The last time Beyoncé fronted a major magazine, it was the September 2018 issue of Vogue, and Anna seems to have handed her control of her spread; Beyoncé provided captions for the photos, written in first person, in lieu of sitting for an interview. The decision sparked a little controversy at the time, mostly because people wondered if it was too blatantly advertorial — curating the entire thing without the magazine’s editorial hand seemed to take the journalism right out of what is supposed to be, allegedly, a journalistic endeavor, beyond simply having your subject write an essay. (However, she did use her influence to hire a black photographer to shoot the cover, for the first time ever, and Vogue’s post-fervor backpedaling about Beyoncé’s level of creative control ended up stepping on this milestone a bit and… well, there’s a take on it here that seems to amount to: Anna, if you did it, just own it.) Anyway, my point is, when we were here a year ago, much was made of the lack of interview.
For Elle, the optics are different, but to me it’s a thin veil for the same approach. Beyoncé is promoting her athleisure line Ivy Park, which just announced an imminent collection with adidas; the spread is entirely self-styled, using those shoes and other items from her line. That’s fairly standard. Celebs are always promoting something with these covers. For this, Beyoncé hired her “Formation” collaborator (and Queen & Slim director) Melina Matsoukas to shoot everything — not photos, they say, but “a series of cinematic vignettes.” That part also makes sense, in part because Matsoukas knows Beyoncé well, and has an eye, and on the day this cover was released she was expected to be celebrating a Golden Globes nod for Queen & Slim (it did not come; no female directors were recognized) which would have been pretty synergy. All of that works: Your cover star, a MAJOR star, gets to work with someone with whom she creatively gels, and it gives a woman of color the chance to shoot something that will be an international cover.
But in the end, I think it’s the same amount of control Vogue gave her, buried under easier optics. The story is just questions from fans submitted via mediums like Facebook — thus likely very carefully hand-picked, and either predictably gushy, like, “Why did you start directing? Is it not hard enough being the queen that constantly slays us?—via email,” or sounding as if Elle employees were told to submit some in case no one else did, such as, “As the chairwoman and CEO of your company, Parkwood Entertainment, what are some of the measures you have put in place to assure women executives have an equal say?—via email.” By the way, the answer to that one included, “I hire women not to be token voices in the company but to lead. I believe women are more balanced and think with compassion in deciding what’s best for the business. They see the big picture absent of personal agendas. Most women are loyal and commit with 100 percent follow-through,” and when I got to “most women are loyal” it made me feel like Bey knew EXACTLY which people would read “most women” and feel a shiver go down her spine.
Further, the intro is not bylined, and reads like it was ripped straight out of an Ivy Park promotional brochure:
She strides into the local hair salon, bodega, laundromat, and wig shop wearing pieces from her IVY PARK x adidas collection—living proof that you, too, can be a stylish superhero in your own life, no matter where you live and who you are. She designs IVY PARK with everyone in mind, emphasizing a “fly” look for all—whether dropping off the kids, going to the gym, or out on a dinner date.
I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the old celeb-on-celeb Q&A, but here we are. Why not have Matsoukas sit down with her friend for this? Why not have these two women talk about work and directing and representation and all the other things about which Beyoncé (and Melina!) rightly has a lot to say? Sure, that’s ALSO the kind of interview where you can be prepped for the questions you’re getting, but a back-and-forth at least would’ve had energy and a throughline, and the chance for follow-up questions (or even, say, details on how the two of them creatively undertake a project like this). As someone who prefers writing to talking, I get why Beyoncé would also perhaps want to sculpt her answers to their best advantage, but it would have been lovely to read a conversation between these two. In Bey’s own words, “I have trusted Melina for over a decade and created some of my best work with her—from visuals for my music to tour content and now a fashion shoot. I was so excited to work with her on this shoot for ELLE, because working with Melina is effortless. We have a natural way of collaborating because of our friendship and mutual respect for each other.” Great! You guys know each other and are a safe space for each other! Talk it out! Otherwise, it risks feeling like a string of platitudes. Like this:
I think the most stressful thing for me is balancing work and life. Making sure I am present for my kids—dropping Blue off at school, taking Rumi and Sir to their activities, making time for date nights with my husband, and being home in time to have dinner with my family—all while running a company can be challenging. Juggling all of those roles can be stressful, but I think that’s life for any working mom.
Swap out the names, and anyone in the world could have churned out that quote. Sidebar, one thing I really respect about Chrissy Teigen is that she does not downplay the fact that she has a LOT of help in her quest to work as much as she does and still be present for her kids.
Having said all that, Beyoncé knows what she’s doing, so this is not without good nuggets. To a question that basically asks whether she thinks it sucks that she doesn’t win ALL OF THE THINGS, Beyoncé says:
I began to search for deeper meaning when life began to teach me lessons I didn’t know I needed. Success looks different to me now. I learned that all pain and loss is in fact a gift. Having miscarriages taught me that I had to mother myself before I could be a mother to someone else. Then I had Blue, and the quest for my purpose became so much deeper. I died and was reborn in my relationship, and the quest for self became even stronger. It’s difficult for me to go backwards. Being “number one” was no longer my priority. My true win is creating art and a legacy that will live far beyond me. That’s fulfilling.
That very much tracks with the way her approach to music, and art, and film has evolved. Also, when asked if she’s ever just at the store:
The last time I went to a supermarket, it was more like a bodega before a Madonna concert. Jay and I snuck into one in Crenshaw and bought some Cuervo and Funyuns chips. And…y’all know you see me at Target and I see y’all trying to sneak pics.
That made me laugh. She also speaks about inclusion, and body acceptance (“[C]hildren and maturity have taught me to value myself beyond my physical appearance and really understand that I am more than enough no matter what stage I’m at in life”), but I will leave you with this story about The Purple One, told in response to an attendee who asked if she’ll ever sell a tour video from “Formation”:
Years ago, I asked Prince to record my rehearsal with him for our Grammy performance. He said, “You don’t need to record that. You own that in your mind.” Haaaaaaa! Prince always knew best! So, you can always watch the Formation World Tour in your mind; you own that.
Yes, but I can’t stream my brain in HD anymore, Beyoncé . I’M OLD.