Beyoncé’s attention to detail in every part of her career is by far my favourite thing about her. She masterfully executes amazing, over-the-top performances because she is always thinking a few steps ahead. From the functionality of her costumes to the perfect lighting, Bey doesn’t miss a beat. And while it may seem completely out of left field that she, too, is influenced by the viral content culture around us, it's not. She is well aware that she is not only one of our greatest living entertainers, but a meme queen and a GIF goddess to boot. So it should not surprise you that GIFs have become something that's considered when dreaming up choreography for the greatest living entertainer. She really does think of everything.
JaQuel Knight — the dancer who choreographed “Single Ladies” for Beyoncé at just 18 years old — witnessed this firsthand after the song’s visuals took on a viral life of their own on the internet. Speaking with Refinery29 over the phone, he described the constant reappropriation of the dance moves to be eye-opening. “People started to pick little dance GIFs, and then that started to circulate around the internet.” He’s right. My personal favourite is the one where the heads of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley have been Photoshopped to replace Beyoncé and her dancers. Don’t judge me.
Ten years later, “Single Ladies” is one of the most iconic songs of our time, and GIFs are part of our everyday communication style. Just think about how often Apple adds new emojis, making us wait for tiny images (like tacos) that we thought existed all along. And with iOS 10, they made it super easy for users to drop GIFs right into texts. Viacom Velocity recently did a survey of Gen Z-ers and millennials and found that 85% of us think that “communication today is more about visuals and less about words.” Sixty-four percent of us use visuals to communicate faster, and a little over half of us say that GIFs, emojis, and memes make communication more personal. To live in today’s world, a strong GIF game is vital. As a consumer and a fan, you have have to be ready to deploy the perfect one at the drop of hat. And as a celebrity, you have to create GIF-worthy content. That’s where Knight comes in.
Since “Single Ladies,” Knight has choreographed tours for Britney Spears and the musical film Burlesque (starring Christina Aguilera and Cher), just to name a few of his notable credits. He provided insight as to how the merger between dance and today’s technology has influenced his creative process, and why he always records himself when choreographing. “I see things in my head before I do it. Then when I'm looking at it [played] back, I'm like, Maybe we can up the ante here. Pull it back here. This has great personality here. How can we infuse that throughout the choreography? I think about all of those things.” He is cognizant of the way certain moves can live on in infamy as one- to two-second clips shared between friends, to supplement the text of certain tweets, and or even to sass up a work email. For example, I use this GIF from the 2007 Beyoncé Experience tour when I’m flirting, I’m proud of myself at work, or I get a new weave. It’s a GIF(t) that keeps on giving.
But this, and other GIFs are more than perks for fans. They also serve a purpose that celebrities themselves get to benefit from. “Generally speaking, people who get the most GIFs are people who aren't that accessible and aren't putting themselves out there,” Knight explained. “[Fans] get everything you can to hold onto until you get the next piece of good stuff. Then, you hold on to that until you get the next piece. So I absolutely think it's a way for [celebrities] to stay relevant in a way.” It’s possible that we’ll never know exactly how it went down when Bey was faced with infidelity in her marriage to Jay Z, but this GIF from the “Hurt Yourself” video when she asks “Who the fuck do you think I is?” tells me everything I need to know. From Rihanna to Oprah, the bigger the star, the more GIFs in their likeness mean to us, whether they’re dancing or goofing around backstage.
Knight made sure to mention that after each stop of her ongoing On The Run II Tour with JAY, Beyoncé has released a series of GIFs on her website. “That right there says boom, this is the real thing. I think without it, you're losing,” he insists. If my group chats, and the hundreds of GIFs within them are any indication, he might be right.