By Aaron Hicklin
Although it is technically the 110th date of her eye-popping extravaganza the Mrs. Carter Show, it is only the second night of her dramatically revamped lineup. A few nights earlier she pulled an all-nighter to rehearse her new material before dashing to London for a last-minute appearance at the Brit Awards, only to dash back—still in her ball gown—to finish choreographing the show. This was no minor tweak—10 new songs were added to the lineup; others were abbreviated or turned into medleys to make room. Most artists would spend months working out the kinks. Beyoncé took three days. “She’s completely relentless in her pursuit of perfectionism,” her creative director, Todd Tourso, tells me as we sit backstage. “It sounds cheesy, but that’s why I’m willing to work so hard for her. When you have this type of leadership and muse and mentor, I think the sky’s the limit.”
Of the 15,000 fans snaking into the venue that evening, the vast majority are young women, mostly white (it is Scotland), and primed for a big night out. A good number wear flashing plastic bows in their hair, echoing the one Beyoncé sports so fetchingly in the video for “XO.” (In the damp Glasgow air they look less adorable.) The evening’s warm-up act is Monsieur Adi, the Italian-born, Paris-based producer whose remixes of Britney Spears, Lana Del Rey, and Madonna have elevated him to a club favorite. Adi wears a permanent grin, like a kid who can’t believe his luck. A former architecture student-turned-fashion designer, Adi stumbled into remixing after a friend heard the music he’d made for his website. Now he was DJing his first concert tour. Two months earlier, he’d woken up in the early hours of December 13 to an email from Courtney Anderson, Beyoncé’s dance curator and A&R consultant. (“I always dressed to the beat of my own drum,” Anderson tells me. “I was that person who’d put on pajamas, a sarong, a T-shirt, and some flip-flops and go to school.”) Anderson wanted Adi to call him. “I gave him a call and he said, ‘Yeah, we’d like you to remix two tracks.’ ” says Adi. “I said, ‘Two tracks? Are you sure? I’m speechless…’ ”
Like most of the staff at Parkwood, Anderson was in the office at midnight when the album dropped. “I’ve never had so many grown men and women send me ‘OMG’ tweets,” he says with a laugh, recounting the hours he had spent handing out remixing assignments to his favorite producers. “The initial reaction was, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ And I was like, ‘But it’s here! Isn’t it great? What’s your favorite track?’ And then the conversation quickly switched to the music.”
Which had been the point all along.
Out: On certain songs, like “XO,” your voice is a lot more raw (and beautiful) than fans are used to. Was it a conscious decision to be less polished?
Beyoncé: When I recorded “XO” I was sick with a bad sinus infection. I recorded it in a few minutes just as a demo and decided to keep the vocals. I lived with most of the songs for a year and never rerecorded the demo vocals. I really loved the imperfections, so I kept the original demos. I spent the time I’d normally spend on backgrounds and vocal production on getting the music perfect. There were days I spent solely on getting the perfect mix of sounds for the snare alone. Discipline, patience, control, truth, risk, and effortlessness were all things I thought about while I was putting this album together.
If you want to understand the origins of Beyoncé, start with Angie Beyince, vice president of operations at Parkwood Entertainment, and Beyoncé’s first cousin. The similarity in their names is no coincidence: Beyoncé’s mother—Beyince’s aunt—is Tina Beyince (the name comes from their Creole ancestry), and the cousins were so close growing up that they spent every summer together. “The last day of school, Aunt Tina would pick me up and I’d spend the entire summer at her house, and then be dropped back home the night before school started again,” Beyince recalls, quickly finding her stride as we sit in her glass-walled office one frigid afternoon in February. A big Chanel purse sits next to her desk; she wears bright orange nail polish with lipstick to match. When I ask what shade of orange it is, she shakes her head playfully. “A lady never tells!” she quips. “They call me the fourth member of Destiny’s Child. I’m like the original diva. I don’t tell my lipstick colors, my perfume. I’ve been wearing the same perfume for maybe 14 years, and I’ve never uttered the words to anyone.”
Back in the mid- to late ’90s, before she started wearing that mystery perfume, before she could afford a Chanel purse, Beyince was a fixer of sorts: tour accountant, travel booker, media liaison, laundry washer—if it needed doing, she would do it. She recalls hours spent finagling rooms at cheap hotels by trading T-shirts and autographed photos, washing outfits by hand or in machines at whatever semidecent hotel they’d booked themselves into, and hectic nights as a dresser, changing the girls’ clothes during the show. “I’d finish the show and go to the cash office with all the promoters and I’d count out the money, which is funny because I’m a very petite woman.” She shrugs. “But I refer to myself as a lioness. I’m a bad chick. I don’t play. I went in there with all male promoters, and I’d count that money out. The first day I did that they were a dollar short. And I said, ‘I’m missing a dollar.’ They said, ‘Oh no, baby girl,’ everything to shrink me, to diminish me—‘Oh no, sweetie pie, oh no, honey, no, no.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll count again.’ ” Beyince mimes the actions of counting bills, explaining that this whole process would typically take hours—she is abbreviating for me—but of course she eventually got her dollar.
“I shared a room with the choreographer at the time, and while she was sleeping I would stay up and count all the money, do the payroll, all the expenses,” she says. “I only got maybe two or three hours of sleep each day. Then I’d be back at that cash office: ‘Five dollars short.’ At the end of the tour, every single dollar was accounted for.”
Beyince is, of course, a perfect evocation of the kind of female resourcefulness and grit that Beyoncé was referring to when she described herself recently in Vogue UK as a “modern-day feminist.” The claim has been much debated on blogs, and you have to admire Beyoncé for daring to go there. A minor skirmish has erupted around a lyric in “Drunk in Love”: “Eat the cake, Anna Mae,” apparently lifted from a scene of abuse in the 1993 Tina Turner biopic, What’s Love Got to Do with It? For some, this strains Beyoncé’s credibility, but Beyoncé’s masterstroke was to find a way to ensure that none of this mattered, by getting her music to the fans before the critics, professional and self-appointed, had time to weigh in. That, too, is power.