Beyoncé and the art of online discretion

Although she is one of the world’s most revered artists, her day-to-day life remains one of pop’s best-kept secrets

Beyoncé during one of her performances. PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY
Beyoncé during one of her performances. PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY

It was no coincidence that Beyoncé's TikTok debut in mid-July occurred just as she released her new album, Renaissance. So far, she has uploaded all her music to the platform and shared a video montage of several fans dancing to her latest single, Break My Soul. In less than two hours, she clocked over three million followers. But, just as on her Instagram account, she herself follows no one. Not even Ivy Park, the sportswear firm she founded in 2016.

At this stage in her career, no one expects Beyoncé to be the star of viral dances or have her family participate in the TikTok challenge of the day. In fact, her online reserve makes her a rare bird in the world of pop. No one knows who her closest friends are, what the inside of her numerous properties look like or how she spends her free time outside the recording studio or offstage.

Unlike Madonna, an avid Instagrammer, or Doja Cat and Azealia Banks, who fuel ever more controversies under the watchful eye of their ever-dwindling fanbase, Beyoncé has adopted a completely different strategy, keeping alive the mystery behind the public figure. Despite being universally famous, Beyoncé's day-to-day is as unknown to us as that of Enya or Kate Bush.

“I’m grateful I have the ability to choose what I want to share,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “One day I decided I wanted to be like Sade and Prince. I wanted the focus to be on my music, because if my art isn’t strong enough or meaningful enough to keep people interested and inspired, then I’m in the wrong business. My music, my films, my art, my message - that should be enough.”

In the same article, Beyoncé said: “Throughout my career, I’ve been intentional about setting boundaries between my stage persona and my personal life. My family and friends often forget the side of me that is the beast in stilettos until they are watching me perform. It can be easy to lose yourself very quickly in this industry. In this business, so much of your life does not belong to you unless you fight for it. A lot of who I am is reserved for the people I love and trust. Those who don’t know me and have never met me might interpret that as being closed off. Trust, the reason those folks don’t see certain things about me is because my Virgo ass does not want them to see it.... It’s not because it doesn’t exist!”

This division between the public and private Beyoncé goes way back. In fact, it began in 2003 following the massive success of the single, Crazy in Love, and her debut album, Dangerously in Love. At that point she realized that she could be more successful solo than with Destiny’s Child, the girl band she fronted in the 1990s. “I don’t want to get addicted to fame,” she told Rolling Stone at the time. “Then, when I’m no longer famous I won’t know what to do and I’ll just seem desperate and lose my mind.”

However, the biggest turning point came in March 2011. Three months before Album 4 was released, she fired her first and only manager to date: her father, Mathew Knowles. “When I turned 18 and started handling my business more, he went into shock,” she confessed in the 2013 documentary Life Is But a Dream, released on HBO. “And we had our issues. I would say no to something, and he would book it anyway. Then I had to do it because it would look bad [if I didn’t]. We would fight sometimes and it took about two years – to when I was 20 – for him to realize, ‘Oh, she’s an adult now, and if she doesn’t want to do something, I can’t make her do it.’”

Once she achieved her longed-for creative independence, Beyoncé was finally able to control her image herself. But despite this, she has not always been able to avoid controversy, most notably in 2014 when, right after the MET gala, her sister, Solange, became embroiled in a spat with her husband, Jay-Z, in the elevator of the Standard Hotel in New York in Beyoncé's presence. Leaked by TMZ a few days later, the video fueled countless rumors, mostly on account of the lack of a reaction from Beyoncé.

Subsequently, no more than a brief statement was released: “As a result of the public release of the elevator security footage from Monday, May 5th, there has been a great deal of speculation about what triggered the unfortunate incident. But the most important thing is that our family has worked through it. Jay and Solange each assume their share of responsibility for what has occurred. They both have apologized to each other, and we have moved forward as a united family. We’ve put this behind us and hope everyone else will do the same.”

Since the couple married on April 4, 2008, there have been rumors in the American media of alleged infidelities on behalf of Jay-Z. These were initially met with silence. However, that changed on April 23, 2016, with the release of Lemonade, an album that saw Beyoncé not only address her marital crisis, but also go as far as to name one of her husband’s lovers in the song Sorry, calling her Becky, “with the good hair.”

The following year, on the full-length 4:44 studio album, Jay-Z included a track titled Family Feud in which he acknowledged he had strayed and apologized to his wife. In 2018, the two embarked on their second joint tour, On the Run II, which grossed $254 million over 58 dates. Financially, it benefited both stars. But Beyoncé came out on top: her marital crisis had served to bring her closer to her legion of fans. Since then, the most enigmatic icon of American pop has kept those keen to surmise and analyze at bay: no televised interviews, and social media accounts that are little short of a fashion editorial.

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