“Beyoncé doesn’t scowl or complain. She smiles. Not just with her mouth, but with her eyes – the kind of smile you can’t fake.”
We were thrilled that Joburg’s chic Hyde Park Corner played host to our GLAMOUR Women of the Year 2016 event – starting at the gorgeous Life Grand Cafe, the creation of 2014 GLAMOUR Women of the Year style winner Maira Koutsoudakis. As for the renowned Southern Sun Hyde Park hotel, where we held our lunch, it was nothing less than luxurious.
The origin of trends can be as divisive a riddle as the origin of species. But if Charles Darwin cared about such things and were around today, he’d sail right up to Beyoncé and Jay Z’s mega yacht and study Mrs Carter as assiduously as he scrutinised the exotic creatures of the Galápagos.
Beyoncé isn’t so much a trendsetter as a trend synthesiser. The singersongwriter may not originate, but she brilliantly reinterprets and popularises. She makes it all look easy and fun. And her taste is impeccable.
Case in point: she said in a TV interview that the choreography in her most famous video, ‘Single ladies’, was inspired by an obscure Bob Fosse work called Mexican Breakfast that had been performed by Gwen Verdon in 1969. Beyoncé, an accomplished and experienced dancer, selects the perfect moves – the hip popping, hand gestures and that unmistakable downward-punch strut – that are ripe for translation to a new decade. And more than 400 million Youtube ‘Single ladies’ views later, this cross-pollination is a proven recipe for success.
That same alchemy shows up in her fashion and beauty choices. And in those realms, it’s easier for legions of women, including some very famous ones, to check Instagram and follow her lead.
“Beyoncé borrows from fashion, and then fashion borrows from her,” explains Joe Zee, the editor in chief of Yahoo Style who has dressed Beyoncé for magazine cover shoots and advertising campaigns. “She picks up an idea and makes it more sexy and more feminine – desirable, but also accessible.”
And accessibility is the key. Beyoncé is a democratiser. Consider the so-called nautical look. The yachts that line the harbours of Mediterranean pleasure ports are monuments to conspicuous consumption. And these floating palaces are often decorated with eye candy who look like Bond girls in a bad mood and are dressed about as theatrically. Beyoncé’s nautical style, by contrast, is also revealing, colourful, bejewelled and sexy. And yet it has something else: it’s cheerful in a way that those other Euro-party looks are not. It might be expensive, but it’s not exclusive.
Whether the trend is bronzed eyes, naked dresses, Flash Tattoos or curly bobs, Beyoncé’s version always rises to the top. So what gives her this special magic? The first answer, simply, is joy. The world has had its fill of sullen celebrities. Beyoncé doesn’t scowl or complain. She smiles. Not just with her mouth, but with her eyes – the kind of smile you can’t fake. Riding a Jet Ski off St Barts, she has the expression of a five year old at a party just as she catches her first glimpse of the birthday cake.
And happiness is contagious and persuasive, which may explain why pretty much everything Beyoncé does seems to be unassailable. What other performer could lip-synch to a pre-recorded track of the US national anthem at a presidential inauguration without any damage to her reputation? Beyoncé taps into a well of approval that would make any politician salivate.
US First Lady Michelle Obama has called her “a role model and a powerful presence for young girls and women all around the world.” In another interview, Mrs Obama also said that if she could have a different occupation, she would be Beyoncé. And Lady Gaga has said Beyoncé “represents the dream”.
With performances such as her song ‘Flawless’, which samples a TEDX talk on female empowerment by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – and which she included in her medley at the 2014 VMAS, singing in front of a giant flashing sign that read “Feminist” – Beyoncé is often hailed as a paragon and populariser of the 21st century women’s movement. And while she didn’t invent bootylicious feminism,
no less an authority than the late Betty Friedan, feminist leader and author of The Feminine Mystique (Penguin Books; R330), praised her in a 2002 article in Allure magazine.
In that story, Betty also admired the independence and work ethic expressed in Beyoncé’s songs. When women emulate a fashion choice or hairstyle or covet a Saint Laurent bag on Beyoncé’s lap at a basketball game, they also tacitly embrace the surreal equity behind the glamorous images. This is why enthusiastic emulation never seems to spill over into pernicious envy.
Beyoncé’s grit and determination as a performer are evident in her videos, movies and, most dramatically, in her concert performances. At a Montreal show in 2013, for example, she moved towards the front of the stage to greet ecstatic audience members and she was in the middle of her ballad ‘Halo’ when her long hair got caught in the blades of a powerful fan. She tugged and tugged to free herself and her assistants rushed over and did the same with increasing levels of distress. For several horrible moments, it looked like her head was being pulled ever closer to the fan. Finally, a bodyguard literally cut her free. And through the entire incident, Beyoncé carried on singing, not missing a single note or lyric.
Now that is what Charles Darwin would call survival of the fittest.