The most important issue of the most important fashion magazine featured, arguably, the biggest star of our time: Beyoncé. The cover of the Vogue September 2018 issue and its accompanying spread were incentive enough to buy the issue, but the cover also promised “Beyoncé in her own words.” Now, getting a first hand account of any celebrity’s life and worldview is exciting, but for Beyoncé, it’s monumental. Or at least it seems like it would be.
For the last five years the intensely private star has given next to no interviews, never stopped to chat on a red carpet, and somehow manages to avoid interacting with paparazzi. What we know about her life comes from her art. She has taken control of her narrative in a way no other celebrity has ever done rather than letting the media dictate her story.
In truth, it’s always in her own words.
Beyoncé started her career young and first rose to prominence as ¼ (and then 1/3) of Destiny’s Child before moving on to total world domination in 2003 with her first solo album, Dangerously in Love. And while that album and her subsequent three studio albums provided her biggest hits, all Bey-ologists will agree that her real turn towards artistry came in 2013 when she dropped, without any publicity or notice, her self-titled visual album.
Since then, Queen Bey has released two more albums; Lemonade, her most personal and critically acclaimed album to date, in 2016, and most recently Everything is Love, a collaboration with her husband Jay Z and released under the artist name The Carters.
This foray into more personal work has coincided with her deliberate backing away from promotion. As a young artist, she played by the rules of the game, but as a bona fide superstar, she no longer needs to. This leaves her free from some hassles of modern stardom, but it also means she has an unprecedented amount of control over the narrative of her life. She doesn’t rely on interviews to share her story; she uses her art.
And, like countless artists before her, she has often used flowers to enhance and underline her message.
Image: Beyoncé performing at The Formation World Tour
Beyoncé was already slated to go down in history as one of the greatest Superbowl halftime performers of all time thanks to her iconic 2013 performance, but she really cemented that status in 2016 when she showed up to lend a hand her friends Coldplay and completely stole the show out from under them.
The Queen showed up, decked out in an outfit reminiscent of both Michael Jackson and the Black Panthers, to perform her latest single “Formation” (which had just dropped the day before). But the true earth shaking moment came directly after the performance ended. In the following commercial break, a simple, black and white video depicting Beyoncé announced The Formation World Tour.
The short ad featured a black and white Beyoncé holding an orchid in her mouth. The clip was sexy enough on its own, because… Beyoncé, but orchids are also traditionally associated with fertility and sexuality. In fact, the name is derived from the Greek word “orkhis,” the word for the male sexual organs that Greek botanist Theophrastos thought the flower resembled.
It’s highly unlikely that this specific connection was on Beyoncé’s mind when she put the orchid in her mouth, but in the process of evolving as an artist, she has also embraced her sexuality and taken a firm stance on the empowerment that comes from all women owning their sexuality. Due to its linking to sexuality, in Ancient Greece and China, the flowers were eaten because they were believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
Throughout the subsequent tour, a 60-foot cube screen often depicted the orchid blooming during the show. Underlining this idea of blossoming into womanhood and taking ownership of her body and sexuality.
As the follow up to her surprise self-titled visual album, Bey surprised fans with another visual album a mere four days before the first date of the Formation World Tour. Lemonade took the concept of a visual album and expanded it into a full-length film; the videos for each song connected by poetry by Warsan Shire to create one cohesive story of infidelity and forgiveness.
The garden imagery Bey chose for this project is fairly straight forward which is unsurprising since the name of the album comes from one of the oldest adages around; when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.
In the film, the early visuals include shots of dry, dead grass. As the story progresses, there are images of rain-soaked trees and grasslands and by the time we get to the “Redemption” chapter, a full garden is thriving.
But, in addition to a deeply personal piece, Lemonade is also an examination of black womanhood as a whole and on what being black in America has meant and still means today. The chapter called “Resurrection” is introduced with a woman saying, “How do we beat ‘em? Love!” The song “Forward” plays as the mothers of Trayvon Martin (Sabrina Fulton), Eric Garner (Gwen Carr) and Michael Brown (Lezley McSpadden) sit for video portraits holding pictures of the sons they lost to police violence.
They are joined by other featured women from the video holding pictures of black men killed throughout history. Many of these moving portraits feature vases of orange tulips. In the language of flowers, orange tulips represent (among other things) understanding. While Beyoncé’s detractors want to argue that her music and visuals have become militant, through the use of flowers she makes it clear she’s only asking for one thing: understanding.
Introducing the twins
February 2017 provided a new kind of world stopping moment when Beyoncé announced she was pregnant with twins via her Instagram account. The photo quickly became the most-liked post in Instagram history (currently over 149 million) and led to instant over-analyzing by the Beyhive.
Beyoncé could have quite easily just posted a simple, text only announcement and it still would have been the top news story of the week, but Beyoncé doesn’t roll like that. Simple pregnancy announcements are for everyone else. When the Queen wants to let her people know she’s expecting a double bundle of joy she says it with a statement.
The looming flowers, designed by Sarah Lineberger and featuring colorful roses, daisies and palm leaves, are a clear symbol of fertility and when used as alters and crowns they become symbols of religious imagery as well. Beyoncé is taking the well-known art tropes of the Virgin Mary and marrying them with the tropes of Venus; from her exposed skin to the way her hands cradle her stomach. The accompanying photos on her website played into the same themes, featuring a nude Beyoncé sitting on a throne of flowers, laying on a bed of flowers and exchanging flowers with Blue.
Image: The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli
Once Rumi and Sir Carter were born, Bey returned to those themes tenfold. The maternity shot featured Beyoncé standing in front of a similar, if not the same, flower archway, swathed in a blue veil and cradling her babies. The blue veil and baby holding are clear references to depictions of the Virgin Mary throughout art history, but the way Beyoncé is standing references Botticelli’s Venus.
As Constance Grady wrote for Vox, “She’s essentially deconstructing the Madonna/whore complex through her own person. The Virgin Mary traditionally stands for maternity, purity, and chastity, while Venus stands for erotic beauty and sex. In the West, we’re obsessed with keeping those two ideas separate, but Beyoncé won’t allow it. She is mother and saint and goddess of beauty and sex, all at once…”
2018 Vogue September Issue
Which brings us to 2018's Vogue issue, where Queen B still breaks barriers with the cover photographed by the first black photographer (Tyler Mitchell) to shoot a cover in the magazine’s 126-year history. She flexed the considerable amount of muscle it takes to pull off a history making move like that by also ensuring unheard of creative control over her entire cover spread.
In the cover photo Beyoncé wears a breathtaking floral headpiece designed by Phil John Perry for London florist Rebel Rebel and featuring peonies, garden roses and anthurium. The headpiece was integral to Beyoncé’s vision for the shoot: nature. As the queen herself explained, “I think it’s important for women and men to see and appreciate the beauty in their natural bodies. That’s why I stripped away the wigs and hair extensions and used little makeup for this shoot.” The flowers were, again, a way to underline that message of natural beauty.
Since the cover was released, there has been a definite increase in floral headwear interest. Like all queens spanning back centuries Beyoncé doesn’t follow trends, she sets them.
Beyoncé Image Source (resized):