Music

Beyonce’s Superstardom Is A Masterful Balance Of Mystery And Accessibility

There’s simple, straight to the point marketing, then there’s a Beyoncé announcement. Earlier this month, the music icon announced Black Is King visual album with a simple trailer. Few people knew exactly what the visual was, but speculation hit a fever pitch. The moment harkened to the Homecoming documentary announcement, which was a Netflix tweet of a photo and release date.

Beyoncé fanpage @theyoncehub joked that the pitch meeting for Homecoming consisted of Beyoncé telling Netflix to “tweet it the week before with no caption or context,” because “they’ll know.” And even if they don’t, the Beyhive will anxiously anticipate whatever she announces just because.

Beyoncé is a superstar of superstars. There’s a reason that her Instagram posts are loaded with comments from other celebrities acting like stans. Imagine how big of a star one must be to have Drake bringing them drinks at basketball games or incite jokes about Jay-Z being the mere sidekick of their relationship. She’s earned that stature not just with her catalog, but through a prodigious work ethic, an unforgettable live show, and the discernment to nurture her fans’ fascination through image conservation. You’ll never catch her slippin’ cause you’ll rarely catch her at all.

She undoubtedly has a mystique — but she’s relatable at the same time. Fans find personal solace in her love for her hometown Houston and her deep vulnerability about marriage and pregnancy struggles throughout the years. Consider the dichotomy of having fans belt out her “Flawless” lyrics while resonating with an earnest essay in part about embracing her FUPA.

Every star operates in their comfort zone. Some artists are introverted recluses, and some can’t stop oversharing on social media. Somewhere in the middle, high above the fray, is Beyoncé, who is a master of balancing mystery and accessibility.

One could credit Beyoncé’s 30 years of industry experience with shaping her dynamism. She was cultivating her artistry before social media was a thing and TMZ could catch you at the most awkward angles possible. Stardom was protected by PR and limited access in the ’90s, giving stars the ability to tell their own story.

Michael Jackson was the era’s superstar of superstars. Even as the tabloids dogged him, the fans who chose to ignore or disbelieve scandalous allegations could simply feed into the “King Of Pop” mystique. He knew that fans wanted to believe in something bigger than themselves, and he projected it to them. His 1993 Superbowl XXVII performance started with him appearing simultaneously at opposite ends of the stadium (symbolizing his ubiquity) and standing in place for two minutes, radiating that even being in his presence was a privilege. His music video premieres would be simulcast on multiple TV channels, essentially making him a trending topic before it was a thing. Similar to a young Kobe studying Michael Jordan, Beyoncé saw all of this and incorporated the knack for spectacle into her momentous live performance.

In a 2014 letter, she said that Jackson, who is polarizing, but undeniably impactful, “changed her and helped me to become the artist I am.” She recalled her first producer making her watch Jackson’s live performance of “Who’s Loving You” on a “back to back to back” basis for hours. From afar she absorbed his work ethic, careful cultivation of his image, and absorbed the idea that “you could hear his soul,” as she described.

Her own god-given gifts have manifested a similar brand of fandom. It’s harder to maintain privacy in 2020, but Beyoncé does her best. She’s joked about fellow partygoers signing nondisclosures — but the dearth of info that comes out about her infers that maybe she’s only half-joking. Her relationship with Jay-Z is one of the world’s most scrutinized partnerships, but they’ve been meticulous about what they let the public in on. But they’ve both spilled when it was time to let the people hear their soul.

Their 2014 Met Gala incident, in which Solange accosted Jay-Z, was infamously memed as the fight that spawned three classic albums — including the one that most exemplified Beyoncé’s lyrical vulnerability: Lemonade.

Music video director Melina Matsoukas, who directed “Formation,” has said that Beyoncé “wanted to show the historical impact of slavery on Black love” with the 65-minute visual companion to her personal excavation. The project focused heavily on her relationship with Jay-Z, her parents, and how her conditioning — and theirs — affected her womanhood.

Lemonade’s cultural relevance is a form of access in itself. Being accessible isn’t just about being on social media; it’s about engaging an audience on terms they understand, in ways they appreciate. There was a renewed push for more Black imagery in 2010s pop culture, and Beyoncé fed that better than anyone. Lemonade’s lyrical content contributed heavily to already-relevant dialogues of infidelity, generational trauma, self-worth, and body image. And the Lemonade film showed Beyoncé engaging with Black fans through their shared heritage instead of a carefully curated, larger-than-life aesthetic typical of much popular music. It was undoubtedly this generation’s biggest star at her creative zenith — but it wasn’t about supremacy as much as community.

She also keeps up that connection by staying attentive to what’s going on in the culture. It may seem like because she and Jay-Z are secluded they’re detached from what’s going on — but neither of them miss a thing. There are numerous examples of her being aware of what’s going on at the moment, from her aforementioned contributions to progressive discussions, to doing the Shmoney dance in 2014, to her “Apesh!t,” “Top Off,” and “Savage” remix verses, which all sounded fresh and of their moment. One has to stay on top of the game’s movements to stay on top of their game commercially, and Beyoncé embodies that dynamic.

Her work ethic is momentous, and nothing demonstrated that more than 2019’s Homecoming, another personal offering from the Queen. The Netflix documentary chronicled the leadup to her 2018 Coachella performance — a set so spectacular that it spurred debate about who was better between her and MJ. It would have been simple enough for Beyoncé to merely leave fans awestruck at what she did that night, but Homecoming let fans be a fly on the wall while observing the personal obstacles she overcame toward the moment.

Fans were made aware of the difficulties of her pregnancy with Rumi and Sir Carter, and her journey to get down from a post-pregnancy 218 pounds. She allowed candid access to her day-to-day life, showing aspirant viewers the symbiotic relationship between sacrifice, dedication, and achievement. Her fans often joke about her utter perfection, but Homecoming displayed a level of humility and resilience that makes her highs even more impressive.

Cultural ubiquity isn’t given; it’s earned. The most underrated aspect of stardom is being able to handle stardom. There are many celebrities who have offput fans with errant tweets, impulsive comments, and overall grating personalities. But in 20+ years, one would be hard-pressed to find moments where Beyoncé undermined her stardom or overplayed her hand. She’s both vulnerable and exclusive, candid and alluring at once. That mesh is what has allowed her to become — and stay — an icon.

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