How Beyoncé Keeps the Internet Obsessed With Her

The singer's social media presence combines faux intimacy and calculated messages that make events out of her most normal moments.
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Beyoncé—every day, she seems more like us. She gets haircuts (last week, she sheared her mane). She rides her bike to work ("work" being her final Barclays Center concert). She spends quality time with her daughter. But when Beyoncé does these things, the Internet erupts with a flurry of blog posts. What's the meaning of her new haircut, and why do we care? What influence will her cycling jaunt across the Brooklyn Bridge have on New Yorkers? Five photos of family time from her Tumblr even merited their own Business Insider story. Just imagine what would happen if Beyoncé uploaded a photo of herself watching Sharknado.

This kind of attention isn't unheard of for celebrities, who routinely get their picture taken for no reason and whose Internet activities are endlessly scrutinized. But Beyoncé's relationship with the media is different. She's neither the most prolific nor the most-followed on social media, but Beyoncé's mix of seemingly authentic and personal content with tightly controlled, strategic messages represents a uniquely effective way of building buzz.

As a performer, Beyoncé has made perfection and fierceness her brand, which turns everyday glimpses of her personal life online into mini-events. Fans maintain this status, too, deifying her with nicknames like Beysus and King Bey that expect and encourage flawlessness, not mortality.

As we've already learned from her self-directed HBO documentary, which was basically a two-hour selfie, and her GQ cover story, which revealed how she's videotaped every interview she's ever done, Bey is selective about her image in a way her peers aren't. Rihanna posts so much skin on Instagram that when she uploads another semi-nude shot, it gets written up with little surprise. Justin Bieber's account is similarly all-access, but it, too, lacks Beyoncé's discipline and thought-out messaging. Lady Gaga's social media posts are as selective and calculated as Beyonce's, but they read like routine stunts. It's Beyoncé's combination of careful curation and illusion of intimacy that makes her feeds so enticing.

But for however much she gives the impression of tasteful restraint in dealing with the media, Beyoncé is also unique in how she gins up attention. Artists like Grimes have been vocal about their distaste for having tweets and Tumblr posts repackaged as blog fodder, but not only does Beyoncé not seem to mind, she embraces it. Beyoncé doesn't just write a hand-written letter to Michelle Obama expressing her admiration; she makes a whole video about it so you know she wrote it, too. Beyoncé doesn't just post a tour picture on Tumblr; she picks a hysterical shot of a fan with the tag "#my work," inviting it to become a meme that spreads the word of Beysus.

Where some stars use publicists to chase down rumors and make denials of varying credibility, Beyoncé just fires up her laptop. It's the TMZ-era version of "show, don't tell."

She can turn other stars' good news into her own public relations triumphs with mere taps of an iPhone: There's no event too personal, too deserving of privacy for her to refrain from hijacking it. When Frank Ocean published a coming-out letter of sorts last summer, Beyoncé's response—a handwritten poem she posted to Tumblr—led the wave of "Stars Support Frank Ocean" round-ups. When her friends Kanye West and Kim Kardashian welcomed baby girl North West in June, Beyoncé made similar headlines after firing up Photoshop to design a congratulatory black-and-white image stamped with her signature font. And her encouraging letter to Destiny's Child bandmate Michelle Williams complimenting her time on Broadway probably got just as much attention as Williams's actual Broadway stint did.

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Nolan Feeney is a former producer for TheAtlantic.com.

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