Perfect Diva

May, 2003: Beyoncé brings passion. She sings it like she means it… eyes shut, sweat pouring, body rocking.

To celebrate the long-awaited return of The Face, we have selected a stand-out story from each year of our extensive archive, from 1980 to 2004.

Remembered by writer Sylvia Patterson

‘Crazy In Love’ had been released, and obviously it was absolutely massive right across the planet. So it was a bit of a coup for The Face to get Beyoncé in the first place – but she would have been aware of the magazine because she’d been on the cover in 2000 when she was with Destiny’s Child. We met in the very gilded, very ornate restaurant of The Four Seasons hotel in New York. We were left alone together for about an hour and a half, which was quite a lot for big American stars at the time. Beyoncé was eating an omelette – no carbs! – and she was as still as a human being could be. There was a Zen coming from her. It really was like talking to a hologram. She was the absolute, undisputed master of the muted personality gambit. And because Crazy In Love’ was obviously made with Jay‑Z, all I was trying to do was get her to confirm their relationship. And she absolutely just sat there glimmering and smiling and telling me absolutely nothing about anything. I was trying to remind her about things like her mum Tina having rules in place, certainly in the Destiny’s Child years. They weren’t allowed to even play any hip-hop or gangsta rap music around the girls because this profanity wouldn’t have been allowed. So I’m saying: Oh yeah, so you’re hanging out now with drug dealers and all this kind of thing?’ And she was having absolutely none of it except one hundred per cent you’re funny!’ and saying nothing whatsoever. It was about 13 years later before she actually became someone with an opinion in her work, and in her persona, where she started to get involved in Black Lives Matter and became a spokesperson for a generation. But at that point, it really was holographic, the person that I was talking to. But she was very, very charming at the same time. So, what can you do?” 

Sylvia Patterson cut her journalistic teeth at Smash Hits in its million-selling, late Eighties heyday, and later wrote for NME, The Face and Q. Her 2016 memoir I’m Not With The Band (Sphere) was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award, the NME Awards Book Of The Year and the Penderyn Music Prize, winning BBC Radio 1 Annie Nightingale’s Book Of The Year. Despite over 30 years living in London she still sounds like she comes fae Perth”.

Beneath Beyoncé Knowles’ shining, golden exterior lies a heart which is… damn! It’s shiny and golden too. But although she seems the ideal super-star for glittery-shallow 2003, there’s more: Beyoncé brings passion. She sings it like she means it… eyes shut, sweat pouring, body rocking. Sylvia Patterson salutes a modern Aretha.

Beyoncé places one tiny, French-manicured hand on her breast, the other on her stomach and undulates her pelvis smoothly, slooooowly, in and out, in and out, in and out. It looks like she’s having sex, on top, so you think about being embarrassed, but instead you’re saucer-eyed.

It’s practice,” she smiles, you just have to practise isolation, being able to move just this [upper torso] or this [pelvic region], so this stays still and it’s just your middle that moves…”

And then you just go faster and faster and faster?

I guess so! It was in me, though. It’s from dancin’. I did a lotta lyrical dancin’ an’ African dancin’ an’ it’s just in ma soul.”

And she’s not even standing up, she’s sitting down, scoffing a cheese omelette. Across the globe, from five to 50, they’re attempting the spectacular Arse Dance – this ballistic belly dance-gone-under – invented by Beyoncé, emulated by no one.

I’ve seen a lotta people try,” she chortles, that and the little finger (licks finger, runs it down her cleavage). We didn’t know that was gonna be somethin’ to stick out, that’s just a little fillin’ and people are comin’ up to me (licks finger again) and I’m… Oh noooo!’ It’s funny!”

True. You can try all you like and you’ll look like another sort of arse altogether. Because you are not Beyoncé. And neither is anyone else.

New York, sweltering Summer 2003 and in all the shops, blaring from bars, cranking in cars, Crazy In Love rules, still song of the now, Single Of The Year, from Queens to Queensland. The sort of song which makes you insane, a Stax-horn bedlam bonanza inducing an instant, all-over drugs rush, the very best a pop song can do. With soul.

Inside the gilded restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel, the eye of the storm glides serenely across the polished floor in jewelled, four-inch Louis Vuitton sandals and pronounces herself confused!” Last week was Jamaica (with Destiny’s Child), this week back and forth” from New York to LA, next week back to LA, so my body is like… weird”. Actually, she’s sketchbook dream-girl, golden-glow skin, a vaguest hint of lipgloss, golden hair in a pony-at-the-neck, enormous golden-hoop earrings, plain white vest top, silky black Chloé trews with a tassled rope strewn round her waist. Beyoncé 2003 – so far beyond the velvet rope, she’s bloody wearing it.

Two and half years ago, the last time The Face met Beyoncé, Destiny’s Child had sold eight million records and the group’s songwriter, lead singer, co-producer and choreographer had neck strain, swollen tonsils and a viral infection, and was given to smashing her fist into her palm with evangelical zeal. “…We have a dream! (Blam!)… megasuperstars! (Pow!!)… and there’s nuthin’ anyone can say or do to stop that magic comin’ through!” (Hallelujah!!!) And lo, there was light! And, lawks, Destiny’s Child sold 33 million albums worldwide while Beyoncé’s solo career has teleported the Texan Christian enigma to unforeseen galactic dimensions. Today, she’s Zen-calm, maybe because today she is simply The Thing: global Number One pop brand, burgeoning Hollywood filmstar, face of Pepsi and L’Oreal (while at 21, Madonna was a tits-out dancer” who’d yet to sell a single record).

Oh I dunno if I ever felt I am The Thing” she hoots, in her hypnotically slow Southern husk, but I’ve felt proud. And I’ve felt like, It’s happening!’,”

Christina – talented tart. Justin – talented tart with jokes. Beyoncé – talented. And gorgeous and gracious and old-skool untouchable, like the alien pop-stars of old, poised on a pedestal so far above the just-like-you norm. You can reach all you like, but she’s Beyond. Beyoncé listens to this theory and agrees. It’s how she wants to be perceived and how she likes her heroes too. I wish I would’ve said that,” she smiles – and she smiles a great deal. Just say that I said that! Huhuhuh!

She’s eerily reserved, the woman her chums call B’, charming but alarmingly muted; a person who transforms in the glare of the lights and the perpetual Miss World wind-machine, into some colossal, hyper-real creation.

On stage, it’s weird,” she muses, cause I’m aggressive and strong and powerful and I’m just… high! Off-stage I’m, y’know, chillin’. Huhuhuh! I just wanna be kinda in the background and cool out.”

Almost seven years inside worldwide fame and Beyoncé has changed, for better and for worse. She’s more guarded than before, if that’s possible, and works less than before, which is essential if she wishes to stay sane. If it sometimes seems Beyoncé has no life to tell us about, it’s because all she’s ever done is work: creating, performing, promoting, travelling across the globe, since the age of 15, when she first hit Number One (with No No No Part II, featuring Wyclef Jean). Last year, she took an unprecedented one week off (she went to Rome, and almost blubbed inside the Vatican, sobeeyoootiful!”) A week from today, she’s taking her first two-week break since childhood. For us, that’s insanity; for Beyoncé, it’s a breakthrough.

I’ve changed a lot in the past coupla years,” she decides, all deep almond eyes, slowly picking through her omelette, I feel like I’ve worked really, really hard and I don’t have to do as much as I did. I did it when I was 15, 16, y’know, I had more energy – not that I’m that much older! But I feel like I’ve done that, I’ve already kinda paid my dues. Now, I have a more balanced life.”

By which she means, most probably, she has a boyfriend, called Jay‑Z, but we’ll never know, cause she refuses to discuss it.

Why do you work, like you work, in the end?

Because I wanna be remembered,” she blinks, and I wanna be respected. And I wanna be an icon.”

Beyoncé Gisele Knowles is a born winner, the way world-class athletes are, like Becks, the Venus sisters, Michael Jordan. She’s been winning since she was four, in toothsome all-American beauty-and-talent pageants. At nine, when she invented Destiny’s Child (so good, Dad gave up his job to guide them), they’d sing to family visitors and charge $5 for proper tickets – from the off, a serious business. In her comfortable, middle-class Houston home, the mantlepiece heaved with the weight of her pre-teen trophies; today, there’s a whole part of the family homestead, The Reflections Room’, stacked to infinity with wall plaques, platinum discs, MTV Awards, Brits, Grammies, the rest. No wonder, perhaps, she has thoughts about immortality, at 21 years of age. (Not so long ago, icons’ were what we called dead people.) It doesn’t matter anymore, about The Other Three, LeTavia, LaToya and Farrah Franklin, the Destiny’s Child members who buckled under Dad’s regime, the resulting lawsuits sending betrayed Beyoncé to bed for several weeks.

Eventually, she did what she always does – turned the negative into triumph, the revolving door’ jibes creating the globe-straddlin’ anthem Survivor. Right from the beginning, Destiny Child were a girls’ group, their greatest singles homages to emancipation, much of it unapologetically financial. Bills Bills Bills (“Can you pay my bills?… I don’t think you do!”), Independent Women Part 1 (“The shoes on my feet, I bought em”), Survivor (“You thought I’d be broke without you, but I’m richer…”) For years, Beyoncé’s had letters saying she’s literally saved” women’s lives. Bootylicious, too, was a girls-own theme, a paean to the pressures of physical perfection; her struggle to control the thunder in those rib-crackin’ thighs. (Her low carb diet prevails – today, there’s no toast with that omelette – I don’t eat a lotta carbs, but I eat good… an’ I dance!”) Women, tots, teenagers, drag-queens – everyone loves Beyoncé. For every man, though, who loves” her, there’s another who deems her too wholesome”, because in some ways she’s deeply asexual, a 2D cartoon poster in a Fifties fantasy movie, say, Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman.

What do you hope to inspire in people?

Well, basically,” says Beyoncé, we’re women. And I just want women to accept themselves. Learn to accept themselves. And their imperfections. I try to take everything that happens to me, every bad experience, and make it something positive. If that’s a song, or just me knowing better now. It takes you to get older to really think about life. You can’t be mad at yourself for making mistakes. You can’t be mad at yourself because you don’t look like…”

You.

Noooo! I just want women to love themselves and trust their instincts and be secure in themselves. And know that you can be in love but in order for that to be pure and wonderful and beautiful, you have to love yourself, y’know? Because it’s so true.”

Absolutely none of which would add up to a knoll of prettiest knickers, were it not for the music itself.

Beyoncé Knowles has written some of greatest pop singles of her generation. Not one of them contains production-line clichés and many are musically unfathomable – unique, complex, creative soundscapes across the spectrum of state-of-the art sound. Say My Name is bonkers, unsingable, unless you’ve Beyoncé’s contortionist tonsils. Such is the studio power she now wields, she interviews potential producers, no matter what clout their name carries.

I interview and talk to a lotta producers,” she says, before I even listen to any of their music. It’s all about the vibe. When you get two people in the studio, just because they both are talented, if you’re not feeling each other, there’s no chemistry, there’s no hit, there’s no great song.”

Her albums, nonetheless, remain flawed – too long, too slow, too God”. Dangerously In Love is an exquisitely sung, pop-soul‑R&B showcase, given to moments of mimsiest weed-pop. We don’t need Missy Elliott cooing about Sagittarians. (Nonetheless, it’s the album almost singlehandedly keeping beleaguered Sony Records afloat.)

It wasn’t the most commercial album,” nods Beyoncé, which was something that I did consciously. Because Destiny’s Child sold 33 million records, big pop albums, we’ve already done that. I can’t satisfy a five year old and a 55 year old, men and women, the critics and the fans – there’s no way. So I said, I’m gonna satisfy myself.’”

Justin’s handsome. And very talented. There was a rumour we kissed or somethin’. And I’ve never touched him”

When Beyoncé writes songs, she has no masterplan. Everything you hear is spontaneous, one-off chemical face-offs between herself and her chosen collaborators; this time, Jay‑Z, Sean Paul, Big Boi, Sleepy Brown, Missy Elliott, Luther Vandross and various co-producers.

When I’m in the studio,” she says, I don’t think, I just write whatever inspires me. Crazy In Love – it was weird how that song came. I was in the studio and I was lookin’ really tacky. I needed to get Kelly a birthday present but I didn’t wanna go out anywhere, cause I was lookin, crazy. Just, y’know… tacky! So I kept sayin’, I’m lookin, crazy right now, I’m a little crazy right now…’, [Producer] Rich Harrison, he’d come up with the live horns, he’s incredible, and we couldn’t think of the melody or the concept of the song: What do we sing to this?’ So he said, That should be the chorus’ and I’m like What?’ and he’s, like, You’re lookin, crazy right now…’ and I’m like Oooh-kaaay…’ so we started hummin’ and singin’ and there it was, that song was done. It’s the weirdest things that inspire great songs. Some songs, we had absolutely nothin’. We just sat in the studio, started hummin’ an’ talkin’ and playin’, all the stuff with Scott Storch, Me, Myself And I, Babyboy, were done from scratch. It’s really incredible. When you wake up, you have absolutely no idea what’s gonna happen. It’s like… history can be made. Or not!”

Beyoncé’s made it plain: private life is private, so move along now, there’s nothing to see. Jouranists, sometimes, can punish her for it, (especially men) imply she somehow has no soul, a robo-being sculpted by her madman-ambitious father, her meticulously self-controlled career some sinister, manipulative lie. She’s strong, focused, white-hot ambitious and therefore ruthless, calculated, Cruella De Vil. She sits, it’s imagined, in a power-meeting palace, dissecting the demographic, ticking off territories. To a certain extent it’s true, but it’s true of everyone else, even if it’s just everyone else’s people’. And it’s true of, say, 50 Cent, but that’s OK, cause he shows you inside his bullet holes.

How many times have you been in love?

Uh… I dunno. Huh uh uh.”

Yes, you do.

No, I don’t! I’m not sure! I dunno. That depends. But I have been in love. I do feel like I have been in love.”

And right now?

Right now? (Scoffs some more omelette.) Yooorrr funny. I’m happy. I’ll say that.”

When did you last see Jay‑Z?

(Gigantic grin, enormous pause.) I saw him on television today. The video.”

And how did you feel?

I’ve seen it a hundred times. Huhuhuh!

Was there a flutter in your heart?

Yoooor funny…”

Why all this mystery, though? Is it because you believe so much in enigma?

Well, the older I get, the more I feel I have to protect certain things. Not only my relationships, my personal relationships, but… the inside of my house. Or what kinda car I drive. Or what I spend my money on. Or if I spend my money. Any question that you wouldn’t ask a stranger. If you wouldn’t tell a stranger, then I’m not gonna tell the whole world. It’s not that I’m afraid of anything, or not comfortable with anything… I think that’s pretty normal. I wanna feel like I have certain things that everybody else has. Private. There’s no other reason.”

Two and a half years ago, you implied to me that you didn’t believe in sex before marriage.

(Forkful of omelette freezes in mid-air.) I never said it. I’ve never talked about that. Because I don’t think that would be smart. For one, it’s no one’s business. For two, people never forget certain things that you said. And they don’t allow you, once you say anything, to change. Y’know? And I’ve always known that. So I’ve never talked about any sexual experiences. Or any lack of. Or anything. Because I just don’t. And I never have. Because that’s private.”

If I were you, I would’ve made a bee-line straight for Justin Timberlake…

Alright! Huhuhuh. We’re gonna have to arrange that! He’s handsome. And very talented. And nice. There was a rumour we kissed or somethin’. And I’ve never touched him. I don’t know him. I’ve met him and he’s really nice. I respect him, though.”

A brief visit, here, to Crap Joke Corner: Incidentally, if you ever get married to someone called Mister Castle, that would be a mistake.

Uh… ooooh-kaaaaay. Huhuhuh! Aaawl-riiight! Thank you!”

In 2000, The Face also talked to mum Tina Knowles (her stylist and on-the-road guardian) about something she called The Rules, in-studio laws which decreed no cussin’, drinking and smoking, of anything, around the teenage Destiny’s Girls. And no playing of blasphemous, hardcore Hip Hop…

…and now you’re working with Jay‑Z and tons of tough guys… you’re hanging out with ex-drug dealers now!

Uuuuuum!” chokes Beyoncé and prangs her fork on her plate, well, the morals and the way I treat people and handle myself is always in me. Me working in the studio with… people, everybody I work with, they’re professionals. And they’re very talented. And we go in there and make music. My mother, actually, was never in the studio with us when we did creative things. Before we turned 18, one of the other ladies’ mothers travelled with us. People kinda have a distorted concept of how things work. I was protected from a lot and I still am. Because I still have family members with me and people around me that protect me an’ tell me the truth. But my parents trust me. I trust them. They know that anyone that I’m around, they’re good people, and when I’m in the studio, I’m workin’.”

How did your mum feel about Jay‑Z’s background?

My family, like I said, anyone that I’m around, they know are good people.”

And, here, Beyoncé’s famed eyebrow shoots 15 feet above her head, and she bursts into hysterical laughter. For ages. I see. So now you’re down the studio drinkin’, cussin’ and smoking a gigantic blunt to NWA tunes?

Noooo… not quite.”

These days, we don’t get to know our pop folk, because they know, in the end, we don’t have to. With the American pop brands, certainly, the less they give of their actual selves, the more the hunger fuels us anyway. Illusion, control, protection, distraction and damage limitation is all; there’s way too much money at stake. If the pop brands are merely reflectors, be thankful some of them, at least, are fabulous.

You really have to think about what you love and what you want out of life, know the difference between reality and superficial things”

Why do people like you do these gigantic ads? You with Pepsi and L’Oreal, Madonna and Missy with Gap… you certainly don’t need the money.

(Bewildered.) It’s an honour to do a Pepsi commercial.”

It seriously is?

Well… Michael Jackson. I mean, for one it’s a historical thing, especially Pepsi. That’s huge, those commercials.”

It’s part of a culture that you want to be involved in?

Yeah. L’Oreal, the pictures are beautiful and… why not? It’s just a cool thing to be able to do. I go to Japan, France, I have L’Oreal ads in all different places, so, y’know, people can see me there. And, all around, it just makes you… a bigger star.”

It’s not like we didn’t know that, but at least she had the balls to say it.

And who’s to say,” she adds, giggling, that people don’t like the cash? Or need it? Huhuhuh!

Does it bother you that the world runs on money?

(Enormous pause.) It’s the way the world is. Yep.”

Every day the pop generation are fed colossal concepts of success, of wealth, of fame. D’you think young people’s aspirations are unrealistic?

(Enormous sigh.) Hmm. Right. I know what you’re sayin’. It is sad, somedays. You think, What is reality? What is going on?’ You have to really think about what you love and what you want out of life, know the difference between reality and superficial things. You can’t blame people on TV. The people around you, your family, it’s up to them to instill certain things, and they’ll stick wit’ you. Success to me does not mean a lotta money. I wanna be happy. This album, I didn’t write it to make money, I wrote it to make quality music. To make history, more so.”

Next year, the biggest-selling girl group in history, return.

Right now I’m thinkin’ about what Destiny’s Child is gonna do next,” brims Beyoncé, that’s all I want now. God, give me those songs!”

This autumn comes her second, post-Austin Powers comic caper, The Fighting Temptations, alongside Cuba Gooding Jnr. Soon, there may be a fashion range, called B‑Wear (co-designed with Tina). As well as Great, Beyoncé needs to be Good: with Kelly Rowland, she’s already built a centre for homeless kids in Houston, where they can come and go to the studio, play basketball”. One day she hopes to do more, possibly from inside the White House. I admire Bono,” she twinkles, I wanna do something. I still have time.” It’s important for her to be known as a nice person”. This September 4, she turns 22. Happy Birthday, B” (she’s Virgo, ruled by perfection).

Eventually, years from now,” she says, gigantic earrings swinging in gilded glee, I want to win an Oscar. A Tony. I already have Grammies…”

You’re weird, you fabulous superstars. Why d’you need, so much, this affirmation from the world?

Well, y’know,” beams Beyoncé, clutching her bejewelled handbag, preparing to rise from the most formidably rhythmic backside the world has ever known, there’s certain people that I never thought would acknowledge what I do, who I love. Michael Jackson, Prince, Aretha Franklin. It’s just like anything else. If you’re a doctor and you love a certain doctor and that doctor tells you you’re one of the best, it’s like Oh my Gaad.’ I don’t get off on everyone clappin’ and whatever-whatever, I love (clutches bosom) singin’! I mostly want respect from people that I respect. Be able to sing, dance, act, really do all of em. Not just act because I was given the opportunity, but really be able to act. And sing. And dance. Not something… where you can just get by. Real talent.”


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