Earlier this week, The New York Times revealed that Vogue had zero face time with Beyoncé, who covers the magazine’s September issue. “It was definitely posed to me as…call it a think piece if you want,” Pulitzer prize-winner Margo Jefferson, who wrote the cover story, told the Times. “I had no contact with her camp.”
The message was, as the Times puts it, “Beyoncé is seen but not heard.”
That Beyoncé narrative is hardly new. She's known to be private and controlling of her image down to the last detail. As the Times points out, even a major publication like CR Fashion Book, founded by former editor-in-chief of French Vogue Carine Roitfeld, was granted very little access. That cover story was instead a free verse by poet Forrest Gander, who “remixed” written statements from Beyoncé. And as mentioned in the singer's 2013 GQ story, when reporters are given access, there's always a camera that films the interaction, with footage that's later stored in her archive.
In an era where Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat exist, we’re given the impression of access. Celebrities are, technically, able to skip traditional media and share what they please, when they please. And some do. Artists make all sorts of announcements (album releases, tour dates, engagements, etc.) via Twitter or Instagram. We're spoiled. We—myself included—want artists to share their work and their lives. Beyoncé doesn't do that. She shares photos—often with no captions—on Instagram and her website. Not to mention, she's practically ghost on Twitter, with only eight tweets since joining in April 2009 (even Jay has more, with 235). Even her documentary Life Is But a Dream—which she directed and executive produced—felt contrived.
Beyoncé has been the gatekeeper to her life, only providing what she wants and in the manner she wants to do it in—a rarity for even the biggest celebrities. It’s easy then, as a fan, to hate the veneer. But, how could you not respect that power?
Beyoncé has been the gatekeeper to her life, only providing what she wants and in the manner she wants to do it in—a rarity for even the biggest celebrities.
For years, the Beyoncé narrative has been the same: She paid her dues, worked harder than anyone in the entertainment industry, and now deserves all she has—the fame, wealth, success, downtime, and complete control.
Beyoncé first took complete control over her career when she parted ways with her father and long-time manager Mathew Knowles in 2011. In a candid, private video from Life Is But a Dream, she says of the split: "I’m feeling very empty because of my relationship with my dad. And I’m so fragile at this point, and I feel like my soul has been tarnished. Life is unpredictable, but I feel like I had to move on and not work with my dad. And I don’t care if I don’t sell one record. It’s bigger than the record, it’s bigger than my career."
Things changed from there. She began managing herself and, as she said during a private screening for fans and press at New York's School of Visual Arts Theatre in 2013: "I felt like I wanted to follow the footsteps of Madonna and be a powerhouse and have my own empire and show other women when you get to this point in your career you don’t have to go sign with someone else and share your money and your success—you do it yourself."
She also granted fewer interviews and, as of somewhere between 2013 and 2014, no face-to-face interactions with journalists. She also took full control of her image, asking (via her publicists) to have all unflattering photos of her from her Super Bowl XLVII performance deleted from the Internet. There’s no story if Beyoncé doesn’t want there to be. She said it herself, in a statement about her documentary: "My story has never been told—no one really knows who I am." Which is to say, the only Beyoncé-approved story you will ever get is going to come from Beyoncé herself.
She’s calculated, a carefully curated brand. And like any well-established brand, she knows how to handle the damage control if and when things do not go according to plan.
On Jan. 21, 2013, she performed the national anthem at President Barack Obama's inaugural ceremony. At first, her rendition was praised, but then Master Sgt. Kristin DuBois, a spokesperson for the President's Own United States Marine Band, confirmed Beyoncé was lip-synching. After years of a squeaky-clean reputation, she had found herself in a "scandal."
But unlike some (or most) celebrities, she didn't entertain open dialog. Instead, 10 days after her inaugural ceremony performance, she surfaced at a Super Bowl press conference in New Orleans on Jan. 31, where she opened by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner”—again. At the end, she smiled and said, “Any questions?” Her impromptu performance reshaped the public narrative, and the story went away.
In May 2014, footage of Jay Z and Solange fighting in an elevator at the Met Gala after party leaked. But Beyoncé looked (was?) unfazed. She didn’t move a muscle in the elevator, letting her husband and sister go at it. She only addressed the incident in a joint statement with Jay and Solange. Oh, and in the remix of "Flawless": "Of course sometimes shit go down when it's a billion dollars on an elevator." My head exploded when I heard that.
There are artists who overshare: during interviews, on Twitter, at their own performances (read: Kanye West). Beyoncé is not one of them. None of us can explain why she chooses to be this private. Maybe motherhood has made her more protective. Maybe it was the elevator incident. Or maybe she, now more than ever, knows her own power.
But one thing is clear: Beyoncé doesn’t need to open dialog if she doesn’t want to. That’s the beauty of Beyoncé. She doesn’t need to be in the news or to make news to stay relevant. She's one of the greatest artists and performers of our time, and as she made clear in her Complex August/September 2011 cover story, her focus is the music. “I just want my legacy to be great music,” she said. Which is why even a surprise album like Beyoncé, which the singer released in December 2013 after having been relatively MIA from the public, sold 828,773 copies worldwide in its first three days of availability, becoming the fastest-selling album in the history of the iTunes Store. That album was also nominated for five awards at the 2015 Grammys (Album of the Year, Best Urban Contemporary Album, Best Surround Sound Album, and Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance for "Drunk in Love"), winning the latter three.
We’re not owed anything but the music. But as fans, we have to decide whether Beyoncé's continued boringness makes us less interested in the art. Does it make you doubt whatever “truth” she presents in her lyrics? Does it make you less likely to buy the overall Beyoncé narrative? Does it make you less likely to cop her next album? You'd be wise to say no, because, chances are, she's likely working on some life-changing shit right now.