On Sunday, Beyoncé scored her 17th Grammy, which puts her just one trophy behind the second most awarded female singer, Aretha Franklin.
But that was just a relaxing Sunday evening for the pop superstar, who has spent the last two weeks leaving more glitter-encrusted impressions on the zeitgeist. First, she performed at President Obama's inauguration (perhaps you heard about it?) and then headlined the Super Bowl halftime show, all without issuing any new music.
For all the praise that’s justly been lavished on Beyoncé during her career, the singer hasn’t had many blemishes. Sure, she weathered some vicious scrutiny after that inauguration flap, but all she needed was her voice and charming sass to dig out of that hole. (“Any questions?”)
Ever since she emerged in the late '90s as the frontwoman of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé has been a formidable force. She’s sold millions of records, toured the world, starred in films and managed her brand a hundred times over. Oh, and then she married the biggest rapper on the planet and had his baby.
There is, however, one criticism that the pop-R&B diva has never addressed: Do we really know who Beyoncé is? It’s a question addressed head on in her HBO documentary, “Life Is but a Dream,” which premieres Saturday.
Billed by the network as "an intimate, revealing documentary," the film is said to be Beyoncé “in her own words.” Indeed, and make no mistake, this is a Beyoncé film. The singer is guiding the lens and the narrative, having directed and executive produced the 90-minute film.
Laced with dazzling performances (mostly from last year's block of performances at Revel in Atlantic City) and interview, the "real" moments come from the personal footage from her laptop. Her fans are already aware of her affinity for MacBook video diary entries (she used some of them for her last tour DVD), and she saved the most personal, introspective moments for the film.
She questions her career path and offers some meaty tidbits behind the recording of her critically acclaimed album “4.” The record, her first as ruler of her domain, wasn’t the commercial smash of its predecessors. But she recognizes this.
“At some point in my career, I felt like I was doing way too much. I felt like I had been so commercially successful, it wasn’t enough. It’s something really stressful about having to keep up with it,” she admits early on. “It’s something really crippling. You can’t express yourself. I don’t want to have to sing about the same thing for 10 more years.”
Through all the clips of her and Jay-Z on yachts, dizzying performance shots and all of her posturing on success and empowerment, there are moments when she lets down the mystique that’s been so carefully maintained. If only for a little bit.
Very early into the promotion of the album, the singer discovers she’s pregnant, and much of the film’s second half is focused on Beyoncé prepping an aggressive promo campaign as her belly is growing. Her memorable appearance at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, when she ended her performance of "Love on Top" by unbuttoning her blazer to show off her baby bump, is revealed as less about headlines and more about setting her camp "free" from hiding her pregnancy.
Beyoncé is at her most raw when discussing a miscarriage two years ago.
She speaks of picking out names and envisioning what her “first child with the man that I loved” would look like, and the feeling of going to the doctor and learning the heartbeat had stopped. It’s the most honest moment of the film, and maybe the most revealing thing fans will ever learn about Beyoncé. She caps it off with a brief clip of a ballad she penned about the experience.
“I always battle with how much do I reveal about myself. How do I keep my humility?” she asks. “How do I keep my spirit … and how do I continue to be generous to my fans and my craft?”
This is Beyoncé revealing herself on her terms, and while she certainly steers the narrative, she also answers some of the more pressing questions surrounding her career of late.
Still debating her live vocal prowess? Among the many blistering performances featured here, there’s rehearsal of a ballad “Listen” from the back seat of a car that should end further questioning about her talent.
Still think she didn’t carry Blue Ivy? She addresses the “stupid rumor” with multiple belly shots, a sonogram, and makes sure Blue Ivy gets a generous amount of screen time.
Ultimately, “Life Is but a Dream” remains a victory for her fans. Casual viewers will most likely glean the same sense of the superstar's life as one might from a magazine feature. But for serious fans of the fiercely private superstar, this remains a window into her life.
The view is splendid, even if it comes with intense supervision.