Under the Gilded Banner
By Megan Bedard
Photographed by Tony Duran
Icon status is an elusive, wild beast.
See, no matter how many times you don a black bodysuit and the bedazzled gloves you lovingly hand-stitched to reenact the by now ubiquitous wedding dance floor song "Single Ladies"—pause for a minute to appreciate how many 11-year-old girls have done that in the last four years—you'll never be as good as Beyoncé.
And that's what's to love about the great Queen Bey. She's a machine. She's untouchable. And she makes us feel fierce, by proximity.
Beyoncé's Midas touch is something she's well aware of, and she's advanced it strategically, indulging and delighting her vehemently devoted fans while embracing what spectacle—a staple of her performances—affords her: "the license to live vicariously, to visualize, to fantasize. To be bigger than yourself, bigger than life."
Over the course of her career, she's sculpted, coiffed, and polished her image to build a persona so globally recognizable, so singularly powerful, that it's departed from being anything remotely attainable to become something revered and ethereal. And perfect—which is what she says she strives for.
Even on Instagram, so named for its spontaneity, Beyoncé presents a clean, curated image that evenly projects each facet of her persona: In one photo, she bares her enviable midriff, further solidifying the organic sex appeal that gave life to the Oxford-approved term bootylicious; in another, she posts handwritten thank-you notes to her fans for their support in her philanthropic efforts. And lest you start to feel too distanced from her, there are reminders that she can be ghetto fab like the rest of us: a late night snack of Aiki noodles with Tabasco sauce, photographed on what looks like a fold-out card table. (And its intended effect is achieved: If you actually doubt that @Beyoncé could/would eat a cup of noodles, you ain't as real of a fan as you think. #teamhood #teamdirtysouth #teamquickmeals wrote one fan.)
It's that appearance of flawlessness that's kept her fans—who give new meaning to the term "fanatical" by readily adopting their status as worker bees—patiently anticipating an album that was expected in April. They wait because they know it's worth it. They wait because she is their Queen Bey. While she drafts new hooks and melodies, they'll hold their arms in the air, practicing: palm, knuckles, palm, knuckles.
The fifth album of her solo career has been in the works since summer of 2012, when she was in collab conversations with the likes of The-Dream, Timbaland, and Sia. Bits of the songs have been released via Pepsi commercials (Beyoncé's been tight with the soda brand since endorsing them in 2002) and clothing line H&M promos, but Beyoncé won't put her stamp on the album until she likes it, and that's not until it's dip-it, pop-it, shake-it, drop-it perfect. When you've sold 75 million records worldwide and won 17 Grammys, what choice is there?
Perfectionism, though, is a high-stakes game. "There's something really stressful about having to keep up with that," Beyoncé told her fans in her recent autobiographical film Life Is But a Dream, which, in true Beyoncé do-it-all fashion, she directed and executive produced. "You can't express yourself, you can't grow."
Surprisingly, the remark comes off as rather genuine; sure, it's a plea for people to empathize with one half of a billionaire couple, but it's a legitimate grievance. To keep the critics at bay and tabloids starved for dirt, Beyoncé has to behave every day in top form. There can be no flying off the rails, no emotional breakdowns. She can't afford a wardrobe malfunction, or a public gaffe spoken into a mic accidentally left on. What Life Is But a Dream intends to prove is that Beyoncé is human—and it does, to an extent. As Billboard said of the film: "The well-oiled, media-trained, hit-making machine has a heart. And it's huge."
That Beyoncé has a kind heart is no surprise if you're familiar with her philanthropic track record—she gave a quarter million dollars to Hurricane Katrina relief; helped raise $1 million to aid Haiti after the 2010 earthquake; and recently signed on to Gucci's widely successful Chime for Change campaign to promote equal rights for females. But there's something exceptionally satisfying about the reminder that Beyoncé has the same fundamental DNA as the rest of us.
(Well. In theory, at least. Few of us, doused in glitter head to toe and contorted into impossible positions would look so delicious as Bey does in the photos featured herein.)
From here, we leave the story of the Queen Bey to a tried and true method: asking the questions and letting Bey tell us what we need to know. Bow down.
Flaunt: A picnic planner is hoping to get lucky with his/her picnic companion. What's in the picnic basket?
Beyoncé: A cozy blanket, red wine, fruit, '90s R&B playing on my iPod. I don't think you need much else.
Gay men are drawn to you and empowered by you, as they have been to "gay icons" Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Cher, and Madonna. What is it about you, and those women, that gay men love?
I'm flattered if I'm in the company of those great women. I think they love that we are bold, unafraid to love, and flaunt our sexuality and strength.
What's up with gluten anyway?
I'm okay with gluten. Sunday pizza is a must for me!
Tyra Sanchez based his drag persona for "RuPaul's Drag Race" on you. What does it mean that someone who impersonates your "girl-power" persona is a man with a successful career as a female impersonator? Is there conflict there?
No conflict. I love it and Miss Tyra is fabulous!
What famous piece of architecture might you most like to do some necking in?
The Louvre, or under the Arc de Triomphe. Paris is a beautiful, sexy city.
Millennials make up a huge part of your fan base. Thousands of them have responded to your Instagram hashtag #beygood to promote goodwill. How do you feel about the media's take on youth as the "me me me" generation, or a generation of "slack-tivists" [people who are activists online but not in the real world]?
At my concerts I see the opposite. They are engaged in making a difference. We have collected tons of donations that will go towards creating jobs and helping people get jobs. That's something I want to celebrate. For Chime for Change we raised awareness and over $4 million in one day for equal rights for girls everywhere. So many people at that concert were young. They are more socially responsible than they get credit for.
Some were critical at your participating in a Pepsi campaign after you moved your body for childhood obesity. Where is the balance between your career objectives and your philanthropy?
Pepsi is a brand I've grown up seeing my heroes collaborate with. The company respects musicians and artistry. I wouldn't encourage any person, especially a child, to live life without balance.
When you work out, take care of your body, rehearse as hard as I rehearsed in the commercial, I think it's great to have a Pepsi or Diet Pepsi when you want one. It's all about choices.
What is your favorite kind of stain?
One piece of clothing you own that you absolutely couldn't live without?
A white T-shirt.
You have always carefully sculpted your image and controlled public access to your off-stage life. Is there anything to envy about stars who don't care about safeguarding their private lives?
I have chosen to keep certain aspects of my life private. But I also love sharing what makes me happy, especially through photography.
Is there a sex scandal in history that you find not so scandalous, and instead just kinda awesome?
Antony and Cleopatra. The legend of that love affair affected history and lives to this day.
A number of magazines list the top X number of ways to please your lover. Anything missing on these lists typically?
If you have to read those lists, you're already in trouble.
What's boring to you?
Lack of creativity.
Stylists: Ty Hunter and Raquel Smith and Jenke-Ahmed TAILLY
Hair: Kim Kimble at Kimblebeauty.com.
Makeup: Francesca Tolot for cloutierremix.com.
Beauty Notes: Monoi Body Glow II and Shimmer Eye Shadow in California by NARS Cosmetics, Photo Finish Foundation Primer, Studio Skin 15 Hour Wear Hydrating Foundation, Heat Wave Eye Shadow Palette, and Hyperlash Mascara by Smashbox Cosmetics, and Strobe Liquid, Lustre drops, and Glitter in Amethyst, Bronze, Copper, Emerald, and Very Pink by M.A.C Cosmetics, and Cheek Color in flush by Tom Ford.