Why Beyonce’s Superstardom Doesn’t Fade

Mary Kinney

 

Beyoncé's superstardom doesn't need to be reaffirmed: she has grown up in the public eye with dignity; her regal presence transcends multiple subcultures -- something that few pop stars are able to accomplish (Bey's major influence Michael Jackson was one of the few). This is only amplified by the production and reception of Beyoncé’s visual album, Beyoncé.

 

The business model of albums in the music industry is fairly formulaic: an artist will release a single, pop stars will push a music video, there is endless promotion of a proposed release date. Beyoncé, of course, turned this all upside down with her surprise album dropping without any prior announcement, promotion, or singles.  Yet her visual album marked a major point in the evolution of the music video.

 

The medium of the music video really kicked into high gear with the genesis of MTV. In the oral history I Want My MTV by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top said, "One night I got a phone call from Frank Beard, our drummer. He said, 'Hey, there's a good concert on TV. Check it out. So a couple hours went by while I watched TV, and I called him back and said, 'How long does this concert last?' [...] Twelve hours later, we were still glued to the TV.”

 

MTV was a sensation and everyone was watching, but it eventually fell to reality TV. I Want My MTV notes that the last time MTV was innovative as a channel was when it premiered The Real World.

 

 

When MTV had its first major dip in viewers, Michael Jackson's Thriller videos and Madonna’s racy singles saved MTV from oblivion. It’s no coincidence that Beyoncé considers herself influenced by Jackson – especially the Thriller years. But once The Real World aired, music videos fell with MTV’s music programming. Since then, the music video has slipped into a strange limbo—music videos are most often a flash in the pan, existing on YouTube without a shared viewing experiences. The ephemeral music video medium became even more ephemeral – videos need to be viral to succeed, and a new brand of celebrity came out of these viral sensations (where would Rebecca Black be without YouTube? Or Justin Bieber?)

 

Beyoncé’s success in the visual medium was already established, but one of the biggest reasons Beyoncé was a sensation is because she harkened back to old tropes and redefined them for the Internet age – and then she paired these tropes with the viral marketing that has been a major success in recent years.

 

Bey’s success of music videos is largely due to how she used her body. In the early days of MTV and the music videos, women’s bodies were used as objects. If you think of nearly any hair metal music video from the 1980s, women were understood as status objects: they were seen in cages, on cars, and on the arm of the male lead singer.  Beyoncé’s body is clearly present in this album, but it is redefined and explored in a way most pop stars have not been able to do. Queen Bey takes ownership of her body and makes use of her power: in “Flawless,” she drops the song’s hook for a lengthy TED Talk clip about feminism—and it fits well.

 

 

Beyond this, by launching an album unannounced at midnight, Beyoncé allowed everyone to listen and interpret at the same time: this is rare nowadays. The Internet has codified and decentralized the listening and viewing periods, so it is very much about the individual listening right now rather than what everyone is watching because it's on MTV. Comments sections and major launches often create a rush on YouTube or other listening sites, but these shared experiences are extremely rare. For the first time in ages, critics and fans had a shared experience Because of this phenomenon, most reviews were written within mere hours of Beyoncé’s release. The initial reactions were in consensus: unabashed praise.

 

Yet the Internet age has made way for visual stimuli to become more fluid: with Facebook photos, streaming videos and curated pictures on Instagram and Tumblr, we exist in a faster pace—yet still incredibly visual—media world.

 

The shareability and the speed that information flows put Beyoncé at a huge advantage. Beyoncé’s videos in the past have done extremely well, and her loyal fans have high share value: for that reason, there was no need for promotion, and everyone was immediately talking about her new album.

          

But Beyoncé’s team was well aware of trending topics and hashtags, and out of Beyoncé birthed #wokeuplikethis, #flawless, and many variations of #surfboard. What’s more, Bey’s team had sweatshirts available almost immediately after Beyoncé’s launch with texts such as “Flawless,” “Surfboard,” and more. They were well aware of the virility and shareability of this album – and Beyonce and her team capitalized on it quickly.

 

With these strategies, Beyoncé has had a lasting effect on pop culture and still infiltrates social media, radio, (and all forms of media really) many months later. Bey’s ever-escalating superstardom allowed for all this to happen, but these strategies and notably, this visual album, will stand out in music history.  

 

Author Bio:

Mary Kinney is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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