Beyonce, Trying To Find Her Own Destiny

(Peter Kramer - Getty Images)
By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 9, 2006

Beyonce, Act 3.

That's where we are. In case you downloaded a couple of her new songs last night, or bought her new album this week, or saw her new whatchamacallit music video and thought, "Whoa! Where am I? Who is she?"

You knew Beyonce. The Beyonce of Destiny's Child. (That was Act 1.) Then the Beyonce who went solo but came back to the group. (That was Act 2.)

And now Act 3 is the B season, the independent- independent Beyonce, with Beyonce Giselle Knowles screaming at the top of her lungs, trying so hard to come fully into her own.

She's done three movies, but nothing like the breakout role in the Oscar-bait "Dreamgirls," due out on Christmas Day. There's the growing fashion line, House of Dereon, named for her grandmother. And the second solo album ("B'Day" dropped Tuesday) that's wrapped in a raw, relentless, aggressive voice, practically bursting out of the beats.

It's not the Beyonce of Destiny's Child, one of the most successful female groups in history, which was known for its catchy tunes and its good-girl image. She's broken away from that. There's no misinterpreting the photo on the back of "B'Day's" CD booklet: Beyonce wearing black heels and a swimsuit, holding two alligators on leashes.

What's going on, B?

" That's Beyonce? Why is she singing like that ? She looks like a mess ," says fan Dionne Morton, 24, of Bowie, referring to the video for "Ring the Alarm." She's memorized all the songs, owns all the albums, but this, this ranting, angry woman in the music video who shouts, "Ring the alarm! / I been through this too long! / But I'll be damned if I see another chick on your arm!" she doesn't know. "I'm not really sure what to make of Beyonce these days," Morton says.

Change. We get to watch the evolution of an artist, in this case Beyonce trying to find her way, define herself, mature.

"When she auditioned for 'Dreamgirls,' I had to make sure that she couldn't just play sweet ingenue, but also serious and dramatic," says Bill Condon, the Oscar-winning screenwriter who directed the film."And she did both remarkably well. This is an exciting time for her. A scary time, too. She's pushing herself. She's trying on different personalities."

It hasn't been an easy Act 3 so far. Though "B'Day" is expected to sell more than 600,000 units in its first week -- one of the biggest releases of the year -- the reviews have been mixed. The album's first single, "Deja Vu," failed to take off; some fans were so disappointed by the video ("Is she dancing or having a seizure?" one asked) that they signed an online petition demanding that B re-shoot it. And B's dad, also her manager, has gotten involved, issuing a furious (and much-circulated) press release. (B and her camp are unavailable for comment, says Yvette Noel-Schure, her publicist.)

Then there's the "Basic Instinct"-inspired video for "Ring the Alarm," dissected on sites such as YouTube. Note to Jay-Z, B's beau: If there's any truth to the rumors in the hip-hop press that you're cheating on B with Rihanna, watch your back.

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