Chart-topper, glamour wife, style icon, filmmaker, new mom, business mogul—Beyoncé is at the height of her powers and writing her own script.
Has there ever been a steeper, stranger, more rollicking two-week roller coaster in American pop-cultural life than the one Beyoncé Knowles rode from the middle of January (not long after I interviewed her for Vogue) into early February? The craziness started, of course, with that national anthem on the Capitol steps; Beyoncé’s soaring rendition was lavishly praised at first, but then it was revealed to have been sung to a prerecorded track. The resulting uproar was noisy and blustery and as close to a scandal as Beyoncé had experienced in her life; for an artist accustomed to controlling the narrative, it was unfamiliar, awkward territory. It got nasty—Beyoncé was shoved forward as a symbol of a synthetic generation—and yet she said nothing for ten days, until surfacing in a white Olcay Gulsen minidress at a Super Bowl press conference in New Orleans on January 31. There, she opened by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” again—clearly live—in a soulful and satisfying and very much Beyoncé way. As a bit of crisis-management stagecraft, it was a knockout, and after Beyoncé sailed through to the “home of the brave,” she smiled and offered two words to her skeptics:
Sure, there was still the Super Bowl, perhaps an even more treacherous high wire, given its ludicrous logistics (a megastage to be assembled and stripped apart between halves of a football game) and a global audience in the hundreds of millions. But from the moment Beyoncé appeared at the Superdome midfield, left hand on hip—below an enormous, flaming silhouette of herself, left hand on hip—it was obvious she brought a motive and probably a little bit of a grudge. The Super Bowl is no shrine, and there’s always something a little ridiculous about it (New Kids on the Block once got this gig), but Beyoncé’s performance was conspicuous in its determination to project authenticity: real energy, real dancing, and yes, real-as-hell singing. She powered through a hailstorm of hits, briefly being joined by her Destiny’s Child colleagues Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland for a medley and a brush of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” It was impossible not to be taken by Beyoncé’s sheer relentlessness—in Proenza Schouler boots, no less. It was as if she was chasing all that post-Inauguration doubt down a narrow corridor, blasting a pair of laser guns. Minutes after she finished, almost poetically, the power would bonk out in the Superdome. Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z, sent out a triumphant tweet from the darkness: “Lights out!!! Any questions??”