On June 21, 2022, Queen Bey did what she does best. She broke the internet—again. Three hours ahead of schedule, her new House banger “Break My Soul” was released and we all collectively lost our minds. I, for one, immediately resumed my feeble attempts to figure out how to twerk properly, vogue for my life and dip without breaking every bone in my body. I failed at all of the above (don’t judge me), but what I *didn’t* fail at was JOY. And not just any joy but MY joy. BLACK JOY.
From the minute Big Freedia’s voice poured out over the beat with “Release ya anger, release ya mind / Release ya job, release the time / Release ya trade, release the stress / Release the love, forget the rest.”, the joy just exploded in me. I still wasn’t twerking *quite* right, but you couldn’t tell me nothin’. In that moment, though Beyoncé made me question all the ways I’ve broken my own soul, Big Freedia gave me permission to relish in releasing it ALL and living in my joy at that very moment.
The next day, I opened up good ol’ Facebook to find I was not alone in this releasing. Everyone was talking about how they were going to quit their 9-to-5 and not collapse under the weight of this world. Though nobody was attempting to balance their own body weight on their heels for the ultimate dip challenge, the professor of Black Joy (and author of the book everybody’s talking about, “Black Joy”), Ms. Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggets and her ray of sunshine daughter, Miss K, were car dancing for their lives, relishing in all the joy their hearts could handle. And it was something about seeing this beautiful brown girl-child, with her giant smile and afropuff taking up most of the back seat, belting out the words “You won’t break my soul” that had me crying real tears.
This sweet baby, all of 11-years-old, declaring that this world will not break her, and boldly claiming her right to joy, her right to release the love and forget the rest—because Big Freedia said so because Beyoncé said so.
BECAUSE HER MAMA SAID SO.
Naturally, I reached out to Tracey not only to holler at her about how much I loved that video but also, I needed to hear from the Duchess of Joy herself what this song meant to her, her daughter and what she thinks about the notion that “Break My Soul” could be the exact anthem for Black self-love, Black self-assurance and Black Joy we all need right now.
MADAMENOIRE: For those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading your brilliant book, Black Joy, can you describe or define what Black Joy is for our readers?
Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggets: Ooh, Chile. Black Joy is the particular way pleasure shows up in this melanin. It is our unique cultural expressions that show up in a myriad of forms, but often lives alongside of/despite the trauma and pain that is a result of our distinct historical and present-day experience across the Diaspora. The “Black” in Black Joy matters because of the context in which our particular joy must live.
As a collective, we’ve all lost our minds over Beyoncé’s newest single “Break My Soul.” It’s made us want to quit our jobs, step up our side hustles, rebuke the world – all of it. It’s also unleashed a very particular kind of joy within the Black community. I call it rebellious joy. What would you call it?
I like rebellious joy. Black joy is always a form of resistance in places and spaces where oppression is normalized. It stands, moves, laughs in the face of those who would dehumanize us. It’s the ultimate defiance.
For centuries, through the hardest of times, Black folks have found reasons to sing and reasons to dance. You talk about this in Black Joy. Beyoncé has us breaking our ankles with Black Joy as she belts out “You won’t break my soul – I’m tellin’ everybody! You won’t break my soul!” What does this particular kind of joy do for us as a community?
What I think “Break My Soul” gets at, what our music in general has always done, is the truth that our joy is also a form of healing. When we choose our joy, choose ourselves, yes, we are resisting, but we are also putting ourselves on a path toward healing the wounds caused by oppression. When I’m singing and dancing with my baby girl to the song, I’M also laying down my burdens…if only for a moment…and that’s something powerful that our ancestors have always known to do. Whether it was the church pew or the juke joint, our joy, our embracing of pleasure, our movement, offered us respite and in that respite, a balm for survival.
Do you think Bey and Big Freedia are calling us to start a Black joy revolution by not allowing this world to break us, no matter how hard it tries? And if so, what can that joy look like?
I think Bey and Big Freedia are doing what artists always do. What Mother Toni Morrison told us we must do. We must go to work. We are the voices of our community. We create to give language to the pain. To provide a rhythm that will stimulate whatever imagination is needed to fight. Our joy is a pathway to liberation and looks like whatever we choose. It’s house music one day and meditation the next. It’s good food and good lovin’. It’s taking care of ourselves and our community. It’s space holding and grief-carrying.
You posted a video of you and your daughter, the Amazing Miss K, singing the chorus of Break My Soul, and midway through, you stopped singing, and we just heard Miss K belting out the lyrics, with full conviction. That was such a powerful thing to see, in the midst of everything happening in this world, to and around little Black girls, that she is affirming the world won’t break her. How was that moment for you – hearing your daughter sing those words – AND do you think she understands the weight of those lyrics?
I’m always taken with that little girl. She moves me. The way she gravitates to music and movement when she doesn’t have the words to express how she’s feeling is captivating. K has taught me more about joy than anything or anyone.
We’ve talked a great deal about what those words mean. About the “who” and “what” that will attempt to “break her soul.” I’ve tried to teach her the power of holding on to joy in the midst of grief and rage—how those things can live side by side in our bodies and I think she gets that. Maybe even intuitively. My hope is that even if she doesn’t understand it fully, the memory of those moments of joy with mommy and our conversations will lodge itself in her brain, in her central nervous system, and when she’s older and really need it, she’ll call it up as a way to heal herself.
We cannot talk about this song without talking about The Queen of Bounce, Big Freedia. She repeats these lyrics throughout the song: “Release ya anger, release ya mind / Release ya job, release the time / Release ya trade, release the stress / Release the love, forget the rest.” Can you tell us how instrumental these instructions are when it comes to reveling in ALL of our joy?
I think the word here is RELEASE. On the one hand, it’s saying, “Let it go. Stop holding on.” They are saying release ANYTHING that isn’t serving you well a la Nina Simone. I know folks got caught up in the words “job” or “trade” and there are debates about what she meant. But I think the point is…there are things we are holding on to that are literally killing us. Ways of thinking and being. Choices we made out of survival which is 100% valid but maybe, maybe we are being called a little higher.
I also think RELEASE means the things we need to GIVE away—to our community, to our families, to ourselves. Release the love we’re holding back because of our traumas. Release the joy that we’ve been afraid to express. Love and joy are our birthrights, so we actually have limitless supply (whether it feels that way or not). When we release those things into the spaces we live and work, we replicate it. Joy and love is contagious.
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Tracey.
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