The Life and Times of Beyoncé: A Musical Journey to Superstardom
If you're a Millennial like me, Beyoncé has been part of your life for as long as you can remember.
From her beginnings as part of the best-selling girl group Destiny’s Child to an even extraordinary solo career, iconic film roles and business endeavours, Beyoncé has evolved as a creative and human being in front of everyone’s eyes.
She is always on top of the game when some other stars in the industry, eventually, dwindled away.
What’s the secret behind her immense success?
To me, Beyoncé’s career feels incredibly authentic, compared to the hundreds of starlets we see shine for some time and disappear just as quickly.
As you go through her discography chronologically, you can sense her transformation from girl to woman, from a “music product” to an independent, creative (and vulnerable) person.
While the music industry changes at the speed of light, Queen Bey (as she would later come to be known) seems to reach her fans effortlessly with every release, with ambitious multidisciplinary works that break sales records and push the boundaries of what she can accomplish with her art.
Beyoncé’s albums are consistently successful because they’re the result of a daring, constantly-evolving marketing strategy, combined with peerless music production and a creative soul whose passion resonates with many.
As we welcome her upcoming seventh album Renaissance, let’s take a look at the journey to the stars of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.
As it’s the case for the few successful artistes who managed to stay true to themselves, there’s no clear boundary between Beyoncé’s life and career: the former influences her art, while the latter defines who she is, in an upward spiral of success with no end in sight.
WHEN DESTINY (CHILD) CALLS
Despite what people might think, success didn’t happen overnight for Beyoncé.
In 1992, aged 11, she formed the all-girl R&B group Girl’s Tyme. Together with childhood friends Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Robinson, and another three members, Beyoncé took part in television show Star Search, but eventually lost to the rock band Skeleton Crew.
In later years, both Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland will cite their Star Search experience as a seminal moment of their careers: the moment they realised that, despite the relentless commitment and hard work, you can still lose.
However, Girl's Tyme didn't give up.
After changing their name to Destiny’s Child and a revolution in the band members, the now quartet released their eponymous album in 1998 to moderate commercial and critical success.
What really did it for Destiny’s Child were their following albums.
Starting with The Writing’s On The Wall, they established themselves as one of the most successful girl groups in the US, with the hits “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Say My Name” that pushed the sales of their second album until it was certified eight-times platinum in 2001.
That year was also when the Survivor album came out.
The third album of Destiny’s Child became another instant success and made them famous worldwide, with the title track becoming one of the most recognisable songs of the 2000s.
It was around this time that Beyoncé's skills as a singer and band leader started to get noticed. The leader of Destiny’s Child is about to find out whether she can fly with her own wings.
BEYONCÉ: I AM... GOING SOLO
Destiny Fulfilled was meant to be, as the title suggests, Destiny’s Child epitaph.
By then, Beyoncé had already starred in a couple of films and released her first solo album, Dangerously In Love, which went on to sell 11 million copies worldwide and established her as one of the most prominent R&B artists of the 21st century.
During the recordings of Dangerously In Love, Beyoncé took a more prominent role in the production of each song, from writing lyrics to editing and mastering: a trend that would eventually lead her to take complete control over her music releases.
Furthermore, her apparent relationship with rapper Jay-Z and his involvement in the album's production became the object of speculation that further amplified the success of her debut album.
While Beyoncé’s follow-up album B'Day shows some daring experiments – like the use of live instruments during recording sessions and a 1970s funk vibe present in many tracks, it’s not until her third album that we truly see a paradigm shift.
With I Am… Sasha Fierce, we see Beyoncé in a different light: a mature artiste who can blend and transcend musical genres with ease, from funk to jazz to R&B and electropop, while using her mesmerising voice to tell stories about vulnerability and empowerment.
The energy, versatility and intimacy showed in I Am… Sasha Fierce will define the future publications of Beyoncé, adding a sense of maturity and depth that makes her music timeless.
Beyoncé’s fourth album 4 will see the artiste further expand her sonic palette with intimate and slow-tempo tracks reminiscent of the R&B of old, contaminated with influences from pop-soul and electrofunk.
As customary with Beyoncé’s releases, some of the hits included in the album are carefully crafted to attract a wider, dance-oriented audience, such as “Run The World”, with the unmistakable drum loop from Major Lazers’ “Pon De Floor”.
BEYONCÉ’S ARTISTIC MATURITY
For an artiste’s career, one thing is certain: you either evolve or disappear; this is also true for the most awarded and commercially successful musicians.
Beyoncé, while still enjoying immense success, knew the music landscape was changing and that she had to step up her game once more if she still wanted to be the one and only Queen Bey.
Her 2013 fifth album, the eponymous Beyoncé, was released without promotion or announcement of any kind – and three days later became the fastest-selling album in iTunes’ history up to that point.
Together with the album, Beyoncé released a series of short, non-linear films to accompany her music, bringing to life a multidisciplinary visual album that’ll receive widespread acclaim for its ambition and quality.
In her 30s and in full control over her music, Beyoncé started exploring complex themes such as gender issues, Black female sexuality and the struggles of monogamy.
Personal insecurities also found room in her lyrics, further blurring the line between Beyoncé the woman and her stage persona.
In an emotional build-up that took years to ultimately find closure, Beyoncé’s sixth album Lemonade is, to date, the pinnacle of her artistic path. It is a concept album that defies categorisation given the plethora of musical genres that inspire it: from gospel to reggae, to rock and trap.
While the music production is peerless, Lemonade truly stands out for its lyrics.
Dark and uncomfortable at times, Beyoncé uses her notoriety to put a spotlight on what troubles us the most: infidelity, racial injustice, emotional traumas, and the difficult path to recovery.
Her lyrics speak of personal issues, yet they resonate with everyone.
Ultimately, Lemonade is a therapy session Beyoncé shares with her fans, bridging the gap that two decades of fame built between her and them.
For an artiste of her calibre to release a body of work so complex and personal is audacious, to say the least.
Lemonade is also a celebration of Black culture and female empowerment, with the artiste looking back to find the strength to overcome the obstacles that, regardless of notoriety and success, always feel insurmountable.
QUEEN BEY’S GROWTH AND JOURNEY
With the arrival of Renaissance, I can’t help but think of how Beyoncé has always been ahead of her time.
Each album she’s published has proved more successful, more introspective, and more experimental than the previous one, in an unconventional approach to success that makes Beyoncé unique in the music realm.
The raw emotions she feels are transposed to her records so genuinely we can all immerse ourselves in them.
Beyoncé’s transition to adulthood is there for all to see and hear, imprinted in her six solo albums, with lyrics that gradually dive deeper and deeper into a world of intimacy and personal insecurities.
Now, Renaissance will become the new chapter of a unique career that will be remembered for years to come – but let’s also look back and celebrate the two decades of Queen Bey’s undisputed success.
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Writer | Marco Sebastiano Alessi
Marco is an Italian music producer, composer and writer. He’s the founder of Naviar Records, a music community and record label exploring the connection between experimental electronic music and traditional Japanese poetry.