How is a pop star’s image constructed and controlled by the media?
This essay aims to illustrate how Beyoncé’s Knowles’ pop star image is constructed via social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The construction of a ‘real’ into a star maintains the hegemony in contemporary society.
At times a star’s image is apparent by no means of their talent but their “well knownness” (Boorstin, 1961:57) as a pop star can be known for talents such as acting, singing and dancing, while another can be known for their attractive artificial image.
As a song artist, their image is manufactured by their record company where they are created into a figure that an audience want to imitate. This is why, for example, over years we have seen boy bands who conform to the same hairstyle stereotype in order to meet cultural trends in that particular era. On talent shows especially, such as The X Factor, we see a transformation from the real person at auditions towards the star who is created by make-up and a new hair and dress style.
With social media, a high level of influence arises as it is, “searchable” but they rely on “individual incentives.” (Dodds, Muhamad and Watts, 2003: 1). This circulation of sharing photographs results to a pop star trending in social media. A company shapes their stars so that their characteristics are a developing appeal to fans. Pop stars are famously known, for their way of adapting and changing to an audience’s needs, like Madonna with Marilyn Monroe changing lyrics but copying the style of costume and props as it is familiar to the audience.
Stars in general are advised to have a stage name in order to appeal to an audience and the type of genre of film or music they are attaining to. For instance in the music industry, a rapper needs to conform to the urban stereotype as with Jay-Z as he was given this name over his birth name, Shawn Corey Carter. A star’s stage name therefore supports the genre or industry which they are working in and having a name that no one else has contributes to their uniqueness of star image and causes less confusion with those who have similar forenames/surnames.
Born Beyoncé Giselle Knowles, the artist is famous for her outstanding voice, dance moves and independent female persona. The American R&B, pop star as well as being an actress and fashion designer has appealed to audiences since the 1990s. Her passion for singing started when she took part in a singing competition following additional successes. Prior to this, Beyoncé attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Texas. Featuring in films has enriched Beyoncé’s image in particularly with her role in the musical, Dream Girls (2006) where the hit record ‘Listen’ became popular and gained two Golden Globe Awards.
Beyoncé supports that star image can be imitated as she idolises the lead singer of The Supremes, Diana Ross and portraying the Deena Jones character is evidence of the copied image with the easily adaptation of big hair and Mo town fashion sense where he has been nicknamed as ‘Queen B’ – a figure which many young girls aim to follow in terms on fashion, merchandise and music. For example, her celebrity endorsement with her beauty products include popular selling fragrances such as Beyoncé Heat, Rush and Midnight. Fans who support Beyoncé want to be like her therefore they purchase her perfume in order to be like her as well as raise her brand awareness.
In relation to her early star image, Beyoncé was the lead singer of Destiny’s Child in the late 1990s until 2006. Legacy Recordings controlled their image to that era as a group of young and innocent girls which was demonstrated back in 2001 (see fig.1). Their target audience during the 90s at the beginning of their career was mainly teenagers therefore the complimentary bright blue and orange dresses with tassels, shimmery heeled boots and long heavy shelled necklaces were significant fashion at the time.
The way in which they camouflage together suggests that the pop stars have a close bond that other female groups can conform to. This reinforces that “women’s material has often been defined in consumer terms, related to lifestyle and traditional feminine interests” (MacDonald, 1995:50) as they are a collective image for other girls to follow.
As with the sexual connotations with the v-shaped area of her dress, Beyoncé is the only one who has revealing dress codes on her upper body. The camera work determines that she was always the leading, most wanted star hence her blonde hair, centred position and tilted head as she smiles confidently. Together the media reinforced the representation of a successful multiracial group.
Now, Beyoncé’s star image has allowed more interaction with her fans due to a more diverse audience to appeal to older ages in her variety of genres (R&B, hip hop, urban etc.) Her latest album covers and music videos in particularly emphasise her star persona with a modern style in order to meet cultural trends. For example, her latest album titled Beyoncé (2014) includes a track ‘7/11’ which expresses the singer in a more sexual way as additional songs were added to the platinum addition (see fig.2). This boosts Beyoncé’s sexy, curvy look as she is dressed in skinny white jeans and a white crop top.
Usually, white symbolises purity however in this case, the colour adds a modern tone which builds upon Beyoncé’s stylishness. The connotations red lipstick especially, signifies sex appeal with her feistiness and passion. Intertextuality approaches as the tweet from a fan indicates that Kim Kardashian’s nude photos are not valuable unlike Beyoncé’s sexy but fully clothed look. Irony arises when we examine if “the camera never lies” (Gledhill, 1991:135) as the scene is staged in order for Beyoncé’s hair to flow and smile at the right time and evidence of unhappiness could be part of her private sphere.
Her confidence does shine here and the audience are manipulated to believe that she has the best of both worlds in that she has talent as well as the sex appeal. Beyoncé’s curvy figure and exposure of her stomach implies that it is not only size zero models who have sex appeal. Again, controversy occurs as Kim Kardashian’s photos were revealed after Photoshop edits which gave misleading evidence of her curves to audiences. Social media has therefore reinforced truth in Beyoncé’s image at this point which enables fans to idolise a ‘true’ beautiful woman.
Typically, social media is able to twist Beyoncé’s personal life. For example, the scandal of Solange Knowles, (Beyoncé’s sister) attacking Jay Z in a lift where a photograph and video was purposely taken. Assumptions were made that Jay Z has committed adultery or done something else to hurt Beyoncé. The couple are mocked on a meme via Twitter (see fig. 3) where Beyoncé is represented as a vulnerable woman who does not assert herself which does not coincide with her independent persona though her name is still trending in the media. The control of a social media page is significant due this meme having 692 retweets such as “hilarious” and “too funny” following 469 favourites (The Style Lane, 2014).
On one hand we are manipulated to believe that Beyoncé is a woman who allows a man to control her. On the other hand, fans are amused that the situation has escalated so far while others who are amused that the public believe such nonsense. Therefore, it is true to say that through identity, perceptions of a celebrity are “negotiated and articulated” (Redmond, 2014:11). Alternatively, due to the media creating this material, the powerful status is not obtained. An inside joke could have simply been made by Jay Z to his wife but his body language and her unimpressed facial expressions connote a displeased look.
Questionably, the influence of Jay Z may have been the cause of Beyoncé’s development image however with regards to her lyrics to If I were a Boy (2008) “drink beer with the guys and chase after girls” mocks the idea that spending more time drinking with their friends than loving their partner is necessary. This does raise enigma as to whether Jay Z has something against her such as committing adultery.
Beyoncé’s performance of America’s national anthem in 2013 illustrates her wider cultural significance (see fig.4). Prior to this, her performance of At Last at the 2009 Inaugural celebrations for the new President Obama boosted her star image over the choice of the original singer Etta James. This more recent event conforms to contemporary life through dress codes which are embodied with Beyoncé’s long black laced dress and reinforces the elegance of the ceremony and displays her status through such attire. (Cashmore, 2006:67) This cause and effect approach uses her luxurious dress to highlight her sophistication and value.
The star’s gestures symbolise a political celebration to emphasise the thankfulness of the first non-white president of the USA.
In relation to this, social media is in contradiction to the star as they prove that she was lip syncing in her 2013 performance along with the band being pre-recorded (see fig.5). Taking her ear piece out mid-way and shots of her recording prior to the ceremony in her dress disappointed audiences that she was not aspiring them with her full potential for such a valuable national event.
Though, the fact that she is Beyoncé was enough to please fans as she is a fundraiser for Obama’s campaigns and charities such as ‘The Survivor Foundation’. Therefore there is truth in the matter that devoted pop stars will remain long term in the industry if they publicly show activity which endorses cultural meaning (Richard Dyer 1986).
Overall she was respected as the American flag was waving, soldiers saluted her and Obama placed his hand across his heart which not only reinforces the national significance but Beyoncé’s admiration as a star. Alongside this, she has previously starred in Pepsi advertisements which has reinforced her global brand.
The use of such advertisements and events in social media enables Beyoncé to secure her persona and approaches emotional affinity when people are against her. Additionally, it is true to say that “some consumers have the ability to influence others… whereas other consumers are limitators” (Thompkins and Rogerson, 2012: 72).
Social media enables the consumer to be influenced by Beyoncé as she does not allow negative media to control her life due to her albums and tour tickets still being a great success. Her endowment inspires fans further so that they will donate to charities which results in the message being spread further through posting, sharing and commenting on material.
Though, limitations are a concern where those who are not fans of Beyoncé will not feel exclusively influenced by her and feel that she is just another pop star who is exploiting her charity work in order to cover her negative media. Social media captures the selected material whereby the user is able to enhance or depict a negative pop star’s image in a more widespread way.
Vital to mention, it was rumoured on social media that Beyoncé had her skin lightened which controls her image in a way that does not conform to being a proud descent of her parent’s African-American ethnicity.
In conclusion the way in which Beyoncé’s image is constructed and controlled through social media is open to interpretation although loyal fans always admire her for her talent and star persona. The evidence used suggests that Beyoncé’s image has been controlled in both a positive and negative way, regardless, she continues her life with her independent persona. Singing at national events as big as Obama’s ceremony enhances Beyoncé’s well respected and talented status.
Through her lead singer experiences to becoming a solo artist, Beyoncé’s voice has embraced people on a global level which gives her the high-class brand that she has today due to such ceremonies, fundraising, films and advertisements. Shared cultural values and attitudes promote an ideology that she is a woman of great national influence and a woman for young women to idolise through her independence and will to help others.
On the other hand, disapprovals such as having her skin lightened removes her natural identity but conforms to her individual “trademark”. This in turn enhances her star quality which reinforces fans to admire the pop star’s persona as she sustains this over a period of time with several releases of albums. Beyoncé star development star image in social media guides us through a channel in which she has progressed selling more albums and making appearances at public events. Also, it demonstrates that her identity is not solely reliant on her music.
She does not allow the media to have much of an emotional impact on her personal life but she does change her image in order to appeal to the diverse audience and meet cultural trends. Beyoncé is controlled in terms of her image but by no means does social media control her personal life as she does not allow negative comments to worry her.
Boorstin, D.J. (1961). The image: A guide to Pseudo Events in America. New York: Vintage Books.
Cashmore, E. (2006). Celebrity culture. Abingdon [England]: Routledge.
Gledhill, C. (1991). Stardom: Industry of Desire. London: Routledge.
Dodge, S. (2014). Did Beyoncé use Photoshop AGAIN? [Online] Mail Online. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2830414/Did-Beyonce-use-Photoshop-Pop-star-accused-altering-waistline-fans-notice-strange-distortions-latest-round-selfies.html [Accessed 15 Feb. 2015]. Dodds, P., Muhamad, R. and Watts, D. (2003). An Experimental Study of Search in Global Social Networks. Science, [online] 301(5634), p.1. Available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/301/5634/827 [Accessed 18 Feb. 2015]. Dyer, R. (1986). Heavenly bodies. Film stars and society New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Keneally, M. (2013) Did Beyoncé Lip Synch the National Anthem? Marine Corps Band Say She Mimed To ‘Prerecorded Track’ But Then Backtracks On The Claim. [Online image]. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2266539/Beyonce-DIDNT-sing-National-Anthem-live-Inauguration-lip-synched-thing-ripped-earpiece.html [Accessed 15th February 2015]
Macdonald, M. (1995). Representing Women. Myths of femininity in the popular media. London: E. Arnold.
Redmond, S. (2014). Celebrity and the media. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Thompkins, Y.L and Rogerson, M. (2012). Rising to Stardom: An Empirical Investigation of the Diffusion of User-generated Content. Journal of Interactive Marketing, [online] 26(1), pp.72-82. Available at: http://ac.els-cdn.com.ezproxy.mmu.ac.uk/S1094996811000818/1-s2.0-S1094996811000818-main.pdf?_tid=099f6fb0-b7a3-11e4-92d6-00000aab0f01&acdnat=1424287339_b32937bd940d4938cefa1fd240a9e52e [Accessed 18 Feb. 2015].
Twitter. (2014) The Style Lane on Twitter. [Online]. Twitter page. Available at: https://twitter.com/TheStyleLane/status/466005436702154752/photo/1 %5BAccessed 15th February 2015]
Facebook. (2012) Destiny’s Child [online]. Facebook page. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/destinyschild/photos_stream [Accessed 15th February 2015]
Ishler, Julianne. Beyoncé’s Sexy ‘7/11’ Video: Fans Freak out on Twitter. Hollywood Life. [Online] Available at: http://hollywoodlife.com/2014/11/21/beyonce-7-11-music-video-fans-react-twitter/ [Accessed 15th February 2015]