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When did Beyoncé become the Beyoncé we know today?

She’s been in the public eye for more than 20 years, but her image has changed drastically in the last decade.

BEYONCÉ HAS BEEN in the public eye since she was just a kid. 

It’s hard to remember when we all first became aware of Beyoncé as an individual, but once Bootylicious became as wildly successful as it did, there was nobody in the world with a television or radio who had any excuse for not knowing the names of the three members of Destiny’s Child who were introduced to us and asked if they could ‘handle it’ at the start of that song. Access to Google was not as readily available back then as it is today, so without this song it might have been quite an effort to find out Beyoncé’s name. You would’ve had to buy a magazine or something. 

Kids across the world began to do that thing they did with the Spice Girls, the Powerpuff Girls and other girl groups that they admired, where they played games or made up dances, pretending to be Destiny’s Child. We all know the type of kid who bagsy-ed Bubbles and Baby Spice back in those days, and they were similarly drawn to performing in the role of Beyoncé, leaving Kelly and Michelle for the less socially powerful (or basically, every child who wasn’t a massive Leo). 

Destiny’s Child’s manager (who happened to be Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé’s father) was determined to make Beyoncé the biggest name in the band. If you look at old photos of their three-piece lineup, Beyoncé’s in the centre of every photograph, and she’s also the only member of the band who had blonde hair, so your eye is naturally drawn to her there, front and centre.

Beyoncé was always the ‘coolest’ member of Destiny’s Child to children and young teens who liked their music, just as Nicole Scherzinger was the the ‘coolest’ member of the Pussycat Dolls. If you asked a kid in 2004 to explain why they thought that, they probably wouldn’t have a clue. It’s amazing what letting someone stand at the front of a photograph can do. 

During the height of Destiny’s Child’s fame and success, it’s safe to say that Beyoncé was a very different person than she is today. In fact, even for most of her solo career this was the case. For instance, look at this picture of Beyoncé and Eoghan Quigg on The X Factor. She’d never, ever take a photograph like that today. 

Last week, Buzzfeed also did a roundup of ridiculous old photos of Beyoncé that simply would not be taken in 2019. It featured loads of very goofy pictures of her hanging out with Lindsay Lohan, Kelly Osbourne, Ashton Kutcher and Steve Martin. She’s so poised nowadays that it’s impossible to imagine her hanging out with any of these people.

What changed? When did Beyoncé become so powerful? Was it when Whoopi Goldberg said, “You are Beyoncé”, to which Beyoncé replied, “Thank you.”?

Source: Işıl Dulkan/YouTube

We thought it was important to try and pinpoint the moment that Beyoncé shed her persona as pop-star, and became recognised as one of the most influential and powerful figures in modern pop culture.

It wasn’t until well after Beyoncé’s solo and acting career had taken off that Beyoncé began to become the person we are all in awe of today. Maybe it was when she released I Am… Sasha Fierce, or maybe it was when she announced her pregnancy at the end of her performance of Love on Top at the VMAs. Personally, I feel like a switch flicked in her head in 2009 at the VMAs when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift. Beyoncé’s reaction in the background said it all. She had nothing to do with this, and she very over the whole celeb drama thing. 

PastedImage-50173 Source: MTV

At around this time, it became clear that Beyoncé had made plenty of money in her career. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that she was extremely wealthy, but her philanthropic gestures became more and more generous. When she starred as Etta James in Cadillac Records, she donated her entire $4 million salary to a drug rehab facility

On top of this, at least to the outside observer, Beyoncé seemed to stop doing things that she did not want to do. She just made music, hung out with her husband and her family and toured. She made far fewer appearances on shows like The X Factor and in shampoo/beauty advertisements as time passed. In 2009, she also sang at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration, which was the beginning of a decade’s worth of activism that changed how she was perceived as a celebrity.

In 2011, Beyoncé announced that she was no longer going to be managed by her father, and in the same year her mother Tina Knowles finalised her divorce with him. When Mathew Knowles remarried two years later, Beyoncé and her sister Solange did not attend the wedding. 

In 2013, Beyoncé made it publicly known that she’s a feminist in an interview with Vogue, and although it seemed like an unusually political thing for a star of her calibre to say back then (think of other female artists who are as famous as Beyoncé – many of them still shy away from stuff like that, even today), it proved to be extremely timely. The same year, Beyoncé vocalised her support for same-sex marriage and attended a rally in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. 

Later that year, Beyoncé released her surprise self-titled album, and despite the fact that it had absolutely no prior promotion, it was a massive hit within hours of its release. The album featured a sample of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking about feminism at her TEDx talk. This audio clip has since become fairly iconic, thanks to the platform Beyoncé gave it, and it armed many young people with the most concise definition of the word ‘feminist’. 

Beyoncé is not a very public individual. We don’t see her calling up paparazzi to set up photo shoots, we don’t see her leaving nightclubs or going shopping and, you know, she also happens to be amazing at keeping huge announcements like pregnancies and entire albums under wraps until the very last minute. Whatever information we know or have about Beyoncé, from the last decade at least, was all given to us under Beyoncé’s terms, often through her perfectly curated Instagram account. 

What she does share with her fans is often very important and most likely very carefully planned. She uses her platform to speak out against social issues and injustice, voices support for marginalised groups like working class African Americans and young trans people. 

You might be thinking, if Beyoncé’s so private, why do we know about all of her relationship troubles with Jay Z? This is really the perfect example of information that she gave us completely on her own terms, that could have been kept secret forever otherwise. Rather than airing all of her family’s dirty laundry out in a messy, irresponsible and cheap manner that would have made her some very quick money but might have caused her kids a great deal of upset later down the line, she turned it into a genuine work of art when she released her stunning visual album Lemonade. 

Not only did this album do a lot for people who have been in a similar situation, it also elevated the art work and skills of countless other African Americans and brought issues like the lingering impact of the US government’s poor response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina back into the public eye. 

Although I’d love to believe that Beyoncé became the person we know today in response to Kanye West’s carry-on at the VMAs, it’s more likely that her image changed so drastically when she regained control of it after dropping her father’s management. In Lemonade there’s a spoken word passage that implicitly draws parallels between her unhealthy relationship with her partner and her father, which serves as an introduction to the song Daddy Lessons.

Did he bend your reflection? Did he make you forget your own name? Did he convince you he was a God? Did you get on your knees daily? Do his eyes close like doors? Are you the slave to the back of his head? Am I talking about your husband or your father? 

While Daddy Lessons is a song about “being taught how to shoot a gun and how to be a tenacious, hard-working young woman“, Beyoncé has let us all know that it’s no secret that she has a fraught relationship with her father and the pressure he put her under both as youngster in “boot camp” to prepare for Destiny’s Child and in her adult life as a solo artist. 

While the change we have witnessed in Beyoncé’s public image has happened very gradually, it seems to have accelerated greatly from 2011 onward.

Beyoncé became the person she is today when she learned how to take control of her image and her labour and put her own needs before anybody else’s. It’s no surprise that after doing something that empowering, empowerment has been such a huge theme in her music. 

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Kelly Earley

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