On Friday morning (July 31), Beyoncé once again made the world stop. This time, she did it with her stunning visual album Black Is King on Disney+, an imaginative retelling of The Lion King, through the lens of the Black experience.
Set to the music of Bey’s stellar The Lion King: The Gift album released last year, Black Is King is a gorgeous, visually inventive piece of storytelling, exploring the themes of Black legacy and generational learning through the thin veil of The Lion King’s story — a young prince is exiled from his home, and he is forced to come to terms with his past and take back his homeland.
What stands out most of all in Black Is King are the arresting musical performances to the music of The Lion King: The Gift. To celebrate the release of Black Is King, Billboard is taking a look at each of the performances from Beyoncé’s new film and ranking them below:
Even though the original song appears toward the end of The Lion King: The Gift album, “Scar” shows up early in the film, as our protagonist prince (who represents Simba in The Lion King story) comes face-to-face with danger (in the form of some flaming red motorbikes standing in for the original story’s wildebeest stampede) for the first time. Cue Jessie Reyez’s simultaneously terrifying and impressive bars, as she steps in as a menacing force of nature ready to teach the hero a lesson in fear. It works, leaving the audience with the bad kind of chills — though we can’t help but feel cheated when 070 Shake doesn’t appear to share her verses in tandem with Reyez to make this villainous track that much more menacing.
The opening sequence of the film show’s Beyoncé welcoming a child to the world in a gorgeous beachside ceremony, as she lets her child know just how special they are. Stunning in a beautiful white gown, Beyoncé starts her visual album off right, as she croons to the baby in her arms, “You’re part of something way bigger/ Bigger than you, bigger than we/ Bigger than the picture they framed us to see.”
12. “Keys to the Kingdom”
As we see the Simba and Nala characters get married in the film, viewers also get to delight in hearing from Nigerian stars Tiwa Savage and Mr. Eazi, as they encourage the young couple, letting them know that their shared love will be their greatest strength moving forward. Or, as Savage herself sings, “You are the remedy, don’t know what’s inside/ But you’re the key to the kingdom.”
There’s something eerie about the performances displayed in “Nile” — set up as a quasi-funeral for the Mufasa character, the clips starts out very simple, showing Beyoncé mourning the loss while Kendrick Lamar’s voice offers some soothing rhymes offscreen. But as the clip shifts, we see Bey and a group of painted-white soldiers carrying the casket into a white marble mausoleum. It’s a haunting use of powerful imagery, landing on the lyrics “I’m in the Nile, deep in denial” hard as the song comes to a close.
10. “Ja Ara E”
As our Simba grows up and continues in a carefree lifestyle, Burna Boy’s vocals show up as the voice of his father to implore him to take back what is rightfully his. The visual for the track shows the prince trying to live out a life of luxury, driving around in a neon-lit car, while Beyoncé sits in the backseat, providing a face for Burna Boy’s excellent vocals.
9. “Don’t Jealous Me”
As our young protagonist makes his way to an industrial warehouse early on in the film, he encounters Nigerian stars Lord Afrixana, Mr Eazi, Yemi Alade and Tekno as they educate him in their own capitalist ways of life. With some perfect flex-worthy choreography and fashion, the clip sees the stars offering a perfect kiss-off to any haters, dismissing them as simply jealous. Oh, and Beyoncé appears on a motorcycle holding a snake. So that’s also rad.
In this gorgeous visual, fans get a special treat when Pharrell Williams shows up to perform “Water.” Taking place, aptly, by the coast, the segment sees both Pharrelll and Beyoncé imploring each other to “drink from the water” and come clean about their respective pasts — much like Simba does to Nala in the story of The Lion King. The fast-paced dancing and extremely lush visuals make this moment impossible to look away from, especially when you consider the fact that Beyoncé is doing all of this while practicing the Luo tradition of head-carrying.
7. “Find Your Way Back”
The groovy second track explored in Black Is King sees Beyoncé serving up a glittering African fantasy. Dressed in a variety of shimmering ensembles, the performance shows a celestial Queen Bey praising the ancestors of her past while offering some stunning double-time dance moves. Beyoncé’s desert dance segment is easily one of the most fabulous in the entirety of Black Is King.
After watching 14 incredible performances throughout Black Is King, audiences are left wondering, “How is Beyoncé going to close all of this out?” The answer is with a big chorus and some out-of-this-world vocals. At the outset of the final number, Beyoncé ditches the pre-recordings and instead offers a live rendition of the song’s first verse and chorus, only accompanied by a massive choir of voices. It’s emotionally raw and extremely moving — but if you’re a fan of “Spirit” on its own, don’t worry. To close out the film, Beyoncé dips back into her visual narrative and offers a massive dance number for most of the song’s remainder, before ending once and for all back with her chorus as they all sing the final note in perfect harmony.
One of the most poignant sequences of the film arrives when Beyoncé begins to perform her song “Otherside.” As a dust cloud rolls in and begins to wipe out the population of a small village, Beyoncé takes her baby — presumably the one we see her with at the film’s outset — places him in a basket, and much like the Biblical tale of Moses, sends him down a river in an attempt to save his life. The heartbreaking moment sees Beyoncé at her best acting, especially as she sings the words, “If it all ends and it’s over/ If the sky falls fire/ Best believe me, you will see me/ On the other side.”
If you came to Black Is King looking for some expert-level visual performance, look no further than “Already.” As our Simba character begins to make his move toward reclaiming his crown, Beyoncé appears, alongside Ghanian singer-songwriter Shatta Walle, to give him the encouragement that he needs. The choreography and visual blocking of the excellent number includes Bey and her team of dancers busting out some incredible choreography to flex the confidence that our protagonist needs to embrace. Add in a slew of sickening looks from Beyoncé, and you’ve got one hell of a visual.
3. “Brown Skinned Girl”
Before it was featured in Black Is King, “Brown Skinned Girl” was already a tribute to Black Girl Magic, providing an anthem for all the Black women around the world who needed to hear that they were exceptional just the way they are. But in Black Is King, Beyoncé sends that message home with some helping hands from some A-list stars, including fashion icon Naomi Campbell, fellow Destiny’s Child star Kelly Rowland, Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o, her mother Tina Knowles and her daughter, Blue Ivy. The gorgeous moment, including an exquisite debutante ball, leads by example in how to send a point home, as Beyoncé and her all-star cohorts show the world what Black female excellence looks like.
2. “My Power”
The film’s big climax is just that, a culmination of drama and visual artistry that is an absolute pleasure to watch. As Scar and Simba square up for their final battle, Beyoncé joins Nija, Tierra Whack, Busiswa, Yemi Alade and Moonchild Sanelly for a thrilling display of dance and fashion. Each of the stars get their own moment to shine, giving this final sprint toward the film’s finish an extra burst of energy. Trust us, you’ll want to rewind and watch this one again, if only for the truly awe-inspiring choreography.
1. “Mood 4 Eva”
The first time you watch the performance of “Mood 4 Eva” in Black Is King, your jaw should be on the floor. Every moment of this track is absolutely stunning, from Beyoncé’s unbelievable fashion moments, to Jay-Z’s swagger as he raps his way through a plush mansion, to the appearance from Kelly Rowland, to a mind-blowing synchronized swimming routine, to some near-perfect choreography. It fits perfectly within the film’s narrative as the Simba character dreams of a luxurious and carefree life after being exiled from his very own home. It will immediately put you in a good mood… and with how excellent this performance is, it just may last forever.