Beyoncé hid the news well. It’s not as if she hasn’t been spotted out and about lately: She reportedly came to the White House in early January for a celebrity-filled goodbye party for the Obamas.
Wednesday’s announcement was met by total shock on social media, where the topic “BEYONCE IS HAVING TWINS” — yes, in all caps — trended on Twitter. By 9 p.m., Guinness World Records announced that Queen Bey had shattered a previous world record held by Selena Gomez after her Instagram baby bump picture garnered more than 6.3 million “likes.”
She later posted the rest of what turned out to be was quite an elaborate maternity photo shoot on her website, captioned with poetic lines.
In a world where anyone with a smartphone, a signal and a bunch of time on their hands can turn into a sleuth, the details and contours of Beyoncé’s life and work have been remarkably kept under wraps.
This discipline extends to her professional output. Beyoncé has been able to record and produce; shoot and finish albums; and film dozens of music videos nearly entirely under the radar. While some of her most die-hard fans follow tea leaves incredibly closely and speculate as to what’s around the corner, Beyoncé generally presents a master class for super-famous people in the art of controlling the narrative.
This is the woman who in 2013 dropped her surprise, self-titled visual album on a Friday night, immediately causing a social-media frenzy. And as if we didn’t learn our lesson, she basically did the same thing two years later with “Formation.” She posted the music video to social media on a Saturday afternoon and about 24 hours later, performed the song during the Super Bowl halftime show. By then, plenty of Americans had played the song on repeat; “Formation” was no longer a new release.
Who else can do that? Frank Ocean basically did the opposite: Anticipation built for years over whether he would release new music, and people closely tracked rumors, signs and signals as to when he’d drop his eagerly awaited follow-up to “Channel Orange.” It became so watched that a website was established to alert fans as soon as the album dropped.
Even Taylor Swift’s fans have tried to crack the code as to when her newest work will be out.
Kendrick Lamar followed the Beyoncé playbook with a 2015 surprise release, but he doesn’t command anywhere near the level of attention that Queen Bey’s every move does.
It hasn’t always been this way for Beyoncé, whose album “4” leaked onto the Internet in 2011. “While this is not how I wanted to present my new songs,” she said in a statement at the time, “I appreciate the positive response from my fans.”
But considering how a music video from Beyoncé can spawn a week of essays and podcasts and SNL sketches, the star has remarkably let little leak since, including details of her personal life.
For years, rumors have percolated at various times as to her maternal status, but murmuring would quickly subside. Instead, Beyoncé took it upon herself to reveal her pregnancy during a live performance at the 2011 MTV Music Awards and, in the process, created one of the year’s most talked about TV moments.
One of the only off-scripted moments that ballooned from a tabloid sensation into a mainstream news topic was the infamous 2014 elevator surveillance video TMZ posted showing her sister, Solange, attacking her husband Jay Z. In a rare move, the family released a statement acknowledging the video and “the great deal of speculation about what triggered the unfortunate incident.” “The most important thing is that our family has worked through it,” they said. “Jay and Solange each assume their share of responsibility for what has occurred.”
Eventually, Beyoncé was able to reclaim the fallout from the elevator video — “Of course sometimes s— go down when it’s a billion dollars on an elevator,” she sang on a song released months after the incident — and rumors of potential infidelity.
With the visual album “Lemonade,” the singer presented a story of a cheating partner and a woman embarking on a journey of anger, heartbreak and forgiveness. Was this tale about her marriage? Given how incredibly private the A-list couple is, meh, probably not. But she provided enough tantalizing clues and lyrics to get people talking for a long time about the project.
And that’s really what any celebrity wants: to be discussed, on their terms.