Beyoncé is right now on the cover of Vogue. Go to a newsstand and there she is, looking absolutely fierce and flawless.
But there’s something different about this September issue: Buy it, take a flip through, and you’ll find that there isn’t a single word from Beyoncé in all of the 832 pages. Instead, a short essay about Beyoncé’s fame and stardom, written by critic Margo Jefferson (who won a Pulitzer for criticism when she worked at the New York Times), accompanies the photo spread. “It was definitely posed to me as. . . call it a think piece if you want,” Jefferson told the New York Times about the Vogue story. “I had no contact with her camp.”
Though models are rarely asked for interviews when they book glossy magazine covers, celebrities usually consent to an accompanying written profile. But not Beyoncé. At least not anymore (when she appeared on Vogue covers in 2009 and 2013, she did talk to journalists).
This is all newish. At some point in the past year and a half to two years (perhaps around the time of the The Elevator incident?) Beyoncé gave up all direct contact with the media. In fact, back in May, her publicist told the New York Times that Beyoncé had not answered a direct interview question in over a year — the only way they got answers from her about her vegan diet was through email. If you’re thinking, “wait I feel like I know a lot about Beyoncé,” that’s likely because you’ve watched her documentary and even flipped through her vacation photos — all of which curate a heavily-controlled image.
Clearly, Bey doesn’t need to talk to the press in order to maintain her level of success — the media writes about her with the same impassioned fervor as ever, and her records and concert tickets are still selling strong. But why has she given up interviewing? “She has to be studying how effective her interviews have been so far,” Jefferson told the New York Times. “She may have decided that they do not contribute as dazzlingly to the portrait of Beyoncé as the other stuff. It’s a perfectly reasonable decision.”
Arguably, Beyoncé’s decision to give up on interviews is empowering. She knows her worth, power, and stardom, and she decided that she doesn’t owe anyone anything — not even Vogue.
Yale professor Daphne A. Brooks, who teaches a class about black women in popular music culture and is writing a book on the subject (both of which include Beyoncé), told the New York Times that she views Beyoncé’s privacy in the wake of her stardom as a “hard-won privilege” — something African-American women have rarely been granted in the past. “She’s been able to reach this level of stardom in which she’s managed — in a way that I really think is unique even among other black women entertainers — hyper-visibility and inaccessibility simultaneously,” Professor Brooks told the New York Times.
In an age where celebrities are becoming closer and closer to their fans with mediums such as Twitter and Instagram, Beyoncé has chosen to speak not a word. Her Instagrams are usually caption-free and her Twitter is a perfect representation of Beyoncé’s status; her latest tweet was in August of 2013 (though who knows if that was truly her, or a member of her team), yet her fans don’t care — she still has over 14.1 million followers.
— Beyoncé Knowles (@Beyonce) August 19, 2013
Clearly there’s a reason — image, control, nerves, creative directive — why Bey isn’t giving interviews. Maybe she doesn’t like to give interviews and would rather focus on her family, or her art. Whatever it is, she’s not backing down. And if that’s not empowering, we don’t know what is.
Images via Instagram