On pop star mortality and Jay-Z and Beyonce’s ‘crumbling’ marriage
Raymond Ang (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - "Mortality is a truth everybody’s got to contend with sooner or later—and more so if you’re a pop star," Pitchfork recently observed. For some, it comes swiftly and mercilessly (see Lewis, Leona). And for some, it comes gradually and with compassion, an apparent decline leading into a surprising new career (see Simpson, Jessica). And for others, it drags on endlessly and tragically (see Spears, Britney).

Still, some pop stars seemingly will themselves into continued relevance. These artists seem perennially a few steps ahead of the competition, continuously tinkering with the formulas of success, reinventing their personas, and conditioning themselves to be open to fresh talent and new perspectives. They’re the Madonnas, Michael Jacksons, Janet Jacksons, Princes. In the last few years, it became clear that Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez were part of that group.

With over two decades of blockbuster albums and classic songs under her belt, Mariah Carey has long established herself as the vocalist of her generation. Time and time again, she’s proven herself a star for the ages, reinventing herself in the late ‘90s (the metamorphosis being her “Butterfly” album) and coming back strong after a career meltdown (2005’s comeback hit We Belong Together). The fact that she also writes and produces almost all of her material just makes her reign all the more impressive.

Jennifer Lopez, for her part, is one of those stars who seemingly make magic out of nothing. A good dancer, an okay actress, a subpar singer, but charismatic looker, she’s managed to will herself into superstardom through canny moves and strategic marketing. We keep counting her out but she’s come back again and again — as a TV personality (American Idol), producer (The Fosters), and hit-maker (the perplexing success of On the Floor). As notoriously frank TV personality Wendy Williams once said, she’s made “nothing” iconic.

And yet, even the biggest stars eventually crash down to earth. One of the season’s biggest music stories has been the twin debacles of Carey’s and Lopez’s latest releases. After a torturously drawn- out pre-release campaign, Carey’s “Me. I am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse” debuted to fewer than 60,000 album sales in early June, a pitiful count perhaps owing to chaotic marketing and a ridiculous album title. A few weeks later, Lopez’s “A.K.A” crash-landed with 47,000 copies.

A lot of theories were thrown around to explain the sharp decline. Some blamed bad first singles. Some analysts blamed top 40’s hostile reception to women over 40. Apparently, with the likes of Ariana Grande (“The New Mariah,” she’s been called) around, the niche Carey and Lopez filled are now occupied.

“Mariah and I, we did what the kids are doing already,” J.Lo said, in an interview after the fallout. “You know, we had the time when we would drop a thing and it would go straight to number one and the album would go straight to number one. We did that two, three, four times over. She’s probably done it many more times than even I did.”

“We are in a different time of our career. We are in a different status than the ones who need to prove themselves and come out go ‘my thing has to be number one right now!’ Ours doesn’t have to. We have a fanbase, we have years behind us, we have loyalty, we have people who are interested and that’s a blessing… At a certain point in your career there’s a reinvention that has to go on but you’re in it for a marathon.”

* * *

And as two icons fell, you could feel the tides turn — albeit quietly — against two other titans. In May, a security tape of a fight between rap king Jay-Z and sister-in-law Solange leaked to the press. In the video, Solange is seen wildly attacking Jay-Z while Beyonce quietly watches in the corner. And just like that, music’s most tightly-controlled image — Jay and Bey as first couple — fell apart.

From the steamy don’t-ask-don’t-tell pledge of allegiance of 2003’s ‘03 Bonnie & Clyde to last year’s filthy body party Drunk in Love, they’ve always controlled the narrative, playing coy when they wanted (they notoriously didn’t address their relationship for six years) and charitable when needed (releasing the first photos of their infant Blue Ivy on Beyonce’s site, instead of the usual People route). It’s the kind of cool control of the star image we haven’t really seen since the Hollywood studio system, when studio executives would scrub up their stars and clean up their personal lives through strategically seeded information. While most of her peers had to deal with baby bump speculation, Beyonce controlled even that — revealing her pregnancy only when she wanted to and strategically, proudly clutching her belly while nailing Love on Top at the MTV Video Music Awards. Automatically, she trended on Twitter and dominated the MTV VMAs coverage.

Beyonce came to prominence at the same time as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. While her peers navigated the transition from wholesome starlet to grown-up superstar through scandal and controversy, Beyonce did so through trendy music, titanic performing skills, and a canny business head. She never went Dirrty or became a Slave 4 U. And while she let her freak flag fly on last year’s self-titled album, she did so in the context of a monogamous marriage. Boring, for anyone looking for controversy.

We’ve always loved them for that, but now, we resent them. Since then, the rumor mill has churned out juicy headline after juicy headline, from the benign “Beyonce is secretly shopping for a $20m apartment” to the incredulous “Jay-Z is sleeping with Rihanna.” Apparently, nothing makes people resent you more than not knowing about you. We’ve been conditioned to expect access that we begrudge them for not doing a tell-all interview. We feel so entitled to everybody’s personal business that we root for a marriage to fail. And with the sudden exposure of a potentially messy private life, we feel entitled to know everything.

* * *

Baffled by this sentiment, I tweeted a few weeks back: “Why do people get so much glee out of speculating about Jay Z and Beyonce’s allegedly crumbling marriage? I mean, it’s a crumbling marriage.” The tweets came fast and passionately.

“They’re too perfect,” a friend tweeted. “It’s good to know they’re not perfect.”

“It’s their fault for not talking about it,” another tweeted. “If they have nothing to hide, they wouldn’t be keeping things private.”

I’m trying to wrap my head around the point in time when we as a culture decided that we deserved to know anything about anyone. It’s the right to information bill on steroids, the curiosity created by social media amplified to a gruesome degree. This is the marriage of two people. If you aren’t family and you aren’t a close friend, you’re not entitled to that information. You’re not entitled to what went down in that elevator.

Anyway, if you really feel we’re a few steps ahead of them, always remember: Beyonce was many months pregnant before we knew anything about. Beyonce and Jay-Z were dating for years before they told us. Beyonce released a whole album — and 13 music videos — suddenly and without wanting.

And if she can keep the production of 13 major music videos under wraps, I’m pretty sure they can keep the details of what goes on between two people private. And if you’re still confused, always remember: Jay-Z and Beyonce went on a joint tour a few weeks after the elevator scandal. The On the Run tour has now hit more than $100m in ticket sales.

As a means of an explanation, she offers this on the Flawless remix, released again, suddenly and without warning last weekend: “Of course sometimes s*** go down / When it’s a billion dollars on an elevator.”

For what it’s worth, I’ve always found Jay-Z and Beyonce’s approach to fame refreshing. Instead of lasciviously airing out their dirty laundry like so many of their peers, they’ve largely kept the focus on their music. Instead of brandishing the details of their personal life as product, they’ve used their work to conceal themselves. It’s why they’ve continued to prosper and grow while many of their peers have fallen (Nas for Jay, Christina and Britney for Bey). It’s the quality that has elevated them to the status of those that came before them, why they can stand on the shoulders of the Michaels and the Madonnas, the Mariahs and the Whitneys. They’re part of a breed of superstars that’s becoming rarer and rarer, and in a post-Kardashian world, a breed that we should cherish instead of attack. And when all it’s said and done, they’re both still the best at what they do.

“As the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” a recent Los Angeles Times piece on the scandals that surround the couple goes. “But it’s entirely possible the Carters are two steps ahead with the matches.” And to quote one of Jay’s rumored mistresses, it ain’t nobody’s business.

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Tweet the author @raymondangas.

AMERICAN IDOL ARIANA GRANDE BEYONCE BEYONCE AND JAY-Z BLUE IVY BRITNEY SPEARS AND CHRISTINA AGUILERA JAY JAY-Z JAY-Z AND BEYONCE
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