We need to talk about Bey and Jay. Not the tabloid rumors of infidelity. Not the business empire they've built. Not even their status as an international power couple. We need to talk about them as Beyoncé and Jay Z: two human beings.
It’s a more difficult subject to broach than one would think.
As consumers of media, we believe we know them intimately; that we know what makes them tick as individuals, and as a couple. After all, they’ve both been in the public eye since they were teenagers. We met Jay through his autobiographical albums, which chronicle his journey from Bed-Stuy to conquering the "concrete jungle where dreams are made." As for Beyoncé, fans don't just know her; they laud the very idea of her. She's both a friend and a cultural phenomenon.
Recently, I went to a wedding where the bride walked down the aisle to "Halo," and she speaks effusively on the cult of Beyoncé.
"Why do I like her? Where do I even begin? She is the epitome of fierce and she reinvented the definition of DIVA," my friend says. "She is the perfect representative (in the most ideal form) of the dreams of women of our generation: strong, energized, hard-working, and bedazzled."
In recent years, Beyoncé has concentrated more and more on this message of female empowerment. "I’m always thinking about women, and what we need to hear. It's difficult being a woman. It's so much pressure," she said in the 2013 documentary Life Is But A Dream, which aired on HBO. "We’re all going through our problems, but we all have the same insecurities...We all have the same abilities, and we all need each other."
The documentary carries the strong message that not only do women need to take the power "to define our values, and what’s sexy and what's feminine back from men," but this reclamation will start with us changing the way we think. "We have to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves," Beyoncé said. She adds that it's okay to need other women for support.
It’s definitely an inspiring idea, but it’s not the only narrative Life Is But A Dream constructs. The documentary also strives to make Beyoncé a real person — not just a celebrity, but a daughter, a wife, and now, a mother. She begins to peel away the layers of her public persona, taking us inside one of the most difficult periods in her relationship with her husband: a miscarriage, followed by the birth of their daughter.
The story of Beyoncé’s life now incorporates her relationship and being in love as part of the empowered woman's ideal. “It’s every woman’s dream to feel this way about someone,” she said in Life Is But A Dream. That statement comes from a place of power and choice. She’s a woman; she decides her own dreams; and this is one of hers.
"I just pray that Jay and I stay a team, because right now we are really connected and really are communicating well and completely understand each other and support each other and need each other." Her message is that you can be strong and still reach out to your partner for help.
As you probably know, this united team is currently being tested. Like most famous couples, Jay and Bey have faced rumors of their demise, from time to time, over the course of their relationship. Beginning with the elevator incident in May, however, the couple has been dealing with constant scrutiny. Rumors of Jay’s alleged infidelity repeatedly makes headlines.
The media has intensified the situation over the past few days, with anonymous sources saying the couple has sought marriage counseling. "They made the classic mistake of thinking a child would change everything and help to rekindle the initial fire, and it didn’t," reported Page Six.
The news is everywhere, and everyone has an opinion about the state of the Carter union. "If they get a divorce, they are the best actors I have ever seen, because what I saw in concert at their Houston show on July 18 was the most sincere, explosive display of love I have ever witnessed! It all seemed so real — everyone watching hoped it was as well,” my Bey-hive friend says, perhaps with a bit of projection.
Yet, could the root of these rumors be Bey and Jay themselves? For the past few years, Beyoncé has been offering fans more and more access into her life. Well, a life. Her Tumblr and Instagram are dreamy reels of beautiful, stylish images. Remember the vacation Bey, Jay, and Blue Ivy took where father and daughter played on the beach, and mom snapped a photo? It felt like it could be one of our own childhood memories, only with more polish and glitz.
The carefully curated snapshots of her life have also played into her flawless, "I woke up like this" image. When we think of Beyoncé, we envision a gorgeous woman living a near-magical existence. She’s the most powerful celebrity in the world, but she’s done her best to cultivate the idea that she’s still accessible — albeit a little more aspirational. The dichotomy has finally proven too overwhelming, though. The media wants to chip away her flawless veneer.
That’s why the news of trouble in paradise is everywhere. Not only have the disenchanted become eager to see cracks in the facade, but the heavy hand of a carefully orchestrated script is increasingly making its presence known. Beyoncé doesn’t help matters by following every sordid headline with a caption-free photo of happy, smiling family life.
Then, there’s the couple’s current project, the On The Run tour. A blind item many people assume to be about Beyoncé and Jay Z asserts that it’s the only reason they’re staying together. Gossip items aside, the tour has become another example of Bey’s almost aggressive attempts to frame their narrative. Video projections tell audiences that “This is not real,” before she sings “Resentment,” accompanied by larger-than-life images of Beyoncé shooting her husband are projected on the screens.
It was also during a performance of “Resentment,” a song about lying and betrayal, that Bey directly stoked the fire. She changed the lyrics, updating them to reflect an extremely close version of the Carter’s own relationship timeline.
For the show’s big finale; however, the couple offers up their version of the truth. "This is real," the screen reads, before they perform the last number, which is accompanied by images of their wedding, Beyoncé’s pregnancy, and Blue Ivy. Forget the tabloid headlines. Ignore the couple’s own non-reaction reactions to them. (Which at this point pretty much goes as follows: rumor reported → instantaneous Beyoncé social-media update with loving-couple image.) The notion that this could all just be a business arrangement? Preposterous. Here are two powerful people voluntarily giving you the facts.
This is a relationship that’s been presented as a marriage of powerful equals. They publicly support one another and appear on each other’s albums. But, the media is always eager to cast the roles of villain and victim when celebrity marriages break down. A Bey and Jay split doesn't invalidate what they once had, though, and what they once represented. “I think [people] feel like [celebrities’] lives are so perfect,” Beyoncé said in Life Is But a Dream. “It’s really hard to go through painful experiences when you are in the public eye because it’s hard to have closure.” It just goes to show that the most powerful woman in the world struggles with the same problems as everyone else.
I asked my friend if she thinks it would clash with Beyoncé’s feminist ethos if it ever came to light that the cheating rumors were true, and Bey stayed with Jay. "I don’t think we'll ever know what any celebrities' personal lives are like," she says. "I know that it's complicated to sever a relationship that you've been in for a while. If she really loves him, and he really loves her — and her ultimate happiness is keeping him — then I think she is strong to keep him (despite what other people might think of her for doing it). Beyoncé does what she WANTS!”
Yes, she definitely does. At this moment, however, it's hard to discern what she wants. The messages are too mixed, and she ends up coming across as passive-aggressive. We don’t need Beyoncé to be perfect. But, desperately trying to maintain an air of perfection in the face of criticism feels like a bit of a letdown. Commit to the humility and power to which you aspired in Life Is But A Dream, Bey. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, nor do they have to invalidate that you are a strong female role model. Just be human.
That’s why these rumors are getting us down. The rest is between Beyoncé and Jay Z.