Ahead of tonight’s performance at Croke Park, Carolyn Moore pays tribute to a true music icon.
The release of Lemonade and the Formation tour have made 2016 the year of Beyoncé. A vocal social commentator, she hasn’t given an interview in over a year, crafting and protecting her public image as she has grown ever more aware of the power she wields.
TO PARAPHRASE a tweet that went viral after David Bowie’s death: If you’re ever sad, just remember, the world is billions of years old and somehow you managed to exist at the same time as Beyoncé.
For tonight’s capacity crowd at Croke Park, merely existing in tandem with the world’s greatest entertainer is not enough.
Tonight they will breathe the same air and bear witness to the quasi-religious experience that is Beyoncé, live.
80,000 Irish fans are preparing to get in formation and watch her slay, because in case you missed it, she slays, and 2016 has seen her slay harder and stronger than ever.
Declared artist of decade by The Guardian in 2009, her unstoppable traction as a creative force and her impact on pop culture are such that it’s almost impossible at this point to envisage anyone stealing that title from her at the end of this decade.
Whether it’s the Oxford English Dictionary offering an official definition for “bootylicious”; everyone from your five-year-old niece to your 75-year-old aunt breaking out the ‘Single Ladies’ hand dance at a wedding; or the surprise drop of her 2013 eponymous “visual album” changing the way pop music is marketed and consumed, Beyoncé’s ability to indelibly alter the pop cultural landscape is virtually unparalleled.
The release this year of her latest album, Lemonade — socially, personally, emotionally her most complex work to date — not only gifted the world with dozens of new memeable phrases (just ask Becky with the good hair), but revealed her to be peerless when it comes to her power as a performer to shift the world on its axis and change, then dominate, the conversation.
As she drawls in the final bars of ‘Formation’ — the lead single from and closing track on Lemonade — “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation”, and while Beyoncé has always been skilled at stoking the flames of the public’s fascination with her, these words nonetheless felt somewhat prophetic in the wake of ‘Formation’s release, as it spawned think-piece after think-piece, ruminating on everything from its lyrical affirmation of black female power to its visual support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
If the impact of ‘Formation’ wasn’t immediately evident after its release on February 6, by the next day it was undeniable.
The comedian Sarah Silverman put it best when she tweeted: “Can anyone else in the history of the world release a song and the same day (or within 24 hours) sing it at the motherf***ing Super Bowl and we all know the words?”
As Silverman articulated, in the space of a single weekend, with the surprise release of a single track, Beyoncé had once again exercised her singular ability to be that bitch who cause all this conversation.
Not content to merely survey and reflect the cultural landscape she has reigned over for almost two decades, she instead took a bulldozer to it, with a visually arresting, politically charged statement of intent; a thematic precursor to the ideas she would go on to explore on Lemonade.
Immediately hammering the message home with a powerful, spotlight-stealing performance at the Super Bowl — defying middle America to reject her blackness, her baby’s afro hair, her love of Jackson Five nostrils — was classic Beyoncé, always in complete control of her narrative; our consumption of her output always strictly on her terms.
Immediately following the performance with the announcement of a ‘Formation’ tour was our next indicator that 2016 was set to be the Year of Beyoncé, rolled out with the same level of military precision with which she and her army of Black Panther-esque dancers had just hijacked Super Bowl Sunday.
Not everyone can sell out a stadium tour on the strength of one new song that fans have had one day to sit with, but as Beyoncé knows, her work is no longer passively consumed, it is feverishly devoured; a response she has cultivated by spending the past few years rewriting the rules of modern celebrity and casting herself as a lone enigma in a sea of over-sharers.
Precision could be Beyoncé’s middle name, so meticulous has she been about building her brand on her terms, crafting and protecting her public image as she has grown ever more aware of the power she wields and ever more willing to embrace it.
Her alter ego, Sasha Fierce, has long since been retired, and gone is the girl who admitted she was “embarrassed” to suggest the line “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly” to her Destiny’s Child band mates.
In their place is a woman so supremely confident in her ability to define and shape the culture we live in that when Lemonade debuted as a short film on HBO, the merchandise instantly available on Beyoncé.com was emblazoned with Hot Sauce, Slay, the aforementioned Becky — the buzz words and soon-to-be-trending hashtags placed there by design to capture the public imagination and allow her to shape the online discourse.
For Beyoncé, shaping the conversation about Beyoncé has become a crucial aspect of her brand, and with its exploration of infidelity, the road to Lemonade seems founded in the one incident when her façade of perfection was allowed to slip.
After a post-Met Gala party in 2014 had seemingly passed without incident, leaked CCTV footage from a lift subsequently showed her sister, Solange, engaged in a blazing, physical row with her husband, Jay Z, making headlines around the world and raising questions about their marriage that the couple have refused to address, we assume until now.
Lest there be any doubt in this post-‘Formation’ world that the new, socially aware Beyoncé is uniquely positioned to fully comprehend and harness the power of Beyoncé, she has spoken in the past of her responsibility as her own archivist to curate her every waking moment and decide what to bestow upon future generations.
To this end she has become utterly uncompromising in how and when she communicates with her public, and last year her representative told the New York Times that Beyoncé “has not answered any direct questions for more than a year.”
T’S NOW been more than two years since she gave a direct, unfiltered interview, and the more her creative output has become loaded with social significance, the more she has determined the work should speak for itself.
Releasing occasional videos to her website, or — as was the case in the HBO Beyoncé documentary she wrote, produced and directed herself — answering questions she has pre-approved or scripted, the control remains firmly in her hands.
This while many celebrities — even those approaching her peak A-list status — are engaged in a hard sell that involves keeping fans and the media sweet by offering all access, all the time, rules that simply no longer apply to Beyoncé.
Case in point, when she covered the coveted September issue of Vogue last year the shoot was accompanied by a profile rather than a traditional interview, proving that even Anna Wintour bends to her will; and when she won the Style Icon award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America last month she used her acceptance speech to scold the fashion industry for its lack of inclusivity.
“Starting out in Destiny’s Child,” she told the assembled fashion elite, “high-end labels didn’t really want to dress four black, country, curvy girls.
“But we have the opportunity to contribute to a society where any girl can look at a billboard or magazine cover and see her own reflection,” she continued, her speech at once powerful, timely, significant, and now — for a strong, feminist, outspoken Beyoncé, proud black mother to a young black daughter — completely on-brand.
Proving she has transcended her position as a mere cultural influencer and is ready to step up and become a vocal social commentator who uses her power to affect social change, it’s a bold new era in the life and times of Beyoncé.
I, for one, have stepped into formation, and I’m ready to sit back and enjoy the show.
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