Sorry, Teddy Roosevelt. Beyoncé is taking your doctrine of engagement one step further.
Forget “speak softly.” Beyoncé barely speaks publicly at all. And as far as “big sticks” — yes, she certainly knows how to wield a baseball bat in the video for “Hold Up” — thousands of her fiercest fans, who call themselves the BeyHive, will defend her honor online whenever it is challenged.
This strategy is the opposite of how nearly all other celebrities approach attention — working under the idea that “all publicity is good publicity” and doing whatever they can to stay in the public eye. Even the most reclusive celebrities will do a handful of interviews to publicize an upcoming project or to correct a misconception.
Her surprise-released album “Lemonade” (Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia) hit No. 1 and racked up the biggest sales numbers of the year, with 485,000 copies sold in the first week. With no advance promotion, the album was also streamed 115.2 million times in its first week, setting another record. (Both those records were quickly broken by Drake and his “Views” album last month.)
She also essentially sold out an international stadium tour, which includes stops at Citi Field on June 7 and 8, as well as MetLife Stadium on Sept. 7.
And she did it all without saying one word.
Beyoncé hasn’t offered any explanation for “Lemonade,” leaving the songs’ lyrics — and the accompanying images from the HBO special that accompanied the album — about infidelity open to interpretation. Is she talking about her marriage to Jay Z? Is she making a broader point? She isn’t saying.
Beyoncé has done only one interview this year, with Elle magazine, and most of that was about feminism and her new fashion line rather than her music.
But she did address the controversy about her single “Formation” and her appearance during Coldplay’s Super Bowl halftime show, which former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called “outrageous,” saying she used it as “a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us and keep us alive.”
Again, Beyoncé made this “attack” without uttering a word, simply raising her fist in what was interpreted to be a tribute to the Black Panthers.
However, she did explain it in the Elle interview. “Anyone who perceives my message as anti-police is completely mistaken,” Beyoncé said in the magazine’s May issue. “I have so much admiration and respect for officers and the families of officers who sacrifice themselves to keep us safe. But let’s be clear: I am against police brutality and injustice. Those are two separate things. If celebrating my roots and culture during Black History Month made anyone uncomfortable, those feelings were there long before a video and long before me. I’m proud of what we created and I’m proud to be a part of a conversation that is pushing things forward in a positive way.”
For most artists — and, truthfully, most people — being misunderstood is a frustrating experience. But Beyoncé told Elle that she looks at it as more of an occupational hazard. “I’m an artist and I think the most powerful art is usually misunderstood,” she said.
It seems she’s OK with that. After all, she doesn’t even use methods to contact fans directly very much. Aside from a tweet to link to “Lemonade” on Tidal, she hasn’t tweeted to her 14.4 million followers since 2013. While she posts on Instagram more regularly, she doesn’t explain the images very often to her 71.8 million followers.
Beyoncé is forging new ground. Can Queen Bey become Queen of All Media without really engaging with the media? She is certainly going to try. So far, she has succeeded.