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.”
Because of these newfound passions, she feels that doing a solo album a la Destiny’s Child—with the trademark hooks, aggressive lyrics, and danceable hip hop beats—would be ridiculous. “I don’t want to do traditional R&B for my album,” she says. “ I want to grow as a writer, I need a challenge.” So she decided to record a soul album in the spirit of Aretha and James Brown from the 70’s. Not only will it reflect her love for live instruments and interesting chord changes, the music will map her experiences and emotion. “It will be like a testimonial, a journal,” she says. And she plans to include more introspective ballads than the typical Destiny’s Child disc, as well as tap fresh producer talent. “There are so many great people working out of their basements who are hungry,” she says. Although there will be heavy hitters on her tracks, including the Neptunes, she wants to mix it up. “You just don’t want your stuff to sound like everybody else’s.”
Columbia plans to release Beyoncé’s second solo single (not yet titled) in September, followed by a complete album in early 2003. The CD could provide fodder for the haters who believed that a Beyoncé solo record was the plan all along that the group was just a front, a vehicle that would allow her to stand out while her father cashed in. And despite Beyoncé’s superstar status and highly visible video promotion, her single on the Goldmember soundtrack, “Work It Out, “ debuted at No 49 on the Billboard dance chart—a relatively tepid beginning for a highly anticipated solo career. “It took me a minute to get used to; it was very different,” concedes Bradley. “But my program director and I feel the song has potential.”
Beyoncé gives Destiny’s Child credit for providing her the foundation and courage she needed to even consider branching out on her own. “When we first got our deal, the label said I needed to get a personality because I wouldn’t talk,” she says.
Growing up, Beyoncé was hobbled by that shyness; classmates at St. Mary’s Montessori School, a Catholic school in Houston, didn’t even know she could sing. Dance teacher, Darlette Johnson remembers Beyoncé being petrified before school performances. “She would literally have tears in her eyes,” she recalls. “I would have to hold on to her and tell her, it’s okay, take deep breaths. But then that child would go onstage and something would come over her. That 6-year-old could sing like a woman.” But Beyoncé’s success didn’t curb her self-consciousness. “I’ve always been the type of person who cares so much about what everybody thinks, to the point where it was kind of sick,” she says. “Like it messed with my head, my self-esteem.”
Even today, being Beyoncé requires a really thick skin. Those who envy or hate her don’t conceal their feelings, and she tries not to let it get to her. Her decision to stop relaxing her hair has prompted harsh words. “I’ve gotten some crazy comments,” she says. “People just say, ‘ I hate your hair,’ ‘It’s ugly,’ ‘What’s wrong with you?” She recalls going through airport security recently, wearing a warm-up suit, tennis shoes, and hat for a grueling 12-hour flight. The baggage screener said to her, “What are you wearing? You don’t look nothing like on TV.” After that, Beyoncé decided to put a little effort into he next travel outfit. “I wasn’t done up, but I looked better, had on some heels,” she says. Of course, it didn’t matter. “They were like, ‘Look at her walking through the airport with heels on, she think she cute.’ That’s when I realized that it wasn’t me. They just have problems, and there’s nothing I can do to satisfy them.” Still, the mean-spiritedness can cut deep. “But, I don’t want no pity party,” she says, “because we knew it would be like this sometimes.”
Filing Carmen two years ago in Los Angeles helped to pull Beyonce out of her shell. At 19, she found herself living and working on her own for the first time. Until then, she had led a sheltered existence; she had spent only a few months in a regular high school and received private tutoring once Destiny’s Child got their first, short lived deal with Elektra in 1995. On the set, that isolation caught up with her. Unlike the fiery femme fatale she played, Beyonce lacked social skills. Interacting with cast and crew was awkward. Even simple decisions, like ordering meals, were a challenge. “All my life, because I was in a group, I’ve been taught to compromise. Someone says, ‘What do you wan to eat?’ My first instinct is to ask, What y’all want me to eat? Okay, this is what we want.
While filming Carmen, she finaly found out what kinds of foods she favored (sushi and organic fruit) and even went to a shooting range. I’ve learned something about myself outside of Destiny’s Child,” says Beyonce. “Movies are my college, my time to go and discover.”
From the profile she’s building an actress, that process of self-discovery isn’t likely to end soon. After getting strong reviews for her performance as Carmen she landed the part of Austin Power’s bust-whupping sidekick in r. The film’s producers, who had auditioned damn near every black actress in Hollywood, contacted Beyonce about trying out for the role. She held her own against costar Mike Myer’s comic antics—but it wasn’t easy. “ He’s crazy—it was hard not to laugh all the time,” she says. Now, she’s playing a jazz singer opposite Cuba Gooding Jr. in the musical comedy, The Fighting Temptations. With a string of luscious leading-lady roles on her resume, she’s sealing her diamond status as a sex symbol.
So it’s no surprise that rumors abound about rappers like Mos Def, Nelly and Jay Z trying to holler at Beyonce. But if anyone’s sending his manager to ask if he can escort her to an award show or premiere, for it. “Very few celebrities have taken the time to talk to me before they try to fly me somewhere or give me gifts,” she says. “Telling people they like me, but we never had a conversation? That’s a big turnoff.” Besides, she adds, “it seems like being with a celebrity would be really, really hard.”
In other words, Beyonce doesn’t play the whirlwind superstar when it comes to love. She had the same boyfriend in Houston for eight year, and though it didn’t work out, she considers him a best friend, talks to him frequently, and doesn’t rule out a future reconciliation. And while she has begun her search for a new man, she’s willing to chill for now. “I’d like to have someone to talk to, but I’m cool,” she says. “When it happens, it happens.”
In the meantime, Beyonce and her girls are hard at work. By 10 o’clock the next morning, they roll to their book signing. Their arrival at Selfridges department store sets off two straight hours of absolute mayhem. Once the event is over, the girls browse around the designer-clothes department. A sales associate shows BEyonce a black peasant blouse with amazing embroidery, but as soon as she eyes the price of 1,200 (roughly $1800), she gasps and stiffens up. “Oh, no. I’m sorry, that’s way too expensive. It’s very beautiful though,” she says politely to the dumbfounded clerk.
Beyounce’s sense of modesty continues to prevail when the three hit Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Dolce & Gabbana. While Kelly and Michelle excitedly try on different outfits, Beyonce picks out a pair of flat, beaded sandals and received a 20 percent courtesy (i.e celebrity) discount. “I hate trying stuff on,” she says as she pays for them at the register. Beyonce has an aversion to fitting rooms; she has struggled with her weight since she was 10 years old. She tried diet pills once, but they made her too jittery. She’s naturally thick, so staying in shape means daily time on the treadmill (she’s up to four miles a day). Of course the hour and a half she spend performing six times week on tour doesn’t hurt. It may be hard to believe, but shes learning to accept her body. “I don’t want to be skinny. I like the fact that I look like a normal person.”
As the girls stuff their purchases into the chauffeur driven SUV, Beyonce tries to psych herself up for the Wembley concert. “I’m soooooooo tired,” she says with a Southern drawl. Judging by her performance later, you’d have no idea. When it comes times to perform “Work it out,” its ad f she’s possessed. Tossing her head around, jerking her body, twirling the microphone stand, she’s a new millennium version of Tina Turner. As human and humble as she is offstage, watching her perform is a quick reminder of why she’s a star. She’s magnetic.
But as soon as the show’s over, she’s a daughter, sister, and colleague again. Backstage, Matthew Knowles, who sometimes joins the group on our, calls an emergency meeting for all staff, including dancers and crew. As soon as Beyonce’s younger sister, Solange, walks in, everyone excitedly sings “Happy Birthday.” After Solange blows out the 16 candles on the chocolate cake, Mr. Knowles start doing his own special rendition of Usher’s tick-dance move from the video for “U Don’t Have To Call,” prompting uncontrollable laughter. The birthday girl continues the fun, making everybody stand in a circle with each person taking turns to bust a move in the middle. When it’s Beyonce go, she shakes it up, dipping down several times. Then Beyonce initiates a game in which each person’s sentence must rhyme with the last person’s—all on beat, of course.
“The good thing about us is that we know when it’s time to be family,” Beyonce muses later. “And we know when it’s time to work.” The days to come call for more travel, appearances, singing, filming, signings, and no end in sight. But tonight, Beyonce once is kicking back. In the company of her family and the people she loves best, she’s having her cake—and eating it, too.