Beyoncé and Jay Z may get divorced after the On the Run tour, and the planet has now tilted off its axis. Beyoncé is our queen, and we are but her loyal subjects. If she gets a divorce, that means we have not shielded her royal majesty from harm. It means that there’s been a breach of trust. It means that we have failed to do our job. A divorce would expose her highness to weakness. It is the antithesis of flawlessness. So non-Bey.
Well, that's one way of looking at it. You could also look at it as another calculated move in a series of thousands of perfectly calculated moves. Aren't celebrity marriages just business arrangements after all? Either way, our obsession with the outcome of the couple's marriage will do little to satisfy our desire to pull back the velvet curtain and see the real Beyoncé. Our obsession says more about our futile attempts to get closer to her internal life, and how those attempts have only reinforced her isolation from us.
"Remember Those Walls I Built, Well Baby They’re Tumbling Down"
The cult of Beyoncé is stronger than ever, and for good reason. The world was in need of a true gift in 2013, and she bestowed it upon us in the form of her visual album. She has inspired countless conversations about gender, race, and class. You can study her. Throughout all of this, Beyoncé has remained gracious and on point every step of the way. She has never faltered, never departed from the script. In fact, she has always been a few pages ahead of us.
But even for someone like myself, a casual fan of Beyoncé who has followed her career with moderate interest, the story about her divorce, about her potential fall from grace, feels very familiar. This is how we treat celebrities. We want them to entertain us not just on the stage and screen, but everywhere. Privacy is never considered. If they don't deliver, things get tense. Beyoncé tried to address this demand by releasing her 2013 HBO documentary Life Is But a Dream. It didn't go well. It was too glossy. It wasn't raw enough.
We've heard rumors about Jay Z's infidelity for years, and it makes me wonder if some of us secretly wanted a scandal like this to come true. Ironically, as Beyoncé's kingdom grew larger, her most pressing task would not be sustaining the pressure from, and preventing the collapse of, a massive and elaborate superstructure comprised of fans, handlers, thirsty media whores, and myths. Her most difficult task would be handling the fallout of a system that appears to be imploding—her marriage and family life. She needs to contain the damage, and a divorce would do just that. In the meantime, maybe some of us will get the opportunity to see an unvarnished, more authentic version of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. Everybody wins! God save the queen etcetera. Too bad nothing is ever that simple.
Let Them Eat Cake
Let’s look at the facts. Here’s what we know: Last week, Page Six reported an anonymous source claiming a separation was imminent. We know Beyoncé and Jay Z are on a multi-million dollar tour together and not wearing wedding rings regularly. We know Beyoncé has been inching her way toward a more outspoken feminist agenda. We know her father's had problems and that Jay Z isn't the hottest rapper right now. Now here’s what we don’t know. What the fuck happened in that elevator? What the fuck is going on in Beyoncé’s head?
In an essay for MySpace back in December 2013, Judnick Mayard wrote:
Beyoncé’s worst enemy has always been her polish. The persona that she works so diligently to present often comes off as false and ‘robotic,’ which can alienate common folk such as myself who work to stand out [...] It’s hard to think about how much she works at being this flawless and that makes her seem more object than human. Humans are imperfect and humans fail, but throughout the years it seemed like Beyoncé had never failed.
Here Beyoncé is accused of being robotic and for alienating fans. That's not very fair. She centered her career on living up to the idea of being flawless. It's why we fell in love with her in the first place. The promo image for the Mrs. Carter tour was almost like a dare. “Let them eat cake,” it seemed to be saying. Was she tempting us on purpose? Was she testing the limits of our devotion? If so, she called our bluff. She said, "Bow down, bitches," and we did just that. We did it gladly.
Even people like Mayard, who “disliked Beyoncé for almost her entire career” had to admit that Beyoncé had reached some new, unforeseen level of celebrity. From there things get tricky. How do we continue to worship Beyoncé and also beseech her to be more like one of us? Sure, we didn't necessarily want Beyoncé to fail, but if a failure like a divorce brings us closer to her internal life, we aren't going refrain from obsessing over it. This brings us to the fucked-up part: I'm no Beyoncé apologist, but why is our impulse to think that she owes us something for our unyielding devotion? Beyoncé doesn’t owe anyone anything. Not even her husband.
Who Needs a Life When You Have the Internet?
The problem with trying to extrapolate information about the personal or private life of a celebrity—or anyone for that matter—is that you will often end up looking like a jackass. We have all become experts at creating online personas that are not accurate reflections of our internal selves, but carefully-crafted profiles of what we want people to perceive and believe. In this regard, we are all “false and robotic.” Beyoncé engages in a similar behavior but on a macro level. While everyone wants to know what happened in the elevator, it’s none of our business, and we should respect that. Instead of respecting it, we are defiant, we adamantly demand answers and a level of transparency that we rarely enjoy IRL. In a Jezebel essay about the divorce rumors and current tour, Kara Brown writes:
It seems that the whole tour could just be one big elaborate performance. And yes, that is what a concert is, an elaborate performance, but there's a difference between putting on a good front and actively pushing an image of happiness and love. Any truth to the rumors make the whole tour supremely disappointing because, why? Why lie? It's profitable, sure, but the Carters are neither hurting for money nor unable to go on successful tours individually. Designing an entire tour around the concept of them as a a ride or die couple both on stage and in real life when they know that's untrue is manipulative.
This gets to the root of our obsession with the divorce. It has nothing to do with Beyoncé, and everything to do with what we feel she owes to us. Call me a cynical asshole, but much of today's entertainment is manipulation. Why does Beyoncé have to be the exception to this rule? Why does she have to prove that she is human, that she has flaws? Brown and many others will feel deeply saddened about a divorce, but only if they don't walk away feeling like duped. No matter what happens, though, we still have no idea what the fuck is going on in Beyoncé's head. No matter how this hypothetical divorce plays out, sooner or later we will find a reason to levy new criticisms against Beyoncé and she'll figure out how to cope with the demand, how to feed the beast, to prove that she is relevant and continue listening to the will of the people. (Let's all just be glad we're not dealing with substance abuse.)
“There is no story that is not true.” ― Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
The most troubling plot line is often the one that is ignored. As this story unfurls, it strikes me that Beyoncé must feel very, very alone. I picture her in the elevator, standing still, observing as three adults try to resolve a violent conflict that had a greater effect on her life than anyone present. She's the one who had to deal with the aftermath, and she has done so artfully. We cannot save Beyoncé from this drama. It will act itself out as it always has in celebrity history.
There is no real Beyoncé. Every version of her—the wife, the feminist, the mother, the shade thrower, Yoncé, Sasha Fierce, Mrs. Carter, the black woman, Miss Third Ward—is real. If the divorce rumors are in fact true, I expect it to be very quiet and tidy. It won't bring us any closer to her private life, and that's OK. It's lonely at the top, and Beyoncé knows that by now. If not, I'm sure we'll find a way to remind her.
Lauretta Charlton is an Associate Editor at Complex. She subtweets God all of the time. You can follow her at @laurettaland.