In August 2011, on the MTV VMAs red carpet, Beyoncé appeared in a tangerine orange Lanvin gown, clutching a slightly rounded belly. Later that night on the VMA stage, she finished her performance by unbuttoning her jacket to reveal the bump (that would one day be Blue Ivy), while Kanye West enthusiastically congratulated Jay-Z on the front row. Without saying a single word, her announcement was unmistakable.
This was another era of fame for the Carters, one that pre-dates ‘Drunk in Love’, the infamous elevator footage, the astonishing visual artistry of her self-titled album and Lemonade follow-up, and the launch of Ivy Park. This was before Queen Bey had stepped fully into her power as a woman, a role model, a legend.
The ensuing wave of conspiracy theories that rose up around Beyoncé’s first pregnancy was patently absurd, but absurdity didn’t stop the Internet from speculating that she was faking her pregnancy based off of a very grainy image from Australia’s Sunday Night in which she appeared to have a sagging lack of baby bump. Pregnancy photos were so scarce that it almost seemed to confirm some of the more cruel and outlandish accusations.
The year after she gave birth, she released Life Is But a Dream, a biographical film that was so coy about her pregnancy that it spawned even more tall tales. And then, the interviews stopped. The Queen withdrew from the public with the clear message that no woman should ever have to answer questions about maternity or motherhood.
Since then, we’ve watched Blue Ivy grow up rockin’ Gucci, while her mother debuted two of the most groundbreaking visual albums in history. On the first – a self-titled effort – she showcased her sensual side with lusty tunes like ‘Blow’, gave young woman everywhere an anthem to live by with ‘Who Run the World’, dished heartache in ‘Haunted’, and delivered the most sultry song about married love the world has ever seen with ‘Drunk in Love’. The visuals were mesmerizing as she disappeared into characters both lascivious and inspirational.
Then ‘Formation’ arrived, a signal as to the coming tide of Lemonade that would sweep away all other competition. It was her call to action, an act of defiance in the face of police brutality in America, with visuals so compelling that they evoke pain, fury, and awe. There was a backlash in America when she performed ‘Formation’ at the Super Bowl half-time show, and people took to Internet comment sections to decry her use of Black Panther imagery. Nevertheless, she persisted.
The femininity and fertility of the images she produces occasionally verge on high art.
It was with Lemonade that she reached a pinnacle that none have attained prior, but she lost at the Grammys to Adele in a stupefying act of bad judgement on the part of the awards show. With the searing heat of pain, betrayal, loss of identity, and the eventual forgiveness and healing that comes after acceptance, Lemonade was not just an album, but a work of art so immersive that you felt like you lived it yourself. It also called into question the theme of the album – did Jay-Z really betray our Queen, did he really step out on her with “Becky”, and did she really take a baseball bat to his favorite car?
Art, as a subjective experience, cares not for these shallow questions. Conceptual art, of the stripe Beyoncé creates, does not need to have a foundation in reality to be successful, and Lemonade was nothing if not successful. Which brings us to her new art project: her pregnancy. Make no mistake; Beyoncé’s pregnancy is real and in full bloom for all the world to see on her personal Instagram account.
In fact, it was through the social photo-sharing medium that she chose to make her announcement, bedecked in floral garlands, with the caption, “We would like to share our love and happiness. We have been blessed two times over. We are incredibly grateful that our family will be growing by two, and we thank you for your well wishes. – The Carters.” Most celebrities would have sold that moment to the tabloids, but not Queen Bey. She took full control of the narrative and the message was clear: I am a pregnant goddess. Bow down.
For everyone who speculated that she and HOV were headed for divorce, the evidence of their love was in plain sight for all to see. The coyness, the reluctance to talk about her pregnancy, the walls she put up to fortify herself from the unwanted questions – they all disappeared. Instead, Beyoncé’s grasp of unforgettable visuals turned inward to address her pregnancy, and she served serious looks on a regular basis via Instagram. As if it weren’t enough that she was pumping the updates we craved straight into the main artery of social media, she decided to top herself by appearing in all of her radiant glory at the MTV VMAs as a glowing version of Mother Nature herself.
No one was ready for a pregnant woman to surrender herself to her own miraculous nature – as a creator and nurturer of human life – and actually revel in it.
No one was ready for that moment. No one was ready for a pregnant woman to surrender herself to her own miraculous nature – as a creator and nurturer of human life – and actually revel in it. For centuries, women have struggled with the pain of childbirth in rooms separated from their loved ones, in confusion as they are whisked away for emergency C-sections, while others have felt shame and isolation as their bodies changed in ways they never expected. Pregnancy is no St. Tropez vacation; it’s difficult and wonderful and complicated and sometimes even heartbreaking. In that moment, once again on the VMA stage holding her future offspring inside of her prominent belly, Beyoncé took her power back.
If her pregnancy was to be inevitably commodified by the culture vultures, she would be the one dictating its dissection. From the outside, you get to see the glamorous Queen in her amazing outfits, throwing her head back and smiling – totally owning the moment. You don’t see the morning sickness, or swollen ankles, or back aches, and that is because she doesn’t want you to. She isn’t saying these things aren’t a reality of pregnancy, but she is presenting a version of the pregnancy experience that is unapologetic, joyous, and beautiful. The femininity and fertility of the images she produces occasionally verge on high art, as homages to ‘The Birth of Venus’ and of ‘Aphrodite of Knidos’. In fact, she titled her first twin-pregnancy shoot ‘I Have Three Hearts’, which is the kind of poetic name befitting an art piece on a placard in a museum.
Beyoncé creates by giving birth to her music and by giving birth to her children. The two, for her, are intertwined processes. In creating new life, she is fulfilling her personal destiny as a woman while sharing her personal process through her own version of what it should look like, feel like, and be like. By translating the female experience, she achieves a form of feminist art that is unmistakable in its power.