Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll—all the things that Beyoncé has managed to avoid in her five years as a megastar. Instead, God, hard work, and R&B continue to dominate the singer's life as she prepares to re-esteblish herself as the new queen of hip-hop-soul.
This feature originally appeared in Complex's April/May 2003 issue.
In the time it took you to read this sentence, Beyoncé Gisselle Knowles just sold more albums than Bob Dylan sold all year. OK, maybe that’s a gross exaggeration (depending on how slowly you read), but in her 21 years on this earth, the frontwoman of Destiny’s Child has sold more than 28 million records worldwide. That number’s set to skyrocket: as of this writing, Beyoncé is in Miami finishing her solo debut, tentatively titled Dangerously In Love. Some say the album will not only further establish her as the first lady of Destiny’s Child, it will also reposition her as the new queen of hip-hop-soul.
Of course, when we sat down with the bootylicious singer to discuss her recent career moves, what we really wanted to know was: Is she or isn’t she? Since the release of her duet with Jay-Z, “’03 Bonnie And Clyde,” the rumor mill has her hooked up with the rapper, with some wagging tongues saying the two are engaged. But, if there’s one thing she’s learned from five years in the spotlight, it’s how to play the media game—so you’ll have to draw your own conclusions.
Still, there was plenty to talk about. Beyoncé’s solo album draws from a pool of inspirations and talent that reflects her change in direction. The Neptunes, Missy Elliott, and newcomers Marc Batson, Fanatic, and Scott Scorch all helped Beyoncé express herself in ways that she never could with Destiny’s Child.
But while the record’s certain to confirm her status as a 21st-century Diana Ross, there’s one small problem: For better or worse, she’s too modest, sweet, and conscientious to come off like a diva. From her earliest days, in fact, the sexy singer displayed a superhuman propensity for work. When her father (and later manager) Matthew Knowles assembled the first incarnation of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé, at age seven, eagerly practiced singing, dancing, aerobics, and even how to smile and twirl a mic. Later, her father presided over marathon rehearsal sessions with original members LeToya Luckett, LaTavia Roberson, and Kelly Rowland in the backyard of the Knowles home in suburban Houston. But when Luckett and Roberson filed a lawsuit claiming that Matthew Knowles showed undue favoritism to his daughter, the group’s line-up changed. When the replacements were themselves replaced, the revolving-door membership of Destiny’s Child became fodder for late-night-TV jokes.
What wasn’t a joke was the fact that, no matter how talented her bandmates were, Beyoncé was unquestionably the star. Her smile was a few megawatts brighter, her presence somehow more present. The way she gyrated her generous hips was too irresistible, and her chaste brown eyes too alluring for us to believe that she was really that innocent.
Her ability to flirt with the camera landed her a starring role in the MTV hip-hopera Carmen, cementing the growing suspicion that Beyoncé’s destiny was inexorably larger than her childhood homies’—no matter how dear they are to her.
When Mike Myers selected her over Hollywood’s most popular African-American actresses to star opposite him in Austin Powers In Goldmember, the deal was sealed. She was no longer Beyoncé Knowles from Destiny’s Child. She was now simply Beyoncé.
I’m never satisfied. I always want to grow and get better. There’s a new something—a new movie I want to do, or a new goal that I set for myself. As soon as we achieve something, there’s already a new goal set. I think hunger is very important to stay successful.
But what are you hungry for now? How has it shifted?
Basically, I want my solo record to be successful but I don’t expect it to do as well as Destiny’s Child. I just want people to acknowledge me [as a vocalist] and for the songwriting, and I just want to make some good music.
Your solo album is tentatively called Dangerously In Love. What’s dangerous about love, in your experience?
Love is dangerous because, for one, when you’re in love with someone, they have so much control over your feelings. It can be great or it can be really bad. But you have to let go to fall in love, and that’s a little dangerous sometimes.
You’ve said you’re trying to find a new sound for your solo album. How will it be different from the Destiny’s Child sound?
I’m an adult now and the topics of the songs are a little more adult. My lyrics have matured, and I’ve matured, and I want you to hear that in the songs. Lyrically, I’ve grown, and as far as music, I have a lot of chord changes, instruments, and production that’s different. I’ve been listening to a lot of different music and you can hear that on my album.
You’ve mentioned that one of your inspirations is Shuggie Otis, a great but obscure artist a lot of your fans might otherwise never have heard of. Shuggie sort of went nuts after recording his masterpiece in the early ’70s, and I’m curious how you discovered him. You probably weren’t even born back then.
Right! Actually a friend of mine was playing his music, and I was like, “What is that?” And they said it was Shuggie Otis. This was before his album was re-released. I just fell in love with it. It was more than music. I have so many memories, because that’s all I listened to for a couple of months. I just loved everything about him. I actually used one of his songs on my album—it was an instrumental and I wrote to it.
You’re the first black woman ever to win ASCAP’s Songwriter Of The Year award. Which is more important to you, the singing or the writing?
Wow. I guess I would say I couldn’t live without singing. I have to sing. I love writing songs because it’s like therapy, but sometimes when you’re trying to write a hit song, it’s not fun at all. When you write because you have something to say, that’s when great things come out. Hopefully I’ll never have to choose, but if I did, I would rather sing than write.
Have there ever been moments lately when you thought, I’d give up all the money and fame and success if I could just have BLANK back? And if so, please fill in the blank.
I’m human, so of course there are moments when I just want privacy back. You go places and sometimes you just want to be able to walk down the street or to the mall or the gym or use the restroom in a public place without people asking for autographs and pictures. But it’s been about five or six years, so I’m kind of getting used to it. But still, some days… you just want privacy.
I’m not engaged.
Other than Jay-Z, the press has also linked you to Eminem and Mos Def. But why are you so private and why do you shy away from talking about your relationships?
I think it’s personal preference. I enjoy living and not worrying about people [getting] in my business. I’ve always been like that. Even in school, I didn’t tell people that I sang. I just wasn’t like that. I didn’t tell people who I was dating or who I wasn’t. Not that it’s a bad thing, or that I was secretive. I just was very private.
You’ve said that songwriting for you is often like channeling some divine inspiration, rather than a personal effort. But how does the Man Upstairs get off channeling a tune like “Bootylicious”?
That song is very fun and was basically almost like a joke. I wrote it on a plane going to Europe, and I was bored and delirious. I heard the Stevie Nicks track and just wrote the song. I was almost not about to tell Kelly [Rowland] and Michelle [Williams] about the track because the hook was so silly, but they were like, “That’s cute! Let’s do it!” So it was just a joke. It’s all about self-esteem and accepting your body and having fun.
Given your strict religious upbringing, did you have any reservations singing about a “Goldmember” for the Austin Powers soundtrack?
Well...when I first went and talked to them and they told me about the movie I was obviously very excited, but I feel like, when I play a part in a movie, I’m playing a part, and I was Foxxy Cleopatra.
You’ve recorded duets with Wyclef, Jermaine Dupri, Master P., and of course more recently with your friend Jay-Z on “’03 Bonnie And Clyde.” Jay-Z isn’t exactly Little Bo Peep. I was just wondering if you ever have qualms about associating with artists who rap about guns, drugs, and money, given your church background?
I really don’t think about it like that. I mean, I’m in the R&B world. I’m in this industry. What’s important to me is me remaining the same person, me still treating people the same way, and me maintaining my personal relationship with God.
In the last year or so, Britney Spears went through this very public transformation from schoolgirl to leather-clad sex slave. And obviously Christina Aguilera’s gone in a very overtly sexy—some might say filthy—direction with her new look. In the video you shot for “Work It Out,” your micro-mini is pretty borderline. Like, I don’t know if your mom designed that dress, but if it went another inch up, it would have been a little illegal.
[Laughs.] My mom actually did design that. Well, you know, Destiny’s Child, we’ve always been sexy, but we’ve always had limits. And obviously the older you get, the more you want to express yourself in different ways. But I am very close with a lot of people who will tell me, "OK, one inch shorter and..." Exactly what you said! So there are limits that I have, but I can never say never to anything because I’m 21 years old.
I know you usually travel with security. Have you ever witnessed your bodyguard hand out a serious beat-down?
No, not anything serious. I’ve seen ’em have to shove a couple people and push ’em off, but thank God we haven’t experienced anything serious. It’s been pretty cool.
Is it hard to meet guys when you have a 300-pound chaperone?
Sometimes, yes, it’s hard for them to approach us, because they’re a little intimidated by the security.
The guy was really nice, and I just don’t think he knew what he was doing. I liked him, we liked each other, but we were just young and doing it because everybody else had kissed.
How old were you?
It was the summer before eighth grade, so I guess I was about 13.
Beyond that, how was your early experience with boys? Did you find it scary, upsetting, exciting?
I was very shy when it came to guys. I had to make friends. I was kind of like a tomboy until I got to high school and I got in certain clothes. I didn’t carry a purse until the [ninth or tenth] grade. I was a little slow with guys, and when I had a crush on somebody, I wouldn’t say anything. I would keep it to myself. I wasn’t thinking about guys too much until high school.
What kind of girlfriend are you these days?
I hate to argue. Completely hate to argue. I’m not the type of girl who says, “I want to go there or eat here,” or “I want this.” I’m just easy, not picky. I like to do things like go to restaurants or walk on the beach or watch a movie at home—just stuff like that.
Have you ever made a pass at a guy?
I’ve made passes, but they were really subtle, like maybe I made eye contact a second longer than necessary or smiled a little harder than normal. But I’ve never said anything or given anyone my number. I drop little hints, but if they don’t catch it...I feel like men, if they really like you, then they’ll approach you. I don’t feel like you should go after a man.
What makes a guy sexy to you?
The sexiest thing about a man is someone being very smart and confident. And someone who doesn’t try—just is cool and naturally sexy.
Who will you be spending Valentine's Day with?
I’m actually gonna be working in the studio.
So you don’t have a special date with a certain special Jigga planned?
I don’t know. We’ll see.
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (HAIR) Chuck Amos/Jump. (MAKEUP) Yasuo/L'Atelier. (NAILS) Diane Martino/Bradley Curry. (PROPS) Hemmond.