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What sort of a name is Beyonce?
First, it’s Beyoncé. Txtspk all u want, but get the diacritical marks right. And it’s based on her mother’s maiden name of Beyincé, an old Louisiana Creole (African-American, Native American, and French) family name. She was named Beyoncé when she was born in Houston in 1981, and the only reason she’s not always called by her last name (Knowles) too is how many other Beyoncés are there?
Didn’t she start out in some kind of group?
The most successful R&B group of the last twenty years was formed in 1990, when Beyoncé Knowles was ten, with her friend Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Roberson and, eventually, LeToya Luckett. In 1995, they would adopt the name Destiny’s Child after Beyoncé’s mother Tina ran across a verse from Isaiah. Tina Knowles provided the girls with costumes and Matthew Knowles, Beyoncé’s father, managed them to their first success in the late '90s, hitting in 1998 with “No, No, No Part 1." Repetition would be a key part of the Destiny’s Child hitmaking formula; it was quickly followed by “Bills, Bills, Bills”, “Jumpin’, Jumpin’”, and their signature hit “Say My Name”, where the repeated title phrase practically is the entire song. Roberson and Luckett left the group shortly after their second album, The Writing’s on the Wall (1999), and were replaced by Michelle Williams and (briefly) Farrah Franklin. Their third album, Survivor (2000), was their biggest yet, spawning the massive hits “Independent Women Part 1,” “Survivor” and “Bootylicious,” propelling them to the forefront of the pop market and undisputed queens of R&B.
So how did Beyoncé become a star?
She’d always been the leader of the group, co-writing and singing lead on all their hits, so it was only natural that, like Diana Ross, Vanity and Lauryn Hill before her, she would become the most famous member; even before going solo, she played the title role in MTV’s Carmen: A Hip-Hopera and co-starred as Foxxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers in Goldmember, and was widely considered a style icon and one of the most beautiful women in the world. When she released her first solo album in 2003, it was an acknowledgement that she had become bigger than the group could be, and lead single “Crazy in Love,” with its spiraling melody and Jay-Z guest spot, became one of the signature pop hits of the decade.
Didn’t that piss off the other Destiny’s Children?
Probably! But part of being a professional entertainer is keeping personal resentment out of the way of accomplishing your goals. Kelly Rowlands and Michelle Williams have had successful careers recording dance music and performing theatrically, and their final album with Beyoncé, 2004’s Destiny Fulfilled, allowed them all to leave the group with their heads held high, hits like “Lose My Breath” and “Soldier” with T.I. and Lil Wayne putting the cap on one of the greatest song-for-song legacies in R&B history.
Who’s that guy she’s always with?
Uh, you mean Jay-Z? The Louis XVI to her Marie Antoinette—or rather, because that didn’t end so well, the Ferdinand to her Isabella? What we’re trying to get across is the sense of royalty, and of balance of power, in their relationship. They’ve been dating since as far back as 2002, but only officially consolidated their respective empires in 2008, with a wedding so carefully private that the paparazzi didn't know about it for another three weeks. “Déjà Vu,” the lead single from Beyoncé’s second solo album B’Day (2006) again featured a Jay-Z guest spot, and if it didn’t quite reach the heights of “Crazy in Love,” its pillowy '70s funk was its own reward.
Can she act?
She’s no Britney Spears, that’s for sure. That said, she’s yet to give a film performance that matches the immaculate and complex architecture of her singing at its best, but she’s acquitted herself well in roles as diverse as a heartlessly glamorous diva in Dreamgirls, the powerfully wounded Etta James in Cadillac Records, and an outraged paragon of black virtue in the campy Obsessed. Perhaps understandably, the best part of her portrayal of Etta James was vocal, the way she managed to incorporate the blues queen’s vocal style into her own much more fluid style.
I heard Aretha Franklin was pissed at her, y/n?
These things tend to get played up for pageviews, but apparently after Beyoncé introduced Tina Turner as “the Queen of Soul”—a nickname which Aretha has held for decades—at the 2008 Grammies, Aretha took offense and started calling herself “the Empress of Soul.” Similarly, Etta James has gone on the record as not thinking much Beyoncé’s portrayal of her in Cadillac Records, as well as being displeased that Beyoncé, not Etta, was the one who sang “At Last” (her signature 1960 hit) at Barack Obama’s Inaugural Ball. It’s a bit silly that the older generation gripes about her, of course; Beyoncé is exactly what they were in their day: the greatest R&B singer alive. (Sorry, Mary J. Blige. You’re still the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.)
Didn’t she do some kind of dance?You’re probably thinking of the dance she performed in the video for “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” the uptempo single from her 2008 double album I Am…Sasha Fierce. The dance was a worldwide craze, the first genuine dance craze of the new millennium, at least as measured by the new millennium’s favorite metric, YouTube copycats. Despite the extra disc, Sasha Fierce was her third straight number one album, and in addition to “Single Ladies,” it spawned three other massive singles: the pseudo-feminist meditation “If I Were a Boy,” the definitive ballad of 2008 “Halo” (after which Ryan Tedder’s big booming production style had nowhere left to go), and the sharp electro-pop “Sweet Dreams.” After spending 2008 and 2009 promoting the record, she mostly took 2010 off to regroup; her fourth album is due some time in 2011, and we for one can’t wait.
Is there anything she can’t do?
If there is, we haven’t seen much evidence of it. She has her own ready-to-wear clothing line, House of Dereón (named for her grandmother, who was a seamstress), her own fragrance, Heat—both of which, we’re told, are far better than the average celebrity line—and several multimillion-dollar endorsement contracts, making her one of the wealthiest figures in entertainment. She records much of her music in Spanish and has had a lot of success in the Latin market; and like other multi-millionaires she’s a generous contributor to social causes, particularly in her hometown of Houston. All this in addition to being one of the most technically gifted, immaculately tasteful, and boundary-pushing artists in modern pop. If you haven’t guessed, we’re fans.
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