Ahead of turning 40, Beyoncé gives a rare interview reflecting on her incredible career. In it, the 28-time Grammy winner talks about navigating the entertainment industry and how as a young Black woman, she knew she "couldn't mess up" or it would all go away.
While plenty of stars have made personal missteps and thrived, "I felt as a young Black woman that I couldn’t mess up," the "Irreplaceable" singer said in the Harper's Bazaar Icon issue. "I felt the pressure from the outside and their eyes watching for me to trip or fail. I couldn’t let my family down after all the sacrifices they made for me and the girls," referring to her Destiny's Child group-mates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams (who she notes in the article are still her "best friends.")
"That meant I was the most careful, professional teenager," the singer and Ivy Park designer said, "and I grew up fast. I wanted to break all of the stereotypes of the Black superstar, whether falling victim to drugs or alcohol or the absurd misconception that Black women were angry. I knew I was given this amazing opportunity and felt like I had one shot. I refused to mess it up, but I had to give up a lot."
The performer, who uses the hyphenated surname Beyoncé Knowles-Carter in the piece, said she "sacrificed a lot of things and ran from any possible distraction" in her teen years. The Texas native said in addition to committing to being a good student, she put the rest of her energy went into the girl group she fronted "and the dream of us getting a record deal and becoming musicians. If something wasn’t helping me reach my goal, I decided to invest no time in it."
Even when she was younger, she felt she had to work harder than the others because of her skin color.
"I was competing in dance and singing competitions at age 7," she recalled. "I was often the only Black girl, and it was then that I started to realize I had to dance and sing twice as hard. I had to have stage presence, wit, and charm if I wanted to win." She started voice lessons at 9 and had "recorded at least 50 or 60 songs in the recording studio" by 10.
While she long ago parted ways professionally with her father, Mathew Knowles, who managed her career (as mom Tina Lawson, who she calls "my queen," styled the group in her original, unforgettable designs), Beyoncé said he "constantly encouraged me to write my own songs and create my own vision" as a girl and "is the reason I wrote and produced at such a young age. I remember when I started hearing people criticize me after I had put on some weight. I was 19. None of the sample clothes fit me. I was feeling a bit insecure from hearing some of the comments, and I woke up one day and refused to feel sorry for myself, so I wrote 'Bootylicious.' It was the beginning of me using whatever life handed me and turning it into something empowering to other women and men who were struggling with the same thing."
She also spoke about that professional split from her manager dad after being "pushed to my limits." It was then, "I learned the power of saying no. I took control of my independence at 27 and started Parkwood Entertainment. At the time, there wasn’t a company that did what I needed it to do or ran the way I wanted it run."
Now in her solo artistry — and, yes, she has new music coming, she reports — she rejects doing things the way they've always been done.
She explained, "I want to show that you can have fun and have purpose, be respectful and speak your mind. You can be both elegant and a provocateur. You can be curvy and still be a fashion icon. I wish this freedom for every person. I have paid my dues and followed every rule for decades, so now I can break the rules that need to be broken. My wish for the future is to continue to do everything everyone thinks I can’t do."
Beyonce continued, "I have worked to lift my people up, to change perceptions so my kids could live in a world where they are seen, celebrated, and valued," and added, "I’ve spent so many years trying to better myself and improve whatever I’ve done that I’m at a point where I no longer need to compete with myself. I have no interest in searching backwards. The past is the past. I feel many aspects of that younger, less evolved Beyoncé could never f*** with the woman I am today."
The star revealed a few new tidbits about her personal life with husband Jay-Z and their three kids: Blue, 9, and 4-year-old twins Rumi and Sir. The kids are the inspiration behind her adding kids' clothes to Ivy Park ("on our family vacations, we love to coordinate our outfits"), and she's "building a hemp and a honey farm," extolling the benefits of the natural properties.
She said that "one of my most satisfying moments as a mom" was finding Blue "soaking in the bath with her eyes closed, using blends I created and taking time for herself to decompress and be at peace," she said.
But most of what happens behind the gates of the Knowles-Carter estates are things you'll never know — and that's the way she likes it.
"Throughout my career, I’ve been intentional about setting boundaries between my stage persona and my personal life," she said, noting she was taking a page from Sade and Prince. "My family and friends often forget the side of me that is the beast in stilettos until they are watching me perform. It can be easy to lose yourself very quickly in this industry... It’s not for everyone. Before I started, I decided that I’d only pursue this career if my self-worth was dependent on more than celebrity success. I’ve surrounded myself with honest people who I admire, who have their own lives and dreams and are not dependent on me. People I can grow and learn from and vice versa. In this business, so much of your life does not belong to you unless you fight for it. I’ve fought to protect my sanity and my privacy because the quality of my life depended on it. A lot of who I am is reserved for the people I love and trust. Those who don’t know me and have never met me might interpret that as being closed off. Trust, the reason those folks don’t see certain things about me is because my Virgo ass does not want them to see it... It’s not because it doesn’t exist!"
As for turning 40 on Sept. 4 and the decade ahead, she just hopes it's "fun and full of freedom," noting, "I’ve done so much in 40 years that I just want to enjoy my life."
She added, "I want to feel the same freedom I feel on stage every day of my life. I want to explore aspects of myself I haven’t had time to discover and to enjoy my husband and my children. I want to travel without working. I want this next decade to be about celebration, joy, and giving and receiving love. I want to give all the love I have to the people who love me back."