Between her Super Bowl appearance, which got fans into ‘formation,’ and an HBO special combined with the surprise release of Lemonade and her subsequent world tour, Beyoncé was the undisputed queen of 2016. And this year, following the announcement that she’s pregnant with twins and slated to make history at the GRAMMYs, she’s also scheduled to headline Coachella, marking the first time a female artist has appeared at the top of the schedule of the California music and arts festival in a decade. There’s no disputing that 2017 will once again fall under her reign.
I first met Beyoncé at a Sony Music party when she was, well, still a teenager and I was the entertainment editor at InStyle magazine. Years -- and many platinum records -- later, Beyoncé chose me to help write Soul Survivors, the authorized autobiography of Destiny's Child. Over the next decade, we’d go on to spend time together at her Houston home and church, hang out at her 21st birthday party in New York City and on music video sets, tour buses and backstage at concerts. I joined her on a private tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and was there for many GRAMMY nights as well as other award shows, from the Golden Globes to the MTV Video Music Awards.
I feel like I have seen it all with Beyoncé and watched her grow up into a global superstar right before my eyes. I can attest that Beyoncé’s entire life has been leading up to the moment she released Lemonade, the most provocative, political and deeply personal album of her career. At an intimate celebration in Los Angeles just before the holidays, Quincy Jones feted her: "I know the difference between someone making music and someone shaping our culture.” The veteran producer went on to refer to Beyoncé “as a humanitarian and a profound, visionary human being.”
These days, Beyoncé prefers to communicate through her art, so the quotes collected from our conversations over the years do not entirely represent who she is today, but they do reveal a lot about the evolution of the hardest-working woman in show business.
1. When it comes to singing, Beyoncé was not a late bloomer. “I was in the first grade when my mom asked me what I’d learned at school that day and I said, ‘A song.’ She was standing at the sink washing dishes, but then she wiped her hands on her apron, turned around, and looked at me. ‘Well, that’s nice,’ she said. ‘Let’s hear it.’ I was sitting at the kitchen table, and I stood up to sing it for her just like my teacher had taught me. I’ll never forget that feeling. I loved performing for my mom -- it was a rush. Even before that, my parents used to sing to me all the time. My dad tells me that as a baby, I would go crazy whenever I heard music, and I tried to dance before I could even walk. He has the embarrassing videos to prove it!”
2. But when it comes to boys, she definitely took her time. “I was slow with kissing guys. The first time I kissed a boy was in the eight grade, and it was [my boyfriend] Lindell … all of my friends had kissed guys before, and I hadn’t. After a couple months of dating Lindell, Kelly [Rowland] was telling me, ‘Beyoncé, you better kiss him!’ She knew I was scared, and she wanted me to get over it. One day after school when Lindell and I were hanging at Jack in the Box, Kelly walked in. As I turned around and looked at her, she was like, ‘Kiss him, girl!’ And so he and I kissed, finally. But I was concentrating so hard that I couldn’t enjoy the moment. It was really not a good kiss, because I didn’t know what I was doing and I was nervous. Afterward, I was embarrassed. I told Kelly, ‘Oh, man, that sucked.’”
3. There was a time when she was remarkably less popular and was bullied by mean girls. “In school, I was the really shy, quiet girl who always looked at the ground and never raised her hand in class … It’s a common myth with some African Americans that if a girl has a light complexion and long hair, she thinks she’s cute. I can’t help it that my complexion is light. I always got opinions formed about me -- people thought I was stuck-up. It was not only because of how I looked, but because I was quiet. Some people misunderstand quietness and shyness -- they think you’re full of yourself. They don’t even give you a chance.”
4. She is a former math geek. “I loved math. It was fun for me, sort of like figuring out riddles. I really liked it when I could help somebody else with problems, teach another kid the tricks to doing math. I was always fascinated by how complicated it looked and how simple it really was. Something about breaking it down and making it simple was fun and exciting for me.”
5. She was a tomboy, too. “Eventually I started participating in competitions, which are really just glorified beauty pageants. I enjoyed the talent part, since I wasn’t into dressing up. I was more of a tomboy. I wore pants and hip-hop-style shirts until at least the seventh grade. Then I lost some of my baby fat and felt more comfortable with my body.”
6. And she still acted like “a guy” up until the moment she got married. “Sometimes this job makes it hard for me to trust people. When I meet guys and try to feel them out, they’re like, ‘God, Beyoncé, you act just like a guy!’ When I ask them what they mean, they’ll say, ‘You’re like a guy, because you don’t believe anything I say!’ And I do have to be guarded for a certain amount of time before I can trust somebody. It seems impossible to find a man who is sincere and really likes me for me and not for my career. I never know anybody’s ulterior motives.”
7. It’s no wonder that Beyoncé remained a single lady for such a long time. “I have met a few actors out in Hollywood, and the thing about the really talented ones is that you can never be certain when they’re acting and when they’re for real. That’s kind of scary. It’s also tough to tell with men in the music industry. A guy may act like he really wants to talk with me, but then it turns out it was just because he was hoping somebody would see us and take our picture together and it might help boost his career.”
8. There is a reason why you rarely see Beyoncé wearing green on the red carpet. “Let me explain a little bit how the music industry works: We got a record deal. First, the label told me, ‘Congratulations!’ The next thing they said was, ‘We really need to work on your look.’ I had to undergo not a makeover but a complete transformation. They made me cut my hair and lose weight. They totally criticized me and said, ‘OK, Beyoncé, you need a new haircut. You need to get some more highlights, too. And you need to wear green all the time, because that’s the color that compliments your eyes. You also need to go on a diet. And start doing some sit-ups! You need to build up your calves as well. And I think we’re going to style you like an ’80s chick. So, from this moment on, you will wear only green ’80s-style clothing.’”
9. Her unlikely American idol? Madonna. “I have always been a huge fan of Madonna, and she is the best at making things work to her advantage. Madonna is much more than a singer, songwriter and dancer, she is a mastermind of the music business. She’s unstoppable. Every obstacle placed in her path, she’s picked up and run with it -- all the way to the bank. MTV banned her video? OK -- she sold it! If anybody said something bad about her -- like when the press found out about her posing for nude pictures -- her response was something like, ‘Yeah, I did. And?’ It’s one of the reasons she has been so successful. She’s turned all the negative things into positive things. And that’s what I try to do. (For the record, though, I would never pose nude.)”
10. Beyoncé is an artist in more than one sense of the word. "I started painting portraits of women years ago," she said, explaining that she works with oils because they're the most challenging. "I got hooked and wouldn't sleep … I made this special room with saris and pillows. I would light candles, play Miles Davis and Björk and paint all night. It was therapeutic. Whenever I finish one of my paintings, I try to figure out what it represents in my life. I'll be like, 'It's dark behind her and light in front of her, so a dark period must be coming to an end. Something light and beautiful is going to happen.'"
11. Beyoncé won't dance, so don't ask her. "I'm too shy to dance at parties, unless there are a lot of people that I know. Otherwise -- never!"
12. Even Beyoncé gets starstruck. In Dreamgirls, she played a part famously inspired by Diana Ross, and the two divas inevitably came face to face at a GRAMMY party. "I had pictures of her all over my movie trailer and there she was, right in front of me. I was terrified. Then she tapped me on the shoulder and told me she was happy I was doing Dreamgirls. I thought I would pass out."
13. Despite being the “Bootylicious” poster girl, Beyoncé admits she has struggled with body image. "I have hips, you know? There are things I'd love to wear, but I'll try them on and it's like, ‘Uh-oh ... too much information!’ I have days when I hate my hips and days when I feel good about myself. My shape is my shape. You just have to know what looks good on your body. I sure had to learn."
14. Moderation, not deprivation, is the singer’s mantra. "I don't kill myself. Whatever I want, I eat -- just a taste. Every once in a while I'll crave bad, cheap comfort food. I might order fries but I'll just eat two. If I want a hamburger, I'll take off one slice of bread." And if she were to indulge in dessert? "Chocolate sorbet's not bad. But to be honest with you, it's not exactly chocolate ice cream."
15. Beyoncé still loves a bargain, especially when she visits her hometown. "As a matter of fact, one of my fans told me that she saw me at Wal-Mart. My sister and I have so much fun. I get everything there -- all kinds of makeup like mascara, lipstick. And then I never end up using any of it."
16. Beyoncé puts family first. "I used to get so caught up in silly things, like, 'Oh, these shoes aren't right!' or 'What happened to my spotlight?' Now I get offstage and just want to see my family -- the people who love me. We'll have dinner and laugh. It puts things in perspective."
17. Don't be surprised if you see Blue Ivy rocking one of her mom's classic looks someday. "I put my clothes in storage so years from now I can auction them off for charity or keep them for my kids. My mom didn't keep her clothes. I wish she had -- she was fly."
18. Beyoncé isn't above a karaoke bar. "I sang karaoke one time with Kelly [Rowland] and Michelle [Williams]. One of those silly woman songs like 'I Will Survive.' We weren't singing for real, of course. But everybody was like, 'Wow. Destiny's Child sounds really bad!'"
19. If Beyoncé wasn't a performer, she would be a hairstylist. "I grew up in my mom's hair salon, so I'm a frustrated hairstylist. [Sometimes] I cut it myself. My stylist always tells me, 'Can you just sit down and let me do my job? I don't tell you how to sing.'"
20. Beyoncé has hidden talents. "Like tying a cherry stem with my tongue? I can do that! And I'm good at charades."