Who runs the pop world? Beyoncé. After a year away to spread her wings, Queen Bey is back to reclaim her throne.
This feature appears in Complex's August/September 2011 issue.
Conventional wisdom holds that people should be afraid of turning 30. It’s the dreaded age when the biological clock starts tickin’ with the menace of a time bomb. Thirty is the point at which someone can call a woman “old”—and she will actually believe it. Conventional wisdom says that turning 16, 18, and 21 kicks ass. Turning 30 kicks rocks.
Of course conventional wisdom isn’t all that wise. Thirty ain’t all that bad. (In truth, women tend to be the most well-rounded and sexiest during their 30s. #justsayin) Still, it has a way of focusing people. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles turns 30 in September. She’s acutely aware of time slipping into the future. Her ticking clock, however, has nothing to do with insecure thoughts of feeling old or washed up. Not by a long shot.
No, Beyoncé is in a race against time because of a simple, bluntly put question: Where the f*&k does she go from here? What does thirtysomething feel like if you’ve accomplished everything most people could ever dream of—wealth, fame, artistic accolades, love—in your teens and twenties?
It turns out that, for Beyoncé, the answer to that question is equally simple (and bluntly put). Where does she go? Wherever the f*&k she wants to. Bey has spent the last 15 years paying dues. Now a worldwide icon, she has set her heart and mind to establishing a legacy that she’s determined will be dictated by artistic freedom. She’s not afraid of turning 30. If anything, the world should be afraid of her turning 30.
In March 2010, Beyoncé came off the world tour for her album, I Am…Sasha Fierce, and did something she hadn’t really done as an adult: She lived a normal life. After years maintaining a grueling work schedule that included exhaustive touring, she took a much-needed vacay. For the next year, she did all sorts of—for her—novel things. She slept in her own bed for days at a time. She went to concerts and movies and museums with friends. She spent time picking through the iTunes of her younger sister, Solange (who has a side gig as a DJ and whom Bey credits as her unofficial A&R), playing with her nephew, and watching documentary footage of Jean-Michel Basquiat painting from scratch.
Of course the whole “vacay” concept is a little different for Beyoncé. (For one, she traveled, too. And suffice it to say that you and I aren’t invited to a lot of the places she visited.) What did you do on your vacation? Well, the hardest working woman in entertainment started a production company and learned how to edit movies. And, in studios across the world, she recorded more than 60 songs, 12 of which appear on her latest album, 4, which was officially released in June. You see, whereas a yearlong hiatus for one of us might involve an inordinate number of hours spent in our pajamas, for Beyoncé, even downtime is work time. “I traveled; I read; I watched films,” she says. “Inspiration is all around us every second of the day.”
The inspiration for 4 came from a variety of sources, with the end result being something that doesn’t sound exactly like any of them. Dissatisfied with the state of contemporary radio, she set about brewing a concoction entirely of her own design, based on influences you’d expect her to cite, as well as ones that might surprise. “Figuring out a way to get R&B back on the radio is challenging,” she explains. “Everything sounds the same on the radio. With 4 I tried to mix R&B from the ’70s and the ’90s with rock ‘n’ roll and a lot of horns to create something new and exciting. I wanted musical changes, bridges, vibrata, live instrumentation, and classic songwriting.”