Even Beyoncé is not immune to the cycle of outrage. Although her critically acclaimed latest album, RenaissanceNot even a week out, Beyoncé is already making changes to two of her songs after being called out on social media.
The singer got into an argument with Kelis for interpolating part of her 2003 hit “Milkshake” into “Energy” without giving her a warning. (Kelis is not a credited author of the song.) “I heard about this the same way everyone else does,” Kelis said in an Instagram comment. As of Wednesday, the interpolation was removed.
The song “Heated” originally featured lyrics with the same insulting slur that Lizzo hot watered on Twitter just a few weeks ago. On Monday, just three days after the album’s release, it was reported that Beyoncé would be swapping the word. As of Wednesday, the lyrics have changed from “sp***in’ on that ass” to “blastin’ on that ass” on YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify (although the transcribed lyrics on Spotify are still the old version).
The Kelis situation is specific and probably more about her feud with Pharrell than her relationship with Beyoncé. But the blemish in “Heated” is part of a long industry tradition of retroactive track editing. It’s almost a right of way – an artist writes a text that ages badly and is eventually modified or deleted altogether. In the past, that process could take years, and the original versions would be kept in physical albums or previous song downloads. The changed lyrics would only become apparent on reissues or when the song was played at concerts. In the age of Twitter and Spotify, that response is as direct as the response.
Once a song has been edited and re-released to streamers, that’s the only version that will be in circulation besides TikTok snippets and a handful of CDs and vinyl copies. Kanye West took advantage of that flexibility in 2016 with his updates to The life of Pablo. Beyoncé, one of the brightest artists in the industry, knows that the faster she edits, the less likely anyone will remember it changed in the first place.
The edits also prompted Monica Lewinsky to: suggest her name be removed from Beyoncé’s 2013 song “Partition.” The Beyhive was less receptive to that change.