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.
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.
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.
These powers come in handy when Beyoncé needs to perform damage control. After rumors of a second pregnancy took off this past spring, she fired back with Tumblr pictures of her and husband Jay Z kicking back with a bottle of wine. The post was notable for two reasons. First, it’s the perfect example of just how much thought and effort Beyoncé puts into broadcasting her desired message while still trying to seem casual and candid. Second, by publishing to her own account, that message gained immediate authority: It’s straight from the source, end of story. 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."
This year, Beyoncé saw the limits of just how much she can micromanage her own news cycle. She's lost control over the narrative of her upcoming album despite the elaborate promotional campaign she lined up in the early months of 2013: The GQ story hyped her A-list collaborators, her Super Bowl halftime performance was near-flawless, tickets for her Mrs. Carter tour were wildly in demand, and then... nothing. A Pepsi commercial teased supposed first single "Grown Woman," but it never arrived in full outside of an unfinished leak. Another commercial, from H&M, debuted part of "Standing in the Sun," but it, too, never saw an official release. During the subsequent months of radio silence, members of her loyal BeyHive started to turn, getting nasty on Twitter when Beyoncé dared to promote Kelly Rowland's album instead of delivering news of her own. The latest word is she's scrapped close to 50 songs to start the album over from scratch, and a representative of the singer told The Hollywood Reporter "there was never an album release date" at all.
Perhaps the takeaway here is the same one Beyoncé learned from her National Anthem lip-syncing incident and her failed crackdown on BuzzFeed's "unflattering" photos: The more you try to control your moment, the easier it can backfire. The more spotless your record is, the easier dirt shows.
But Beyoncé's real lesson is that she doesn't need a nameless rep to do her spin work. To get fans back on her side, all she needs to do is strike a pose and snap a selfie. Scribble something down on a napkin, slap on an Instagram filter, and let the Internet do the rest.