Beyoncé’s journey to mastery
As the Renaissance World Tour comes to a close, one of Beyoncé’s early collaborators looks back on her career
I beamed with teary-eyed pride during the first night of Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour on Sept. 23 in her hometown in Houston. Agewise, there’s only 10 years between us, but I felt like a proud auntie watching the culmination of a three-decade career unfold over three hours.
At this point, no curtain is big enough for Beyoncé. With a screen at least two stories high and running the width of the stage, she opened a stunning visual portal. Through it, she transported us, serving a spectacular feast for the senses. From her pristine vocals to the band’s ferocious play and the intense choreography with standout moments from Les Twins, Honey Balenciaga and Blue Ivy Carter during “Black Parade,” NRG Stadium was in a constant state of elation that only stopped for the mute challenge. H-Town understood and aced the assignment.
When I watch Beyoncé work, I’m watching with the eyes of someone who had proximity to and input on her ascension. I served as an advertising and creative campaign writer for Destiny’s Child on every album in their catalog from The Writing’s on the Wall up through Destiny Fulfilled. I was also charged with writing the solo debut album campaigns for Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé and Michelle Williams. I still remain humbled by my right-place, right-time good fortune. It’s also a bit of an out-of-body experience whenever I hear their music. What inevitably follows is a flood of memories quilted together from the particular rush of star-making with a team of talented and committed creative executives. We became part battalion, part extended family.
What is a campaign writer? Aside from being an uncredited executive role in a department called Creative Services, it means being the person to craft the messaging that will market both artist and album to the world, from TV and radio commercials to print taglines and outdoor billboards. It’s one of those hidden jobs from the music industry before the era of streaming, when budgets were robust and quality control was important — before controversy and viral moments shaped an artist’s persona. I come from the end of the analog era, where staffers at labels and management companies were trained to operate like wallpaper: unobtrusive, but contributing to the environment in ways that got and held attention — all in service to the artist, even while being a creative in one’s own right.
As senior advertising copywriter for Sony Music from 1998-2004, during the meteoric rise of one of the most successful girl groups in music history, I was both participant and observer in Beyoncé’s development as a vocalist, performer, songwriter, producer, and driver of her own destiny. Many handlers and execs of today are documenting and posting to boost their own follower count or substitute social media for strategy. So, if you’re looking for celebrity privacy breaches here, there won’t be any. Beyoncé will always be one of my artists, and this code of honor binds us still.
When our paths crossed at Sony, it was for the second time. I met her and Kelly Rowland in Oakland, California, in the mid-1990s before Beyoncé had given the vocal group Girl’s Tyme its new name: Destiny’s Child. The group was cutting records in the Bay Area, and they would eventually sign to Grass Roots Entertainment, a production company founded by veteran hitmaker D’Wayne Wiggins of Tony! Toni! Toné! In July 1997, Wiggins and lyricist Taura Stinson placed their first collaboration with the group, “Killing Time,” on the Men In Black soundtrack. (Wiggins went on to produce multiple tracks on three Destiny’s Child albums.) Even as teens, the girls were as warm and personable as they were secure in the knowledge of their singing abilities. As they honed their skills and achieved success, these attributes have deepened and endured.
Beyoncé built her brand on the cornerstones of having love and support from her family, being guarded by shrewd business practices, and undergoing intense, yearslong development and training of the real-time, real audience variety. I saw her rehearse in small venues during her days on promotional tour as a group member, and orchestrate solo award show performances. I witnessed the media training and boundary-setting of Beyoncé’s publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure, show up in every interview. Noel-Schure still holds Bey’s hand, be it at the Roc Nation brunch or the Met Gala red carpet. Beyoncé’s love of fashion, ignited by her mother, Tina Knowles, and Uncle Johnny predates my time on her projects, but I remember sitting in on countless fittings with Knowles and Ty Hunter, the architects of her style.
The ceaseless touring. The endurance and fitness training. The laser-focused work in the recording studio. Beyoncé just kept raising the bar.
Dangerously in Love marked the arrival of Beyoncé the visionary, charting a solo course, exploring womanhood and relationships. While she carried with her the confidence and work ethic of a multiplatinum, award-winning group, the bravado of “Say My Name” and “Bug a Boo” gave way to the vulnerability of “Me, Myself and I,” the yearning of “Naughty Girl,” and the urgency of the album’s title track.
Fans have journeyed with Beyoncé through meeting Sasha Fierce, felt empowered and delighted by her groundbreaking self-titled album, owning our own versions of the love, pain and fury we felt from 4, B’Day and Lemonade. What I hear on Renaissance — and what nearly 50,000 of us witnessed at NRG Stadium — is an intimate knowing of God, of Source, within her. Singing her stories of betrayal and loss, surviving career missteps (few and vastly far between), growing a partnership with her husband, wrestling independence from her father as a manager, making time to birth and raise three babies, being a dutiful daughter, a loyal sister and friend. There’s just no time for pining.
The longing from Dangerously in Love is long gone, and self-actualization now sits firmly cemented in its place. How else does a human being turn the kind of pressure her life demands into power, into fuel?
Renaissance is her celebration of hard-won mastery of self, and the peace that comes from first fully accepting and then expressing that selfhood. Beyoncé has achieved a kind of enlightenment, both tangible and relatable on a level gurus and preachers strive to connect on. Their gaze sometimes comes with the judgment of needing to be fixed. Renaissance declares that you can be any race, queer, thotty, buttoned-up, prayed up, or broke down and still be deserving of liberation and joy.
The album cover’s unbridled stallion made of chrome stardust is undoubtedly a nod to her Houston roots and likely an homage to the ecstatic sanctuaries of house clubs and discos. But it is also the iconography of freedom and adventure as birthright. It is our signal to climb despite the absence of balance, mount up, and ride the rhythm boldly through life into our last sunset. Until then, the queen summons us to “pull relief in” with every breath.