For maybe the first time in his storied, decades-long career, JAY-Z sounded bashful on a track. The man who always built an aura of invincibility, superiority and braggadocio had to take a second to collect himself. “Yo, chill man,” he says to his wife with a slight giggle.
“We keeping it real with these people, right?” retorts the one and only Beyonce, to which Jay eventually submits. Later, when she says “In a glass house, still throwing stones,” it’s quietly a shocking revelation. Beyonce is telling the world, yes, the Carters are flawed, yes, they’re normal, and now they’ll let the world in to take a peek. It’s quite the rebrand for two of the most famous people on earth, and that may fuel the next stage of their public lives as a couple (a quintet when including their three children).
The Carters have been peeling back the curtains in all facets of their empire, and it may have finally peaked on their new collaborative album Everything Is Love. The record is the natural conclusion to a trilogy (maybe including a prequel from Solange) born out of their most controversial public moment - that fateful elevator ride in 2014. Now, the Carters appear ready to fully embrace the new, transparent phase of their public lives.
Beyonce and JAY have always sprinkled intimate moments into their music, allowing listeners quick peeks into their lives, but now they’re welcoming them into the house and asking them to take off their coats and get comfortable. Everything is fair game for the Carters. Infidelity? Deep, dark family secrets? Addressing daddy issues? The Carter children? All are unveiled in Lemonade, 4:44 and Everything Is Love.
The revelations occur elsewhere as well. Beyonce’s Formation Tour featured intimate slideshows with never-before-seen photos of the couple and their daughter Blue Ivy. On JAY’s 4:44 Tour, personal photos lit up the night on massive screens that eventually shifted into a cocoon around him as he agonizingly apologized to Beyonce over and over on the track that gave the album and tour its name.
The rebrand of sorts may simply be because the Carters just don’t care about public perception anymore. At one point on their new album, Beyonce literally says “I don’t give a damn about the fame,” and later she scoffs at the idea of metrics like Spotify numbers being capable of quantifying her success. It may be true, the Carters may be larger than life, and the numbers may be useless in calculating their relevance. Their numbers have generally trended down, as the projected first-week sales numbers for Everything Is Love would be the lowest of Beyonce’s career and near the bottom of JAY’s catalog, below their competition like Drake, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar and others.
Still, they continue to make money hand over fist, maximizing their profits through savvy business endeavors like JAY’s “million sold before the album out” loophole sales of several albums. Or massive touring deals that guarantee massive payouts despite dwindling ticket sales. Much like JAY’s 4:44 Tour, the couple’s second On The Run Tour has yet to sell out, even as the tour is underway. Face value tickets from official vendors are still available for even the best seats at multiple stops, and even more are available on the secondary market. But that hasn’t stopped the couple from adding new dates, and Beyonce remains one of the few artists alive capable of filling stadiums on a worldwide tour.
The use of no ploys to goose sales for Everything Is Love is possibly another layer of their new “I don’t give a f*ck” theology, spitting in the face of the standards surrounding them. Much like Beyonce scoffs at numbers, JAY does the same on the album’s single “Ape Shit,” rebuking otherwise major honors like performing at the Super Bowl and winning Grammys.
For the Carters, the couple often viewed as the absolute peak of their respective musical food chains, they seemed to have determined the numbers don’t matter and there’s no need tending to them anymore or jumping through hoops to inflate them. They don’t release their Tidal numbers. They drop their album a day and a half after the weekly cycle begins, keep it exclusive for a few days, and only allow certain Spotify users to hear it. They do what they want, they don’t care about the perceived “right” way of doing things and they simply don’t care how vulnerable it appears to make them look.
Or, the rebrand is because they do care about public perception, and they know in the era of social media and celebrities live streaming their entire lives to their fans, that same vulnerability that they’re displaying is the endearing magic they need to maintain their status atop music’s mountain. Equally massive megastar Will Smith recently took the dive into the new world of celebrity accessibility as well, turning his Instagram account into a phenomenon in the process. In one video, Smith explains that he didn’t open up previously because in the past he believed “to be a movie star you needed mystery and separation.”
Maybe the Carters have come to understand, much like Will, that the world wants more of them, and they want them to be normal like everybody else. Their public moves are always calculated, and that calculation is what has fortified their legacies as they both enter their third decades in the limelight.
Maybe Bey and JAY don’t care about fame, but they clearly care about perception. It’s why her Instagram account is such a carefully curated piece of artistry, rather than just a series of selfies and goofy captions. This is why every one of their rare, public appearances is a spectacle, with manicured optics and meticulous planning of everything from hair color and length, to whether or not any of their children are present and of course, the clothes they wear.
It’s impossible to know their motives, or who they’re looking to impress. It could simply be themselves, or maybe they feel they owe it to their fans to maintain the standard they’ve set for so long. Generally, their closest peers bow down to them and celebrate their every move. Harsh criticism is scarce, both because of their exceptionally polished work and because of their revered status. Beyonce’s BeyHive is the most relentless of all fan bases on the internet, and JAY’s following can be ravenous as well.
It’s all a magic trick though, because we don’t truly know the Carters - we only know the versions of them that they show us when the cameras are on. Still, it’s working, as the couple that hid their marriage from the public light for so long now seems more human than they ever have. The shocking fiasco in the elevator may have been the tipping point they needed to fully commit to this transformation.
Parts of their lives were always going to get out, there’s no avoiding that for a family under the microscope and facing so much scrutiny. They’ve been proactive in that way, and it’s allowed them to control the narratives that surround their every move. JAY cheated? Now "Becky with the good hair" is a catchphrase that has entered the lexicon of pop culture.
The message they’re projecting is clearer than ever. Yup, The Carters are just like us. Can you see it? Look, they’re raising their kids as best they can, fighting like an old married couple and then at the end of the day they lay in the bed next to each other and get through it all anyway, because that’s what committed, married couples do.
Yup, The Carters are just like us, give or take a billion more dollars or so.