On Saturday night, Beyoncé dominated cable airwaves. She appeared in a last-minute, hour-long sit down with Oprah Winfrey at 8PM, then immediately after she debuted Life is But a Dream, a 90-minute documentary about her life. I watched, curious about the sudden about-face from the notoriously guarded entertainer. After two and half consecutive hours of all Beyoncé everything, I was impressed by her latest media campaign—Oprah and HBO on the same night?!—but not fooled.
In each of the prior “B-seasons,” the anticipated time of year when she blitzes every news, entertainment and lifestyle publication and site to promote her new projects, the reigning Queen of Pop has posed for breathtaking photo shoots, and her energetic performances—always in high heels—have created an allure that leave her beauty and work ethic are rarely, if ever, questioned. Where Beyoncé has always fallen short is in interviews.
She’s always seemed careful and rehearsed, giving the “nice” answer that wouldn’t make waves instead of what she we all thought she had to be thinking, if anything. That wouldn’t have been so bad, if there weren’t so many unanswered questions about her top-secret marriage to Jay-Z, the unconventional name for her child and the blanket she insisted on keeping over her head in a very Michael Jackson-esque way. In her attempts to maintain privacy, Beyoncé was beginning to come off as impersonal, unrelatable and frankly, weird. It’s why the rumors that she wore a fake-bump for six months and had a surrogate carry her baby were able to persist in the minds of otherwise logical people.
This all matters because it explains how Life is But a Dream, billed as a “revealing” portrait of Beyoncé came to be. And Beyoncé indirectly says as much right upfront in a staged interview where she sits on a white couch, sans makeup looking casual and actually seeming comfortable in an interview for the first time ever. (And why shouldn’t she be? She’s controlling the camera, the questions, and the editing.)
“When Nina Simone put out music, you loved her voice,” Beyoncé explains. “That’s what she wanted you to love. That’s what — that was her instrument… You didn’t get brainwashed by her day-to-day life and what her child is wearing and who she’s dating and, you know, all the things that really — it’s not your business, you know? And it shouldn’t influence the way you listen to the voice and the art. But it does.”
Sales were undoubtedly impressive for Beyoncé’s last album, 4, but lower than the two preceding releases, despite the quality of the music. It would be ignorant to overlook the affects of the enduring recession, but when you’re a global superstar sales are supposed to go up, not down. It’s no coincidence that in the aftermath of 4 and the crazier by the day rumors, the very private artist was now up for sharing via personal photos on Tumblr, and later, Instagram and now, a sit down with Oprah and a carefully constructed documentary about her life.