Billion Dollars In An Elevator: Beyonce’s Calculated Authenticity
On her current tour with Jay Z, Beyoncé sings a song called “Resentment” from her 2006 album B’Day. On the original version of the song, she sings: “Been riding with you for six years/why did I deserve/to be treated this way by you?”
But during the On The Run tour, when she sings that song, she tweaks the lyrics and sings, “Been riding with you for twelve years…”
The Beyoncésphere nearly imploded: Jay Z IS cheating on Beyoncé! She said it in her song!
Headlines reported the line-tweak breathlessly, as if they’d caught Beyoncé slipping. But Beyoncé didn’t just have a weak moment and slide that line in without thinking. It wasn’t an accident that she changed the lyrics to reflect their current relationship. Was it authentic? Perhaps. But it was calculated. We only got a piece of what she wanted us to see because she decided to.
Beyoncé has spoon-fed us calculated authenticity for years now. On the 2008 song “Ego,” she dropped the façade of the super-humble ingénue and spit: “Ego so big/You must admit/I got every reason to feel/Like I’m that bitch.”
On her next album, for the song Countdown, she slides in a reference to her relationship with Jay-Z once again: “All that gossipin’/10 years stop it”—an obvious reference to her then 10-year relationship.
And so, this weekend, she drops the ultimate headlining-making sound bite: “Of course sometimes shit goes down/when there’s a billion dollars on an elevator.”
Instead of doing an interview about The Incident, she uses the intense curiosity to buoy interest in her latest single, the remix to “Flawless.” The fact that she teamed up with Nicki Minaj on the track would have been explosive enough. But she wouldn’t have had nearly the amount of buzz without the take-that line. Is the line authentic? Absolutely. The power couple is easily worth a combined billion. Was it calculated? Absolutely.
Beyoncé and her team are nonpareil when it comes to marketing, promotion and teasing out factoids to keep the world engaged and intrigued. She doesn’t send out a press release announcing her latest single. She just makes sure there’s a jaw-dropping line and let’s us do the rest of the work.
The release of the “Flawless” remix mirrors the release of her surprise album late last year: zero promotion, zero context. It just appeared in the Beyoncésphere and it was left to us to decipher and decode it.
And that album was chockfull of calculated authenticity from beginning to end. While she’d shielded Blue Ivy from the public in real life, we got to see her in full in the video for the song, “Blue.” She hinted at trouble in paradise on the song “Jealous” and she dropped the good-girls-who-run-the-world image for good by telling every other female singer to bow-down to her greatness.
There’s a bit of a risk with Beyoncé’s new protocol—the drama and the pageantry is beginning to overshadow the actual music. There are literally millions of Google hits when you do a search for the Flawless remix. But not many say anything about the actual song. Is it art? Or just news? —Aliya S. King
Aliya S. King is the author of two novels and three non-fiction books, including the New York Times Bestseller, “Keep The Faith,” with recording artist Faith Evans. She has written for VIBE since 1998. Find her at aliyasking.com and @aliyasking.