Her little sister Solange, a singer with her own following, has come to represent other things. One of them is, of course, the stereotypical drama that people imagine to be inherent in show-business families, where one sibling must compete with the other. But she’s also a torchbearer for a kind of counterculture. Solange is the hipster sister; she covers Dirty Projector songs and her producer is a Pitchfork darling.
So you have these sort of symbolic figures, the kind who give credence to the common interpretation of celebrity culture as a modern-day manifestation of the same desires that fueled Greek mythology. The Knowles-Carters are gods not necessarily because people worship them (though plenty of people’s fandom is so fervent as to resemble worship) but because many perceive them—fairly or not—to embody abstract ideals.
Getting a glimpse into what appears to be a truly private, personal moment for these three is alluring enough. But then you have Solange appearing to angrily attack Jay Z and being restrained by a bodyguard, as Beyoncé stands more or less composed off to the side. All of this is happening at one of the most glamorous celebrity events in the world. And, as there’s no audio, there’s an irresistible mystery: Why did this happen?
This is epic-level drama. This is the stuff of fan fiction. This is as good as Game of Thrones.
2. As Human Tragedy
Then you remember: These are real human beings with real inner lives and real relations. Whatever happened in that elevator was undoubtedly painful and sad. You can find plenty of speculation already; most of the non-jokey theories involve loved ones betraying one another, or substance abuse, or mental illness.
That inherent ugliness, of course, is a big part of what’s fascinating. There’s almost comfort in it, as with reality TV—it’s the kind of drama we each personally have known in our day-to-day lives turned into a collective, pass-the-popcorn viewing experience. You can’t defend that impulse, really, when you remember that mass attention can only make life more difficult for the people you’re paying attention to. But I don’t know how well you can fight it.
3. As a Culture-War Kickoff
What’s in the video inevitably will be interpreted in relation to those abstract ideals that Beyonce, Jay Z, and Solange are seen as standing for. Already, people are raising the notion of a racial element to the discussion around the video, with the music critic Brandon Soderberg worrying that some will use it to vilify those involved as conforming to "ghetto" stereotypes.
Gender relations will be at issue. Some commenters have praised Jay Z for not hitting Solange back; others have said it’s screwed up that anyone would need to praise a man for not hitting a woman.
As for political implications? Well, Jay Z and Beyoncé are famously friends of the White House. It’s probably only hours until we hear from Bill O’Reilly on this.