After watching Beyonce’s much-hyped HBO documentary, Life is But a Dream, which aired this weekend, I can say I know her better–but only just.
Beyonce has been a fixture in the music industry since the late 1990s–her teens–yet has managed to remain a figure of mystery. Her famously guarded attitude has kept her out of the tabloids, an especially impressive feat given that Beyonce’s early twenties coincided with the rise of the paparazzi and TMZ culture, a timing that proved very unfortunate for other teen superstars of the late 1990s, like Britney Spears.
Beyonce’s transition into a viable, mature musician as an adult was also startlingly seamless. Arguably, she only achieved such an end by shrouding herself in secrecy. That very backdrop made Life is But a Dream a compelling project, as its promises of “raw, real, and revealed” teased us with real insight into Beyonce’s world, something we had been wondering about for over a decade.
Yet, in the documentary, moments of true gravity are often cut short. Just as Beyonce reveals a problem or source of unhappiness, her feelings are rarely explored–as if exposing the vulnerability was enough.
Take for example, one of the earlier scenes, shot in 2011, when Beyonce makes the decision to part ways with her long-time manager, father Matthew Knowles. “I’m so fragile at this point. I feel like my soul has been tarnished. Life is unpredictable but I feel like I had to move on and not work with my dad,” she says, voice breaking.
Then, rather than delve into the emotions surrounding this decision, she decides to sing a few gorgeous bars of “Listen,” her big ballad from the Dreamgirls (2006) soundtrack. Viewers are again at the mercy of her talent, and coaxed away from demanding more depth from the Matthew conversation.
Life is But a Dream largely features Beyonce in acts of masquerade, struggling to remove the mask of perfection, letting it slip momentarily, and then retreating behind it just when she’s afraid she’s revealed too much.
Here are some other notable moments where she (briefly) lets us in:
On her decision to break with Matthew’s management company
“When you are trying to have an every day conversation with your parents, you have to talk about scheduling, you have to talk about your album, performing and touring. It’s just too stressful and it affects your relationship. I needed boundaries and I think my dad needed boundaries. It’s really easy to get confused with this world that’s your job that you live and breathe all day every day and you don’t know when to turn it off. You need a break. I needed a break.”
Realizing her Father did teach her a few valuable lessons
“I think I realized that business and being polite, doesn’t match. You can be fair but me being polite was not me being fair to myself. Now, I’m learning how political things are and a lot of the crazy things [my father did] was necessary.”
How Jay-Z taught her about art
“I think me marrying a musician is a coincidence. We connected because we both perform and have similar lifestyles but we connected on a spiritual level and he just so happened to be a musician. He’s taught me so much about being an artist. Not a musician but an artist. And fighting for what I believe and having my standards. He doesn’t compromise his art. I used to be afraid of people thinking I was too difficult or too critical but I don’t care about that anymore as long as it is the right reasons, and I learned that from him.”
On their future as a couple
“I just pray that Jay and I stay a team because right now we are really connected and are really communicating well and completely understand each other. This baby has made me love him more than I thought I could love another human being.”
On the state of music today
“People don’t make albums anymore. They just try to sell a bunch of quick singles. Artists put out an album, then they put out a new one. People don’t even listen to a body of work anymore. When I first started out, there was no internet, people taking pictures of you and putting your personal life or exploiting your personal life as entertainment.”