On the podcast, Knowles explained that she wrote the song during a transitional period in her life that included becoming a mother, moving from Idaho back to her hometown of Houston, and inking a major publishing deal as a songwriter. “It was this really, really hard series of things that were just like delivered that were just like, ‘It’s time to grow the f— up,'” she observed.
The song’s inspiration, Knowles noted, is quite literal. Around this period of her life, she’d visit Miami often — it was “a refuge of peace for [her], especially as a writer” — and the city was going through a real estate boom. “Literally everywhere I looked around had a crane in the sky,” she remembered. “You could not look at a street without dozens and dozens of them. It just felt really heavy, and that line immediately came to me.”
Her lyrical inspiration coincided with listening to a CD of instrumentals producer Raphael Saddiq had given her after the two couldn’t work out a recording for Knowles’ 2008 album Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams. “I immediately had this really strong reaction,” she says of the first time she heard the “sketch” for the song, which consisted of drums, bass, and strings. “I went to my hotel room and wrote the lyrics and the melody, just immediately coming up with the first four lines that I tried to structure.”
Both “Cranes in the Sky” and A Seat at the Table ranked near the top of EW’s year-end lists for 2016. Last week, Interview published a lengthy discussion between Solange and her sister Beyoncé that touched on “Cranes in the Sky.”