Beyonce: “Perfection” Personified & Controlled
Beyoncé. Beyoncé. Beyoncé. Google Chrome’s spellchecker still hasn’t learned her name, so she has some ways to go. However, WordPress has learned her name, so she’s gotten farther along than most of us.
Mrs. Knowles-Carter/Carter-Knowles/Tina’s Preferred Daughter released a
carefully controlled vanity movie documentary this past Saturday on HBO. It was summarized pretty well here. The author notes how Beyoncé seems to unnecessarily suffer from a fear of irrelevance. She never did social media until last year and handled it expertly with Tumblr and Twitter. She had millions of followers without ever tweeting one thing. I give props to her team for it.
Now, the issue with the documentary was that she didn’t reveal anything really new or personal. Everything that was deemed personal was carefully controlled. It gave off an “aww!” and cute factor, but it didn’t connect as “real”. The movie was inspiring and all, but apparently seemed disconnected on a level that doesn’t normally apply to documentaries. This really shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Beyoncé Giselle Carter-Knowles (I think that’s right) has always maintained an iron grip on her image past Destiny’s Child. It slipped that Beyoncé, while the lead singer of the group, was being favored by her manager-father. So, on Survivor they all sang lead on various songs. Beyoncé broke out on her own with Dangerously In Love and did very well with it. She spoke whispers to Jay-Z, but never confirmed. They dated forever before getting married. She controlled her image there. She controlled her image during Dreamgirls and B-Day. You never knew more than she wanted you to know (as Oprah Winfrey wisely counseled her). Her being silent for privacy reasons (and her struggles with elocution coupled with a heavy country accent) led to everyone knowing her mostly for her music, which always sold well. She became a standard in her own right before marrying Jay-Z and becoming black America’s shining example of enduring traditional love and music royalty. She makes Jay-Z a better man and you can tell he loves her so very much. (It’s sad that it took the birth of his daughter years later for him to agree to stop calling women bitches in his music, though. But I guess whenever you get “there” is good.)
If you control your image for a long time, even down to the “candid” shots that are staged, you start to painstakingly present an image of perfection. When you don’t speak on it, but release only images, videos, and songs, people start to believe your built-up hype. Beyoncé has fans now that are borderline psychotic in their defense of her. Some have threatened to track down people online who say anything critical of Beyoncé. Beyoncé has only quietly urged her fans to calm down because she knows she can bank on them for her paychecks.
They take her word as gospel. They view any action she does as legendary, unique, and the best, even if it’s copied, borrowed, and third-tier. This is the result of managing your image through silence except through music, videos, dancing, and public speaking once every two-or-so years.
Contrast this with Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston. Lady Gaga has a huge musical following, all the flashy videos, and a mouth that just learned recently how to stop speaking. She tweets her life and while I’m sure it’s controlled, she tweets stuff like her being drunk, or crying, or how she stubbed her toe. Rihanna tweets anything she can to get you to pay attention. I wouldn’t be surprised if she starts tweeting live sex videos of her and Chris Brown getting it in (Jay-Z would let her go after that, I’m sure). Mariah tweets her babies, and unabashedly wears evening wear as every day athletic wear. Whitney had so many public struggles with drugs. In all these cases, we see their humanity and their imperfections. You know that you probably won’t reach their levels of success any time soon, but you feel that you could at least compete on a human level because you’re above or below them on some level.
As for Beyoncé, who else can compare with that image of perfection? What is that image? It’s something she’s facing and has to keep up for the rest of her life. She can’t make one mistake. So many people look up to her as something to which to aspire. That’s great. She has a dynamite work ethic and for various reasons (some of which are sociologically and biologically unfair), she’s been well-rewarded for her efforts. She’s in a position to help others and I think she “gets” that and will help others to rise up.
I just worry that all this perfection will shatter the worlds of her fans who don’t get that she’s still human. Some honestly think that she’s as close to Jesus as a human being can get. I joked in another blog post on my old site that Beyoncé is your drunk aunt. She references alcohol a lot in Schoolin’ Life. I was joking, but what if that turned out to be true? What if she is an alcoholic? What if she abuses drugs? What if she drinks monkey sweat and eats chinchilla placentas in a misguided effort to stay young?
Prince has been just as silent as Beyoncé over the years, but we still look at him as human because he’s let his freak flag fly. Beyoncé cannot keep up this image of perfection with “reveals” every few years that are just as controlled as her public image. Even her husband has let his freak flag out and it has been flying for years now and we identify with his flaws, faults, success, and grace. Beyoncé is all grace and no flaws. That can’t last forever unless she becomes a hermit and releases albums with no interviews or voice behind the voice. We aspire to be perfect and she represents that. Is it imperfection latching onto “perfection” in human form to identify with some type of hope in humanity for something to be right in the world?
We mourned Whitney because of what was lost and what we shared. If we lost Beyoncé, we would mourn the loss of her talent, entertainment, and pristine public image, which I’m sure isn’t 100% real. It would stop there. If we lost Jay-Z, we would mourn the loss of his talent, entertainment, and public image, which has never been 100% perfect. That would feel a little bit deeper, even though I don’t know him personally (and neither do you).
I’m all for Beyoncé doing this managed public image thing because it’s working out very well for her. I’m all for her being a role model to lots of young girls and young women. If she’s going to keep it up, though, at least show some humanity. Even the legends showed some even as they fiercely fought for privacy. If they didn’t, then people got the stories all wrong when they came out messy – Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Cher, Madonna, etc. I’d want my daughter to look up to her, sure, but I’d also want my daughter to be real and know that life will be Rihanna-messy sometimes, and Gaga-ponderous. She’ll have image crisis issues like Mariah. She’ll go through a phase of wanting to express herself until she “finds” herself, even as a child of God, like Madonna. It’s won’t all be sunshine, roses, Pinot Gris, and being married to a hip-hop mogul. However, like all those “flawed” artists, she can still sell out arenas worldwide in less than ten minutes. They’re not perfect, but they’re still loved and have varying levels of industry power.
That is why I love this picture.
Finally! Some imperfection and humanity! I’m not tearing her down. I welcome this imperfection. I know she’s just like the rest of us, and I don’t mean that in a crab-mentality/picking-her-down way. I mean, she’s got enough guns and quads to challenge Wonder Woman in a fight to the death. Also, even after this picture was released, how many arenas did she sell out (even the added shows)? Exactly.
I feel that it’s better to have a revered name more than riches, but that should be given to you by others based on the work you’ve done more than a carefully crafted and managed public image. In the meantime, do what you do, Bey. I plan to and hope to see you in concert this summer, capping off your year of not releasing much of anything but still having a high-earning year.