Decoding Beyoncé’s Secret Instagram Messages

Photo: David Fisher/Rex/REX USA.
If the headlines from this past weekend are to be believed, the most important Beyoncé news of late is that she’s on a family vacation sporting matching swimwear with her daughter, Blue Ivy. That news was generated from Bey herself, solely through photos she posted on her Instagram account. Only one of the photos had a caption: a blue heart emoji. Beyoncé managed to generate headlines on almost every major news outlet without speaking a word. She’s been doing that for years now, and quite strategically. By posting three idyllic photos of her family on a boat, she’d managed to redirect the previous week’s headlines and change the global conversation to herself. Beyoncé did this without having to actually say anything or make any formal statements. In an ironic twist, last week’s major Beyoncé news was about that very subject. On August 19, The New York Times published an article entitled,“Beyoncé Is Seen but Not Heard.” In the piece, author Matthew Schneier notes that Beyoncé is on “the biggestVogue of the year, the vaunted September issue,” yet in it, she “says not a word.” This is quite a feat. Not only are magazine cover subjects usually interviewed in the accompanying profiles, Schneier notes that, "A review of five years’ worth of [Vogue] cover articles indicates that she is the only celebrity cover star not to submit to some type of interview (and on the occasion of her two previousVogue covers, in 2009 and 2013, she did).” Beyoncé’s refusal to speak directly to members of the media goes back a few years now. According to The Times, “At some imperceptible point around 2013 to 2014, she appears to have stopped giving face-to-face interviews. A member of her team told a reporter in May that despite numerous appearances, she had not answered a direct question in more than a year.” Beyoncé has appeared on television in taped segments. In June, she went on Good Morning America to promote her vegan diet. She answered questions via email about the diet for a Times article in May 2015, although she refused to speak to the reporter on the phone, as it was too direct. Is her refusal to give interviews to members of the media some sort of power play? The experts to whom Schneier spoke for his piece see Beyoncé’s decision as one that’s savvy and empowered. The article has 139 comments, ranging from fans who support Beyoncé's silence to a reader calling Bey “a pretty singing puppet, nothing more.” Even in a piece where she says nothing — about how she has said nothing for almost two years — Beyoncé’s careful image management is betrayed by words. Hence the sunny, smiley, happy family photos that popped up this weekend. You don’t have to be a diehard member of the Beyhive to have noticed by now that every time Beyoncé is the subject of controversy, a bunch of beautiful, sentimental photos appear on her Instagram account.

A photo posted by Beyoncé (@beyonce) on

Take, for example, mid-July 2014. Page Six published an article with the headline “Could This Be the End of Beyoncé and Jay Z?” According to a source, the power couple was in marriage counseling and on the verge of splitting. Rather than responding to the rumors with an official statement, Beyoncé — who was currently co-headlining the On the Run tour with her husband — posted several photos in which she and Jay were standing strong as a couple and kissing. Please excuse the cliché, but the photos definitely spoke a thousand words. Beyoncé rarely captions her Instagram pictures, but she uploaded an image around that time that contained a quote from a review of the tour. “As individuals, [Beyoncé and Jay Z are] impressive, but together, they’re unstoppable.” She used someone else’s words to make her point and respond to the divorce rumors that were dominating headlines at that moment. She used those words on an image, though, because that’s how Bey chooses to communicate. To sort through past interviews she’s done or watch the documentary, Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream, is to see evidence of this point over and over again. In February 2013, she told GQ that she has archives of every interview she’s ever done and employs a “visual director” to keep track of taped footage. She films every single concert she performs, and then watches the DVD before going to sleep at night so she can critique her own performance, as well as that of her dancers, lighting technicians, and everyone else involved with the team effort. This is a woman who fiercely controls her own image, but clearly knows the power of the written word. That GQ interview, which reveals the secret of her immense Beyoncé archives to the public, and is also one of the last she’s given to a publication, finishes with a quote. “I now know that, yes, I am powerful. I’m more powerful than my mind can even digest and understand." The Times calls that quip “daffy.” In today’s 24/7 media churn, words and spoken quotes are a lot easier to take out of context than a sunny Instagram photo. That seems to be the strategy and long game Beyoncé’s adopted to control her own narrative. The elevator incident goes down; she posts a happy sister photo on Instagram with a bee emoji in the caption. The Beyhive likes, comments, and regrams, and the circle of adoration and positive publicity continues. Beyoncé wants to be seen, but not heard — unless she’s dropping a surprise album, performing, or promoting something. In that case, she wants you to listen.

A photo posted by Beyoncé (@beyonce) on

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