How Beyoncé became a pop culture phenomenon
Beyoncé's "Renaissance" film is a monument to the superstar's perfectionist approach. As always, Queen Bey plays by her own rules.
Beyoncé keeps pushing boundaries and rewriting the rules of the music industry, all while embodying empowered self-representation and Black culture. Released worldwide on December 1, the concert documentary "Renaissance: A Film By Beyoncé" not only features the dazzling musical acts of her record-breaking Renaissance World Tour, but also goes behind the scenes to reveal how the show was put together.
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Throughout, the film shows how the superstar is the one who calls the shots. But how did she become such a monument of pop culture in the first place?
An early start
Born in Houston, Texas, on September 4, 1981, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles won her first school talent show at age 7.
Two years later, she entered the pop world as part of the all-girls' group Girls Tyme.
The band failed to meet expectations, but Beyoncé's father left his job as a successful Xerox sales agent to become the girls' manager. They changed their name to Destiny's Child in 1996.
It's with the band that Beyoncé won her first two Grammys in 2001, with the single "Say My Name." A year later, another one of their best-known hits, "Survivor," also won a Grammy.
Beyoncé then went solo, first appearing on Jay-Z's song "O3 Bonnie & Clyde" in 2002 and releasing her album "Dangerously in Love" in 2003. She was the executive producer of her debut solo album and co-wrote most of her songs. Among them was the exuberant single "Crazy in Love," which also featured Jay-Z. Their collaborations fueled rumors about their romance.
They are said to have met in 2000, when Beyoncé was 18, on a plane to Cancun to attend the MTV Spring Break festival. They kept details of their relationship private for years. In a secret ceremony, the hip-hop mogul, whose real name is Shawn Corey Carter, married Beyoncé — who then became Mrs. Knowles-Carter — on April 4, 2008.
Today, they are the highest-earning couple in Hollywood history, estimated as of November 2023 to have a combined net worth of about $3 billion (€2.7 billion), according to Forbes.
They have collaborated on two world tours, which led them to break the record of the highest-grossing music tour by a duo.
The Carters also released an album together, "Everything Is Love," in 2018, which explored the ups and downs of their relationship, their fame and wealth, all while tackling issues such as racism and Black pride.
The video to the album's single "Apes**t" expressed all of those ideas. Shot in the Louvre Museum, with Black dancers taking over the halls filled with iconic art pieces, the ambitious production gave an unusual boost to the Paris venue. It reached a record 10.2 million visitors in 2018 — the most for any museum in history, according to the Louvre.
Social media queen
Beyoncé and Jay-Z have three children. Blue Ivy Carter was born in 2012; their twins Rumi Carter and Sir Carter came in 2017.
The picture announcing Beyoncé's pregnancy in 2017 became the most-liked image on Instagram at the time, gaining 6,335,571 likes within less than eight hours and gathering nearly 10.8 million likes altogether.
Beyoncé's fan base, known as the Bey Hive, is particularly active on social media. Unsurprisingly, her millions of fans also celebrate the singer on TikTok. The dance trend for "Cuff It," off her 2022 album "Renaissance," contributed to turning the single into a hit. It won the Grammy for best R&B song.
An icon of Black feminism
But despite having achieved the status of the music industry's royal couple, Jay-Z and Beyoncé's relationship went through a stormy phase. The superstar explored that period on her concept album "Lemonade" (2016).
Beyond dealing with the painful topic of her husband's infidelity, "Lemonade" also chronicled society's oppression of Black women in the US in a way that had not yet been expressed in mainstream media.
From samples of a Malcolm X speech declaring "the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman" to references to the mothers of victims of police brutality, Beyoncé expressed the rage of unheard people, all while experimenting with a great variety of genres.
"Lemonade" was critically acclaimed as Beyoncé's magnum opus, and was also the best-selling album of 2016.
Her 2022 album, "Renaissance," is not as overtly political, but has also been unanimously praised for celebrating Black musical cultures and subcultures. Through her impeccably curated references to queer-dominated club music, from '70s disco to Chicago house and Detroit techno, she created a post-pandemic bash to reunite fans on the dance floor.
The tour, which concluded in October, amassed $579 million worldwide and was attended by 2.7 million fans. Now the film celebrates all the work that was invested into the ambitious tour, as well as the community of die-hard fans who have turned her into their queen.
Through its emancipatory spirit, "Renaissance" — the album and now the film — demonstrates that Beyoncé is above all interested in promoting self-expression and making music on her own terms. As she says in the documentary, "It’s always been about using my art and my influence to really celebrate all of our differences."