Sunday 23 April 2017

Beyonce is crazy in love with life

Beyoncé's not just a pop star, writes Ailbhe Malone. From a girl who knew her destiny was to be a singer, she's fought hard to become an international icon

Ailbhe Malone

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles is arguably the biggest star of this century. Bigger than Bieber. Bigger than Gaga. She's got 16 Grammy Awards. She won Billboard's Millennium award before she was 30 years old. As of September 2009, she had sold 75 million records worldwide. She's the most successful female recording artist of the past decade, and yet remains utterly enigmatic -- refusing to ever speak about her marriage to fellow mogul Jay-Z. In this age of reality stars, mystery may seem quaintly old-fashioned to some, but it's the backbone of an icon.

Born in 1981, Beyoncé was raised in Houston, Texas, along with her younger sister Solange (who's also a singer in her own right) by her parents, Matthew and Tina. Up until recently, Matthew was Beyoncé's manager, and Tina is the head of the House of Deréon, which formerly designed all of Destiny's Child's stage wear. Beyoncé won her first talent contest aged seven, and by nine she was in a all-girl group named Girl's Tyme. Destiny's Child followed soon after.

Reflecting, Beyoncé has stated: "When our first single came out I was 15. My lyrics, and my goals, are completely different now. In the beginning, I was so happy to be in a studio and so hungry for us just to sell half a million records. Now I want to create something that I'll be proud of 20, 30, 40 years from now -- something that will last beyond me. The things that used to excite me just don't any more. I'm always trying to challenge myself."

But even though she speaks of her past in terms of her legacy, she concedes that "socially, I did miss out. I left school at 14 and had a tutor. I was never exposed to people long enough to make friends, so my family became my friends".

She continues, saying that although she didn't feel confident around teens, she always felt "comfortable" on stage. "I was awkward around other kids but felt comfortable on the stage. I said to my mum, 'there is no way this will work, but I am going to be a singer'."

Destiny's Child had something of a revolving door line-up -- and Beyoncé regularly came under fire for cast changes. This resulted in a period of depression for the singer, which lasted several years. Beyoncé struggled to explain her state to anyone -- fearing that because Destiny's Child had won their first Grammy Award, nobody would take her seriously.

"Now that I was famous, I was afraid I'd never find somebody again to love me for me. I was afraid of making new friends." Reflecting on that era, she says "There were certain moments when I was 18 and I'd look out of the window to see girls going to parties with their boyfriends and think, 'How am I ever going to meet anybody?' I couldn't just go on a date, and nobody was going to ask me out. I was working too hard and not exposed to people my own age."

She's been accused of being emotionally vacant in interviews -- something she attributes as a need to guard her privacy. Fittingly, giving her performance-focused childhood, it seems that she's only open on stage -- entirely comfortable with the audience and the attention. Beyoncé has said: "I get really uncomfortable when I'm not performing on the stage or on a photo shoot and have too many people looking at me, expecting a performance. It makes me kind of shut down and become shy.

"I'm better at one-on-one conversations. I do become shy and a bit intimidated when it's a large group of people, I definitely retreat. At a big dinner, I just hope that no one expects anything from me. I wish I'd disappear."

However, in candid photographs of her and husband Jay-Z, she glows -- and a six-month break seems to have done her the world of good, she concedes. "What was great was having this normal life of sleeping, getting up, going to an office and then coming home. I even did some cooking, although I didn't really enjoy that. I'm not the greatest cook -- I can do good things with oxtail, though. It was great just having the time to be a wife rather than this non-stop travelling career girl."

Beyoncé seems at ease with who she is, and how she wants to be, and feels ready to put her alter-ego Sasha Fierce to one side. "I don't need Sasha so much any more because these days I know who I am. It takes time to figure out who you are and I am still discovering different things about myself. As I am exposed to different experiences I think, 'Oh, I like this, I didn't know I liked this'. That's the journey of life that is so exciting. More and more I know who I am, I know what I like, I know what I want and that makes me feel so free. I don't need to hide any more."

This newfound confidence comes across on her new album 4. Preceded by the Major Lazer-sampling Girls, it's the sound of a woman who has always known what she wanted, but now notices what she needs. Beyoncé has mentioned before that on 4 she aimed to use the rawer qualities of her voice, and it comes across. She's always been an emotional singer, but this time -- especially on album opener 1+1 -- it sounds as if she's singing from the heart rather than her diaphragm. Beyoncé's experimented with form before -- most notably on her debut solo album B Day. Get Me Bodied is eight minutes in length, and is easily the predecessor to the rhythm-focused Single Ladies. Equally, it could be argued that Ring the Alarm has echoes of Girls (Run the World).

She's delighted with 4, though. "It's definitely riskier than something a bit more... simple. I just heard the track and loved that it was so different: it felt a bit African, a bit electronic and futuristic. It reminded me of what I love, which is mixing different cultures and eras -- things that typically don't go together -- to create a new sound. I can never be safe; I always try and go against the grain. As soon as I accomplish one thing, I just set a higher goal. That's how I've gotten to where I am.

"I'm over being a pop star. I don't wanna be a hot girl. I wanna be iconic. And I feel like I've accomplished a lot. I feel like I'm highly respected, which is more important than any award or any amount of records. And I feel like there comes a point when being a pop star is not enough."

4 is reviewed on page 11

Beyoncé will play the main stage at Oxegen on Sunday, 10 July

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