NEW YORK — There was no Twitter, Instagram or even Gmail when Beyoncé was first starting out, she says early on in her HBO documentary, “Life Is but a Dream.” In fact, Destiny’s Child, the girl group that gave the 31-year-old her start in the music industry at 17, were singing about their AOL accounts and Motorola pagers when they dropped their 1999 sophomore disc. So maybe it’s not surprising to hear her lamenting the “brainwashing” that has us treating celebrities’ personal lives “as entertainment.”
“All things are not your business,” Bey chastises from a pristine, ivory-colored couch, her golden goddess-style braids piled high on top of her head and polished feet tucked underneath her.
It’s an especially interesting point for the singer — an executive-producer and co-director of the upcoming doc — to make considering what ultimately makes it to the screen. After giving the insatiable Media Takeout set a stern talking-to for failing to respect any boundaries, viewers are treated to a dizzying succession of home movies, online diaries and revelations. Even off-camera, during a pre-screening chat with Oprah Winfrey at the Ziegfeld, Beyoncé was in a sharing mood, telling the crowd the doc got its title from a line in one of daughter Blue’s favorite songs, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
But it’s this contradiction that makes the film so fascinating. After spending nearly half of her life with a high-wattage spotlight trained on her, the famously private Beyoncé is still wrestling with how much to give, how much to hold back. “How do I stay current?” she asks. And then, too, “How do I stay soulful?” Before fans get to see the documentary Saturday on HBO, we’ve previewed a few key scenes — with mild spoilers, so you’ve been warned!
Beyoncé will always be daddy’s little girl, even after firing him.
For years until she cut ties with him in 2011, dad and manager Mathew Knowles was a constant presence in his daughter’s professional life. And similarly here, he’s something of a force, helping to inspire the very narrative of the doc. “He kept pushing me,” Bey says, explaining that Knowles’ influence (and her longing for his approval) helped shape her relentless drive. Still, after years of working together, the lines between parent and business partner become blurry and the singer sensed it’s time for a change. But nothing will prepare fans for her candor when she details the aftermath of firing her father,
So that’s what Bey and Jay-Z talk about over dinner.
Although the mega-famous Carters have been together for more than a decade, and married for nearly five of those years, it’s not uncommon for people to muse that they’re an odd couple. Jay is the ex-hustler from Brooklyn’s grimy Marcy Projects, while Bey is the church-going Southern belle raised in a leafy Houston suburb. What can they possibly be talking about over those greasy pizza dinners at Lucali? The moments are fleeting but you’ll find out in this doc. (Look out for the poignant birthday scene where a devoted Beyoncé raises her glass to her man.)
Beyoncé just wants to bring R&B back, y’all.
Although her 2011 album, 4 was a critical success, the platinum disc is widely perceived as a commercial failure. The careful editing here suggests that Beyoncé wants it known that she recorded the soulful collection fully aware of how it might be received by fans who knew her only for big radio anthems. It would be “crippling,” she moans, to “sing the same thing for 10 years. With that in mind, she decides, “I’m not gonna try to be cool, I’m gonna be honest.”
Mr. and Mrs. Carter are having a baby … or are they?
One of the strangest rumors to emerge during Beyoncé’s highly documented pregnancy was that she had never been pregnant at all. After a talk show appearance seemed to show Bey’s baby bump “deflating” as she sat down, the still went viral. The singer takes on the conspiracy theorists without any sign of malice, but rather shutting them down with more eye-popping footage from her personal archives.
The moments following her exit from the MTV VMA stage after baring her bump are seen here, as are the first real looks at Blue Ivy. You will not be able to turn away.
Will you watch “Beyoncé: Life Is but a Dream”? Tell us in the comments!