The Metamorphosis (Story by Mimi Valdés)
As part of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé Knowles became an icon and a sex symbol. Now, with her star in Austin Powers in Goldmember and a solo debut in the works, she’s ready to spread her wings. Mimi Valdes meets the real independent woman, who is turning into an artistic, soul-rocking, eclectic butterfly.
Beyoncé lies twisted on the floor. It’s after midnight, and she’s finally back at London’s chic Sanderson Hotel after an explosive Destiny’s Child performance at Wembley Arena in front of more than 11,000 screaming fans. Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams have retreated to their rooms, eager to crash before another hectic day of interviews, a signing for their new book, Soul Survivors: The Official Autobiography of Destiny’s Child, and still one more sold-out show. But Miss Beyoncé Giselle Knowles, 21, has been talking about taking a yoga class for months. Her back and knees are hurting after the performance, and she thinks maybe some hard-core stretching will help. “Now move the buttock flesh over so you can be on your sit bones,” says Trevor Iszatt, a yoga teacher, as he guides her from a hamstring stretch into a half-lotus position.
They move through sun salutations and downward-facing dogs. Every time the instructor demonstrates a complicated maneuver, Beyoncé, dressed in a tank top and leggings with embroidered flowers on the seat, gives him a confused look, then assumes the position with an ease that surprises him. “You must have done this in a past life, love,” he says. “You’re quite flexible.” After doing a shoulder stand like a pro, Beyoncé lies on the floor in the corpse pose, which looks exactly how it sounds: relaxing flat on her back, palms turned upward, until the pressures of superstardom melt away. At the end of the hour-long session, she’s astounded by her calm state. “It’s like a self massage.” She whispers, sounding very sleep. “I needed to do that, for real.”
Leave it to a Virgo to ace her first yoga experience. It seems perfectionism and an uncanny ability to succeed characterize everything she does. Worldwide commercial success for her group, Destiny’s Child, with domestic and international sales of 30 million? Check. First Black woman to win an ASCAP Award for Songwriter of the Year? Check. In-demand actress, with star-vehicle Austin Powers in Goldmember grossing $71.5 million its first weekend? Checkmate. “She’s something like a phenomenon,” says Kim Burse, 34, director of A&R at Music World, who was instrumental in getting Destiny’s Child signed to Columbia in 1996. “Beyoncé has the ability to do a movie, do a group project, then come back and do her own thing or whatever she chooses,” says Erik Bradley, music director at WBBM, Chicago’s most listened to radio station. “She is a star of stars.”
There’s something wrong with this picture, however. Between the strife generated by her group’s personnel changes and the reported allegation that her father and manager, Matthew Knowles, was using drugs and consorting with prostitutes, Beyoncé’s true personality has gotten lost in the storm. But as she prepares her yet-untitled solo debut album, due out next year, she’s looking forward to revealing more of herself as an individual. And though she’s excited, she’s also hella scared.
Among other things, not having her girls by her side means no one has her back when she can’t remember lyrics or important names in interviews. “I already know that when I get nervous, I forget and blank out completely,” she says. “That’s the advantage of being in a group—where one person is weak, the other is strong.” This is more than evident backstage before the Wembley show, when British Sony executives present the troupe with a plaque recognizing Survivor’s triple-platinum sales in the U. K. When it’s time for the girls to say a few words, Beyoncé’s face is overcome by fright. Kelly graciously give thanks, easily rattling off an extremely long list of names, while Michelle crack jokes, to the delight of label employees.
For Beyoncé, the experience is a vivid reminder that Destiny’s Child is, first and last, a partnership—even with Beyoncé’s upcoming album, Michelle’s Heart to Yours, and Kelly’s successful single with Nelly, “Dilemma.” “If nothing happens with our solo records, there’s always Destiny’s Child,” says Beyoncé. “And if something happens with our records, there’s still Destiny’s Child.”
Five albums deeps, the Houston-based trip is a pop force, and their longevity is due in no small part to Beyoncé’s approach to songwriting. Her lyrics deliver what she feels her young, mostly female listeners need and want to hear: words of wisdom about attain self-sufficiency, dropping deadbeat boyfriends, and turning the other cheek to vicious jealousy. With their girl-power outlook and blockbuster hits such as, “Bills, Bills, Bills” “Bootylicious,” and “Survivor” burning up the charts—Guinness World Records cites them as the girl group with the longest time at No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart (for “Independent Women Part 1”)—the group has attained superstar status. But at the end of the day, they’re not superhuman. “We make mistakes and don’t survive everything,” Beyoncé says matter-of-factly. “With my record, I want people to get a better feel for who I am.”
Indeed the girl is definitely more bohemian hippie chick than bootylicious diva. Don’t let the fabulous first name fool you. It’s simply her mom’s maiden name, and those close to Beyoncé just call her B. Even now, you’re likely to find her in a customized T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, laughing at some silly joke. Things like smelling fried chicken in the air while enjoying a drive around London’s ghetto neighborhoods make her smile. Even before she got the role of Foxxy Cleopatra in the Austin Powers movie, she made the decision to stop relaxing her hair and ease up on the make-up. However, the natural tresses can be overwhelming—she’s got a very full head of hair. “I wake up looking like a crack-head,” she says laughing. “I don’t’ know if I can keep it up.”
Ever since she was a little girl, Beyoncé says, she always had a bit of gypsy in her; she loved all things creative, especial designing clothes and drawing. When she started filming Goldmember in Los Angeles in January, Beyoncé decided to revisit these interests and try paintings in oil. But when she got back from a trip to the art-supply store, she had to laugh. “I’m like, Well, what is wrong with me? Why I gotta go and get the big canvas and the hardest kind of paint?” she says. Still, she produced her first work, an abstract image of a woman with an Afro and since has completed several more. While she creates these images, she loves to listen to jazz, especially Miles Davis, whom she discovered only last year. Shuggie Otis is another recent music find, and even Aretha Franklin records have taken on new meaning for her. “I’ve always loved Aretha, but now I understand the lyrics to her songs,” she says. “I’m like, Now I feel you exactly, because that’s how I feel.”
Beyoncé is finding out things about herself she wishes she had learned years earlier. “Because I grew up in Houston, where the radio and culture are different, I missed out on a lot,” she says. Seeing the world especially living in Los Angeles while filming MTV’s Carmen” A Hip Hopera, opened her to new possibilities. Now she wants to master yoga, love in Jamaica, and learn to sing in Arabic. “All those things are beautiful to me, so wonderful,” says Beyoncé “And I just want to put all of that into my music.”