Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images Move out of the way because Beyonce is playing…
- Posted on Feb 15th 2013 12:20PM by Devon Maloney
Dave Kotinsky, Getty Images
Despite its shocking revelation, that outlying opinion only started seeming so extreme within the past few years, since the stars revved into alignment overdrive for Bey and her husband, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, the pair of whom have rocketed to royalty status thanks to a daisy chain of well-designed decisions, be they creative, business, or personal. Especially in the few months that have passed since her reemergence from self-elected maternity leave, the flurry of media that and interest that surrounds her has compounded exponentially and feels a bit like sticking your head in a wind tunnel. She'll be releasing a new album soon! She's about to go on a world tour! She gave highly coveted interview time to highly strategic publications (Vogue, the premiere outlet of feminine class, GQ, the premiere outlet of perceivedly classy male gaze)! She was asked to sing for a president and survived Inaugurationgate (against the odds, as only an idol with a team like hers could)! She remounted the throne like a flaming phoenix (who only half-fizzled in the first place) via the Super Bowl Redemption of 2013! This laundry list surely feels exhausting, because you have been following this narrative whether you wanted to or not from the early parts of 2013. You probably did want to, though, because Beyoncé's the best. Obviously.
This weekend, again as everyone has already feverishly reported, she's going to release the mother lode, her self-directed documentary "Life is But a Dream," to HBO subscribers (again, only the superior outlets for Beyoncé). Having premiered at a screening on Tuesday in New York and airing Saturday night for the rest of us plebeians, the doc purports to share "unprecedented access" to the star and her childhood, her family and her work ethic. The hardest sell on the movie so far has been the impression that, while we've seen for years what Beyoncé the Unstoppable Machine looks like, this documentary will expose the opposite side of the coin: Her fears, her weaknesses, her humanity. Regardless of its premium-cable distribution, there is absolutely no doubt it's about to be illegally torrented from here to Taiwan, because Beyoncé is beloved the world over with reckless abandon -- and for the most part, since she first set foot on a world stage as a child, has been a cipher.
We, the viewing and listening public, have drooled over the career of the unknowable Queen Bey for years. It started as a dull teen-idol roar and has evolved into an earth-rending cacophony, and we couldn't be hungrier about what's next, because there's nothing more exciting in pop culture than the anticipation of our idols stepping down from their thrones to commiserate with the little people, hoping to be redeemed as one of us, and not a robot. However, it's also so exciting that we pay little to no attention to how we, as her "Bey Hive," got here, to this level of almost universal adoration.
Celebrity fandom rarely, if ever, achieves the level of invincibility that Mrs. Carter and her family enjoy. There are crazier fans, sure -- Gaga's little monsters, Ke$ha's animals, Rihanna's navy, and of course, the Beliebers and Directioners -- but the fervor of most fan communities is usually flanked every step of the way by a generous helping of criticism, even loathing; there are enough detractors to form a protective shield around those who aren't as dazzled by these incredibly popular performers. Beyoncé fandom, or at least a general approval of her as a pop star idol, is almost reflexive, nearly blind in its acceptance: There is little shame in admitting you hate Madonna, but there is loads of it in admitting the same about Queen Bey. (That might be why you'd be hard-put to find a major publication that will publish a takedown like this about Beyoncé.)
How did the world fall so unquestionably, almost blindly in love with this performer?
Well, first, Beyoncé is, in a certain light, one of the last true "legendary" pop idols to have achieved fame in the traditional way. She, her parents and her labels have meticulously guided her success over nearly a quarter century, practically since she was the size of Blue Ivy. Together, with Destiny's Child, she first made it to the top playing by the pre-Internet, modern music-industry rules. It worked, and continues to pay off in dividends, because she was a success-hungry perfectionist who wanted nothing more than to be a superstar.
When the rules of the game started changing, she and her team took a few risks, famously abandoning Destiny's Child-mates Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland in the process, and steered her still-ravenous career solo. Again, they hit the jackpot, but did so under quickly evolving terrain, winning again and again in high-risk confrontations with a fluctuating, quickly democratizing media sphere. Other solo artists who today are on par with her sales and exposure began to rise during this time, of course, but many were either younger and had a native understanding of how to wield new tools, or fell temporarily by the wayside as a result of the pressures of fame or tragedy (see: Britney, Justin, TLC). Beyoncé succeeded consistently and very intentionally.
Unlike many 21st-century artists, Bey's never seemed that obsessed with her connection with her fans, but she's certainly no technophobe, either (when you share with the world how diligently you digitize your entire life, you give up that image). Instead, she and her team have learned exactly how to create and maintain value with her social media accounts: Slowly introduce platform by platform, making an event out of each, dangling an intimate, rare tidbit with each visit. It creates the (probably fairly accurate) illusion that Beyoncé doesn't have much time to sit around making fan videos; she's got way too much rehearsal and creative planning and recording and being GREAT to do to be that bothered with technological due diligences. As a result, now when she posts a photo to Instagram or a scanned, hand-written note to Tumblr, it appears and feels incredibly more precious than when Taylor Swift rattles off her two thousandth humblebrag on Twitter.
That classy busy-ness and elevation above the common celebrity M.O. puts Beyoncé and her husband in another super-cultural, almost anachronistic category. The public's obsession with the Carters in 2013 often echoes the unfettered adoration (as well as a press demand undiluted by the availability of Twitpics and blog selfies) celebrities in the last century enjoyed before many let overshare fingers fly via social media. This ensconced view has grown to such proportions that the overt implication has been made by news items, photo ops, sound bytes and in-person appearances that the Carters have risen above mere cultural icons and have become American political royalty, as well. Her and Jay-Z's comments, blessings and condemnations seem to carry the same weight in the press as those of popular thought leaders, because they're made just as rarely and carefully. They are wealthy, too, but their success has been carefully presented as very well deserved; though they are technically members of the reviled 1%, they symbolize, instead, the Modern American Dream.
What Beyoncé -- and her team, for how could she have become what she is without an uncompromising camp of managers, publicists, agents, assistants and label folk to seal any and all hull breaches, to deliver her infamous, incontrovertible perfectionism as decrees to any and all business associates? -- is truly lionized for is not simply her unconquerable voice, her exquisite dancing skills, her creative independence (surely, it's easier in this day and age to mold idols out of the more docile, more feminine Katy Perry or Taylor Swift). Certainly we celebrate all of these talents and how she's used them to get where she is; however, these also tend to mask another key element of our transfixion. Her true power, the deeper reason we have come to love Beyoncé with such overwhelming certainty, lies in her successful execution of modern perfection. The Illusion of Greatness in 2013 is synonymous with Beyoncé and few others, because she and her team were not only able to do it before, in the old-rules industry; they have also been able to lay the doubly crucial new blueprints, for how much to reveal, how hard to push, where and when, in the somewhat murky sea of the new-rules industry. This is indispensable and history-making talent in 2013, when there are infinitely more avenues for failure in this brave new world of the post-Internet major labels. Despite any flaws she possesses as a human being (or perhaps because of them -- her compulsive perfectionism seems almost spiritually crippling), she has successfully crafted the "living legend in her prime" illusion, which is so massively effective that she maintains a type of celebrity that few in the entertainment business are still able to achieve, what many had worried was relegated to the past.
There is no artist that does not create an image to sell to his or her listeners; there are very few, if any at all, who have as actively and as successfully built one of superhuman royalty the way Beyoncé and her husband have, but this is not a one-way street. We confirm Bey and Jay as our Queen and King, because we want to believe their fantasy more than any other. Not only have they convinced us (rightfully or no) that they've ascended via meritocratic process, they are so intently aware of and obsessed with success that we cling to the belief that that is and will continue to be the case in decades to come, even if it's not. Sure, there will always be perfectionists who rise to the top, but what happens, in a few years, when none of those perfectionists have grown up in a world where privacy was power? How an artist presents her image will always be of utmost importance, but will the knowledge of when to present no image at all live on for much longer? By 2050, stars won't be able to wow their fans by tweeting for the first time. Despite the progressivism they symbolize, Beyoncé and her family also represent something incredibly traditional, something that we are afraid to lose and thus subscribe to almost without question: Collective worship. We have encouraged the fortification of the monolithic Beyoncé, largely because we want to believe that superhuman heroes won't become extinct, and that we'll be able to rally obsessively, blindly around an idol en masse forever, because it's easy and feels so good. If the cultural clout of megalomaniacal perfectionists like Beyoncé diminishes, the line that separates celebrities and us "normal people" blurs, and we start to wonder why them, not us?
Whatever weaknesses Beyoncé has chosen to reveal about herself to the public (and to a potentially mortified future-tween Blue Ivy) on Saturday will be bulletproof, the type of "weaknesses" only strong, beloved people tend to confess, the type of "weaknesses" you get drunk and tell only your best friends at an intimate get-together -- only the whole world is Beyoncé's best friend. She says she's scared, but she must know that there's not much she can lose from a documentary she pieced together herself. By the end, we'll all still see her as the invincible goddess we all want her to be.
And as for those outlying, quiet dissenters, well, they'll just have to wait it out, celebrate the young pop stars who would never, ever assume superiority over their fans for their efforts, and take comfort in the possibility that the world might have broken the mold after Beyoncé.