She’s young, gifted and black, but su­per­star singer’s pop-cul­ture reign has tran­scended mere tal­ent and tunes

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - FRONT PAGE - JEN ZO­RATTI

BACK in May, Satur­day Night Live aired a now-vi­ral faux movie trailer called The Bey­gency. In it, host An­drew Garfield dares to ad­mit in pub­lic that he’s just not that into Drunk In Love, and now he must go on the lam for fear of ret­ri­bu­tion from The Bey­gency, a covert op­er­a­tion that takes out Bey­oncé haters. “He turned against his coun­try, and its queen,” the voiceover in­tones. “A man with nowhere to run and no taste.” Who run the world, in­deed. In 2014, it cer­tainly feels like Bey­oncé-wor­ship has reached an all-time high — and is prac­ti­cally a re­quire­ment, if you’re to be­lieve SNL, to main­tain your U.S. cit­i­zen­ship. The cult of Queen Bey is a far-reach­ing one. There’s ru­moured to be Na­tional Church of Bey in At­lanta. Academia is also on board, with many in­sti­tu­tions — in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria — of­fer­ing cour­ses on her. In the just-re­leased trailer for the film Fifty Shades of Grey, the fact that she con­trib­uted a sexed-up ver­sion of Crazy in Love gets billing over, you know, the cast. And if you hate on Bey­oncé? The mes­sage is clear: bow down to Bey or bow out. Af­ter all, she is more an than a diva. She is roy­alty. She is (whis­per) Bey­oncé. “Bey­oncé has be­come some­thing more than just a su­per­star. She is a kind of na­tional fig­ure­head, an Entertainer in Chief; she is Amer­i­cana. Some­day, surely, her Sin­gle Ladies leo­tard will take its place along­side Mickey Mouse and the Model T Ford and Louis Arm­strong’s trum­pet in a Smith­so­nian dis­play case,” writes cul­ture critic Jody Rosen in a rather ef­fu­sive pro­file. “His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, this is no small achieve­ment. Black women have al­ways been dom­i­nant fig­ures in Amer­i­can pop­u­lar mu­sic, but no one, not even Aretha Franklin, has reached the plateau that Bey­oncé oc­cu­pies: pop star colos­sus, adored bomb­shell, ‘Amer­ica’s sweet­heart.’” Why Bey­oncé is fa­mous isn’t ex­actly a mys­tery. She’s in­cred­i­bly tal­ented, in pos­ses­sion of one of pop mu­sic’s most soulful voices. She’s got a cav­al­cade of hits to her credit. She’s got a pu­ri­tan’s work ethic. She’s beau­ti­ful. But then, that’s all true of many other bank­able pop stars. Why Bey­oncé is the girl on top of the world is the more in­ter­est­ing ques­tion. At 32, she’s al­ready an in­dus­try vet­eran. Af­ter hit­ting the Hous­ton song-and-dance com­pe­ti­tion cir­cuit as a kid, she rose to fame in the ’90s as the front­woman of R&B girl­group Des­tiny’s Child. Her solo ca­reer in the fol­low­ing decade was suc­cess­ful, gar­ner­ing fist­fuls of Gram­mys, block­buster record sales and chart-dom­i­nat­ing hits — but, while 2008’s Sin­gle Ladies will en­joy a last­ing legacy as the sound­track to the bou­quet toss at wed­dings for the rest of time, Bey didn’t have the same kind of ubiq­uity she has to­day. That all changed with Bey­oncé. On Dec. 13, 2003, Bey’s fifth solo al­bum — com­posed of 14 songs and 17 videos for a gloriously deca­dent mul­ti­me­dia binge watch — was dropped on iTunes with zero ad­vance pro­mo­tion. The move was un­prece­dented. And, like ev­ery­thing else Bey­oncé does, cal­cu­lated. It’s telling that this al­bum is self-ti­tled, while its pre­de­ces­sor, I Am... Sasha Fierce, was named for an al­ter-ego. Bey­oncé an­nounced the ar­rival of a new Bey­oncé. A Bey­oncé who could mix her South­ern fam­ily val­ues with graphic de­scrip­tions of raunchy sex. A Bey­oncé who could work out dis­cus­sions of moth­er­hood, fem­i­nism and body image on the dance floor. A Bey­oncé who main­tains a cool air of mys­tery while still seem­ing warm and ap­proach­able. In an era in which most pop stars still des­per­ately want to be per­ceived as girls, Queen Bey sets her­self apart by mak­ing it crys­tal clear that she is a grown woman. She knows what she’s do­ing, of course. Mrs. Knowles-Carter — who will bring her On the Run sta­dium spec­ta­cle with hus­band Jay Z to In­vestors Group Field on Sun­day night — is a shrewd busi­ness­woman. She’s savvy in a way that most pop stars are not. The Bey­oncé we think we know is the Bey­oncé she al­lows us to know; she has fig­ured out how to ma­nip­u­late a game that is so of­ten rigged against women. She puts her thong on one leg at a time and gy­rates the same way fe­male pop stars al­ways have, but she re­veals her­self on her terms. In our cul­ture, many peo­ple feel en­ti­tled to un­fet­tered ac­cess to fa­mous women’s bod­ies — which goes a long way in ex­plain­ing the In­ter­net out­rage over the fact there weren’t more shots of Bey­oncé’s preg­nant body in her 2013 HBO au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal film Life Is But a Dream. (Many con­spir­acy the­o­rists are also on a mis­sion to prove that Blue Ivy was car­ried by a sur­ro­gate.) Bey has bound­aries. It’s rare for a celebrity of her mag­ni­tude to have full con­trol and own­er­ship of her nar­ra­tive and image — and how it’s all mar­keted — the way Bey­oncé does. There’s lit­tle doubt about who is in the driver’s seat of her ca­reer. She’s a noted per­fec­tion­ist; a 2013 GQ cover story de­tailed the of­fi­cial Bey­oncé ar­chive, a tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled dig­i­tal stor­age fa­cil­ity that houses ev­ery scrap of ephemera from her ca­reer. Ev­ery in­ter­view she par­tic­i­pates in is video­taped. She records ev­ery con­cert and cri­tiques each show back at the ho­tel. Pages of notes are dis­sem­i­nated to crew. Pho­tog­ra­phers who are not on her pay­roll are are not al­lowed to pho­to­graph her in con­cert; she did, af­ter all, try to have “un­flat­ter­ing” pho­tos from her Su­per Bowl half­time per­for­mance scrubbed from the In­ter­net. That afore­men­tioned HBO “doc­u­men­tary?” Fi­nanced, di­rected, pro­duced, nar­rated by Bey­oncé. She’s an ac­tive In­sta­gram­mer, but ev­ery shot is care­fully cho­sen. Her life looks per­fect, of course, yet real. Her feed re­veals a woman who quite lit­er­ally Has It All — a ca­reer on fire, an adorable baby girl, a hot sex life with a lov­ing hus­band, wealth and op­por­tu­nity. She makes us be­lieve that maybe we can have ver­sions of It All, too. Be­cause she’s just one of us gals. That mix of as­pi­ra­tional and in­spi­ra­tional is what the Bey­oncé brand is built on — and what has, cou­pled with elite ath­lete-level dis­ci­pline and raw tal­ent, helped make her the high­est paid black mu­si­cian in his­tory. It’s also why that whole el­e­va­tor fra­cas with Jay Z and her sis­ter Solange held so many rapt; it rep­re­sented a crack in her care­fully pre­sented ve­neer. It’s also why many are bummed out by the ru­mours that Bey­oncé and Jay Z are split­ting up af­ter their On the Run tour wraps. They are a power cou­ple to be sure — a net worth pegged around $1 bil­lion with a B — but it’s nice to think that they are still crazy in love. That their home life is as idyl­lic as it is on In­sta­gram. Be­cause Bey­oncé doesn’t just sell al­bums or sta­dium spec­ta­cles. She sells the Amer­i­can dream.


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