Beyoncé’s ‘Break My Soul’ and the long tail of ‘Show Me Love’
By Rich Juzwiak
The intro is unmistakable for anyone who has been on a dance floor in the last three decades. A grinding synth line and tactile thump give way to the instrumental pièce de résistance: an organ springy enough to conjure bouncing balls. Then, a human yowl cuts through with the urgency of a distress signal.
Robin S.’s “Show Me Love” has “probably become the most ubiquitous dance song in modern history,” said Larry Flick, who was the dance editor of Billboard at the time of the track’s 1993 breakout. At this point, the song has been remixed, remade and referenced more than 100 times, according to the website WhoSampled. It never really went away — Charli XCX uses it as the spine of “Used to Know Me” from her 2022 album, “Crash.”
The track came roaring back into public consciousness on June 20 with the release of Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul,” the frenetic first single from her anticipated album “Renaissance,” due July 29. Listeners heard echoes of “Show Me Love,” and when it debuted on streaming services, the “Show Me Love” writers Allen George and Fred McFarlane were credited on the new track, alongside Adam Pigott; Big Freedia, who appears on the song; Jay-Z; and its three producers, Terius Nash (known as The-Dream), Christopher “Tricky” Stewart and Beyoncé. Robin S. — real name: Robin Jackson Maynard — went on British TV last Wednesday to thank Beyoncé “for giving me my flowers while I’m still alive,” and critics debated the merits of the sonic nod in blog posts and reviews.
But in an unusual turn of events that got fans chattering all over again, the credits to “Break My Soul” were changed on streaming services by last Wednesday night, removing George and McFarlane. Over the weekend, they changed again, and the two “Show Me Love” writers returned. Reached before the adjustments, a representative for Stewart declined to comment; Beyoncé’s representative at her company Parkwood Entertainment — which, with Beyoncé’s label, Columbia, supplied the credits to streaming outlets — did not respond to several email inquiries.
The practice of adding songwriters to already written songs is “very, very” popular, said Christopher Buccafusco, a law professor at the Cardozo School of Law. “Someone along the line may decide that the song sounds a little too close to stuff that exists already,” he said. But, he noted, “Typically people don’t just drop authors’ names onto songs to credit them unless they’ve negotiated, unless they’ve talked to them.”
The version of “Show Me Love” that became a global hit and peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100 in 1993 was actually a remix by Swedish dance producer Sten Hallström, who records as StoneBridge. (Some 12-inch records credit StoneBridge and his frequent collaborator Nick Nice together on remixes, but on the specific one in question, StoneBridge told The New York Times, “I did it myself.”) George and McFarlane’s original version had been made in 1989, according to Robin S. The production was disco-inflected and conventional, as was typical for that period of house music, and when it was released in 1990, it went precisely nowhere.
StoneBridge, then an up-and-coming producer, asked Champion, the label that had released “Show Me Love” in the United Kingdom, for possible material to remix.
“Champion were obsessed with sweet and sour, they called it,” StoneBridge, now 60, recalled via phone from his studio in Stockholm. He dialed his Korg M1 synthesizer to the next preset, landing on Organ 2, and replayed his bass line. That was the bouncy, sweet part. The sour was the grinding sound that opens the song, a product of his DX100 Yamaha synth, which he played in the red to distort it. He dusted it all, as well as Robin S.’s vocal, with some delay. The result was minimal like early house music out of Chicago, but shimmering with novel sounds. StoneBridge was not sure about his concoction, but deadline compelled him to turn it in.
When Robin S. heard it, it blew her away, she said in an interview last week. Finally her song was complete.
She had recorded her vocal years before in one take (not counting the ad-libs) while suffering from the flu, she recalled over the phone from her home in Atlanta. She was initially unimpressed by the song; and then, years later with StoneBridge’s revision, its popularity exploded on a global scale. “Show Me Love” was not the first house song to feature the M1 Organ 2 sound, but it hit bigger than any that came before it.
Earlier last week, Robin S. got a call from her son informing her that she was trending on social media as a result of the apparent “Show Me Love” reference in Beyoncé’s song, which replicates that M1 Organ 2 sound (in a different rhythm). She and StoneBridge both said they had no idea what was coming. StoneBridge discovered the connection while searching for his name on Twitter.
While the sound of StoneBridge’s remix is what Beyoncé appears to be referencing on her track, StoneBridge had no songwriting credit on “Show Me Love.” He called the resulting scenario “just a little bit irritating,” but because he added to the song via remix, he does not qualify as an original composer.
StoneBridge is also not convinced that Beyoncé’s song actually used portions of his remix. “To my ears they used the organ bass sound and did a similar thing,” he said. “It’s not like a sample.” (Beyoncé’s team has played things carefully in the past, giving credit on “6 Inch” from “Lemonade” to Animal Collective for using a similar turn of phrase.)
Nevertheless, the arrival of “Break My Soul” turned into a nuanced interrogation of ownership in contemporary popular music, and revived conversations about the impact of “Show Me Love.” (Although to some ears, the Beyoncé track nodded to another McFarlane and George composition, “Luv 4 Luv.”)
“Show Me Love” has been referenced by Daddy Yankee and Jason Derulo, and covered by Clean Bandit and the xx. A version by Sam Feldt featuring Kimberly Anne hit the Top 5 in the United Kingdom in 2015. Robin S. has rerecorded it several times, most recently in a disco-fied remix by Emmaculate released last year. She has sung it “a gazillion and plus times,” and said that since the song took off, she has never once played a concert and not performed it.
Flick said its enduring appeal derives from that Organ 2 sound and “the rawness of the vocal,” which he described as having “a church quality.” Ultimately, “It still sounds modern,” he said.