for her talent, was the perfect figurehead for the bustle of that decade, typified by the meme “You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé.” If you worked with Beyoncé, this was literally true: In the 2011 short film “Year of 4” documenting the making of the singer’s fourth album, Beyoncé proudly stated, “If I don’t sleep, nobody sleeps.”
But despite a level of wealth and celebrity that completely isolates her from the real world, Beyoncé seems to have understood that her residents are tired of the grind. The fantasy that we are only a certain number of sleepless nights away from realizing our ambitions has been curbed, and we don’t want to be brought to action by the rare nature freaks or privileges who chase their dreams and actually capture them.
When Kim Kardashian told Variety in March that the secret to success was: “Get your [expletive] [expletive] working’, her grumpy, oversleeping audience responded. Kardashian later insisted that the quote had been taken out of context, but the damage had been done. The sound bite came as a slap in the face to the millions who are already working hard, but whose success is hampered by sexist, racist systems that ensure that the race to the top is significantly smoother for some than others.
This is why burnout music should be animated and challenging. Wandering urges to slow down and take care of yourself would be unbearable if for many of us laying down tools to rest isn’t a viable option. You can tell within the first 10 seconds of “Break My Soul” that Beyoncé – and no doubt everyone who has worked with her – was sweating blood over this record. Even if she’s moderated her philosophy on paper since “Formation,” it’s suspected that, in reality, producing music for a fanbase accustomed to nothing but hits still requires a rough willingness to work until the job is done. done.
David Bowie and Queen shared that fanaticism when they produced their 1981 hit “Under Pressure” in a haze of competition, nit-picking and – as Far Out Magazine put it – amid “hostility, wine, cocaine and vocal battles.” Never under-performing, Dolly Parton wrote her iconic 1980 single “9 to 5” on the set of the movie it was the soundtrack to, rapping the baseline with her nails in between like a made-up secretary. It’s no coincidence that both songs breathe energy and life into the listener – it’s a far more useful result than wallowing in the fatigue and relentlessness of it all.
Anyone who listens to “Break My Soul” will understand that Beyoncé lives an enchanted life. She says she “quitted” her job, and we know that if she really did, she would already have enough money to fund a thousand pensions.
But burnout songs are not manuals. They are expressions of frustration created, by necessity, by people with far more energy and resources than the people intended to hear them. It would be agonizing if Beyoncé made a record about being tired that actually sounds tired, complete with serious suggestions that we all just have a bubble bath. Who has time? We’ll get through it – so bring on the caffeinated, adrenaline rush, and we’ll yawn and stretch and try to come alive.