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Posted at 05:31 PM ET, 11/28/2012

On the Beyonce HBO movie and the tricky business of celebrity brand control

Celebrities tend to be self-involved. To some extent, they have to be. When you make a living that focuses largely on your own image and how you present that image to the public, there is a natural tendency to become a bit wrapped up in one’s own uber-glamourous, ultra-famous ego.

Still, some may feel Beyonce is taking ego to a new level with her upcoming TV movie.


Beyonce: directing her own brand. (LUCAS JACKSON - REUTERS)

Tuesday, HBO confirmed that it plans to air in February “Beyonce: A Documentary Special,” an “intimate, feature-length” portrait of Beyonce that was directed by Beyonce, executive-produced by Beyonce and shopped around by Beyonce a few months ago.

So basically, it’s: “‘Beyonce the Movie,’ starring Beyonce, written and directed by Beyonce, produced by Beyonce, featuring the music of Beyonce and broadcast on HBO, where the B now stands for Beyonce. Note: closed-captioning subtitles also provided by Beyonce.”

It seems a bit excessive — narcissistic-cessive, perhaps? — even to those who are serious fans of Sasha Fierce. And it raises a question: At what point does a celebrity’s effort to control her own brand start to work against her?

At this cultural moment, the famous and even the non-famous have the ability to build mini- franchises around their own identities. With a large enough Twitter or Tumblr following, a person — even one who isn’t married to Jay-Z — can become a “brand.”

The trick for a bigtime celebrity — one whose talent has already been widely celebrated and commodified — is to manage her image in a way that seems authentic in a climate where authenticity is more valued than ever. In other words, she — and her team, of course — must create a positive public perception of herself without seeming to make an effort. Actresses like Emma Stone and Sandra Bullock are very good at this. Kim Kardashian is less so, although that doesn’t seem to be adversely impacting her income. As for Beyonce, I’d argue that a different set of rules apply to her. Let’s call them Diva Rules.

The mother of Blue Ivy Carter puts herself out there in ways that make her seem real and candid — just take a look at her official Tumblr filled with non-glamour shots of her sans make-up (but of course, also looking fantastic). But more importantly, she’s carefully built herself into a symbol of take-charge female empowerment. Starring in a movie about herself that she’s entirely responsible for crafting is 100 percent consistent with that image. Yes, being a control freak may be eye-rolling to some, but at this point, it’s also synonymous with who Beyonce is, or at least who we think she is. Same goes for the queen of image control, Madonna, and Lady Gaga, who, by the way, starred in and directed her own self-indulgent Thanksgiving special last November.

“Beyonce: A Documentary” may wind up showing us some images of the mega-star that we haven’t seen. It almost certainly will generate some buzz and, perhaps, decent ratings for HBO. Heck, I plan to watch it, and I just poked fun at it five paragraphs ago. But it won’t be a honest portrait of Beyonce because it can’t be. No one can hold up a mirror to herself, orchestrate how the reflection appears and call it something true. But the Divine Miss Knowles is smart enough to know that in her case, that doesn’t matter.

Beyonce’s brand is diva and, as she told us in her song of the same name, “A diva is a female version of a hustla.” Beyonce’s fans don’t care if she’s really showing them an unfiltered, complete portrait of who she is. They just want to see their girl run the world, and run Beyonce, Inc. They want their diva to do what they’ve always embraced her for doing: keep hustling. By making “Beyonce: A Documentary Special,” she’s giving her people exactly what they want.

By  |  05:31 PM ET, 11/28/2012

Tags:  Beyonce

 
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