In a span of mere weeks, Beyonce promoted her upcoming HBO documentary, was awarded yet another Grammy (while wearing a jumpsuit, no less), performed “The Star Spangled Banner” at the inauguration of President Obama, appeared next-to naked on the cover of GQ, and dazzled the public in setting a halftime high as Super Bowl headliner.
That the superstar, 31, can move so easily between the worlds of politics and entertainment and personas of national treasure or bootylicious siren, all the while completing the workaday tasks of documentarian and doting mom only serves to cement the notion fans have come to embrace: Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter is in complete control of her destiny.
“She is so talented and just projects control and power over everything she does,” says Matt Delmont, professor of American Studies at Scripps College. “So she can be in videos or on the cover of GQ wearing very little clothing and there is never a question that she is not in control of her image. She can be sexy but she is controlling that sexuality and not being victimized in any way.”
U.S. & World
The day's top national and international news.
There was certainly no hint of self-doubt or lack of control when the “Killing Me Softly” singer faced the media for the first time since it was alleged that she sang the national anthem at President Barack Obama's inauguration with a pre-recorded track.
She began her address by singing the final verses of the national anthem live. Following her last, drawn-out (and perfectly on-key) note, she turned to the gathered crowd and asked, “Any questions?”
Beyonce confidently went on to reveal that she did in fact sing along to a backing track, saying "due to weather, due to delay, due to no proper sound check, I did not feel comfortable risking it. This was about the president and I wanted to make him and my country proud."
With the debut of “Life is But a Dream” Saturday – the HBO documentary in which Beyonce allows cameras into her private sphere and goes as far as discussing the miscarriage she had prior to the birth of Blue Ivy – fans and naysayers will finally get to see behind the paragon's veil.
“It’s time for people to really get to know me and see a different side,” Beyonce said of the documentary, “to show a human side.”
Let there be no doubt that such access is carefully curated by the subject herself.
"I'm happy to tell my story," Beyonce said of the program, quickly adding, "On my terms."
It was casebook play by the diva who, with one hand draws in fans by posting private family photos of her, husband Jay-Z and baby daughter Blue Ivy alongside hand-written notes to the first lady on her carefully curated Tumblr. With the other, she keeps the media and public scrutiny of her life at arms distance.
Beyonce grants access, but reveals only what she wants us to see, when she wants us to see it, and often only what shows her in the best possible light. She controls her image and therefore her business. It’s a quest for perfection with herself as the most important monitor of success.
According to those who know her, she has been this way since childhood.
Beyonce’s younger sister Solange remembers that early dedication, telling GQ, “I have very, very early-on memories of her rehearsing in her room … taking a line out of a song or a routine and just doing it over and over and over again until it was perfect and it was strong.”
Such commitment to perfection paid off: Beyonce has sold over 75 million albums, starred in major Hollywood movies (“Dreamgirls,” “Austin Powers in Goldmember”), has been awarded 16 Grammys, signed an endorsement deal with Pepsi worth $50 million, remains heavily involved in her fashion brand House of Dereon, and looks set to embark on a concert tour to promote her soon to be released fifth studio album.
“I worked so hard during my childhood to achieve this goal,” Beyonce told GQ of sitting pretty atop the pop culture zeitgeist. “By the time I was 30 years old, I could do what I want.”
What’s even more noteworthy is that she has achieved such a position without the whiff of scandal or public embarrassments that so often plagues her contemporaries.
“She is so perfect – and if you think of other artists, no other artist has this aura of perfection,” says Audarshia Townsend, author of "Beyonce: A Biography." “Britney Spears has had all of her spills and scandals. Whitney Houston obviously, and Madonna… we can go down a list of artists.”
When rumors do surface – such as the somewhat ludicrous tabloid questions over whether the former Destiny’s Child singer was faking her pregnancy and using a surrogate – they rarely gain traction. “Beyonce does not respond,” Townsend says. “She has never responded to the surrogate accusations, she just brushes it off, keeps on moving and keeps making money. She is very powerful. Maybe behind the scenes, who knows what she is up to or what power she exerts? But publicly she does not address the rumors.”
“Beyonce seems to have really learned the lessons from every major pop star of the last 30 years – she has gotten all the good aspects of putting yourself out there, maintaining financial control over what you are doing but not falling into the trap off thinking that any publicity is good publicity,” said Delmont. “She is never in the headlines for strange things. She has all the upside with virtually none of the downside.”
That quest for public impeccability encompasses those around her, too, including husband Jay-Z.
“They are able to be hugely recognized and huge celebrities but at the same time there is almost something old-school Hollywood about them,” Delmont adds. “They are allowed to be in front of the camera when they are desirous of it, but beyond that we don’t really know much about their personal life.”
As Beyonce moves firmly back into the glare of the spotlight thanks to live performances, new tour and the HBO documentary, she is also laying the groundwork for the next chapter in the ongoing saga of Beyonce the brand.
“It’s hard for any pop star to be in the limelight for such a long period of time," says Delmont. "Over the next five to ten years she will have to make the transition into a not-young sex symbol but a more mature vibrant celebrity who is also sexy. That will have a lot to do with her music continuing to be good, but also how she carefully cultivates the image she has into an adult, grown up version.”
Outside of entertaining, Delmont believes that her marriage, baby, and coupling up with the Obamas can only help add seriousness to Beyonce's persona of near-perfection.