(By Jake Hall | Published on March 15, 2017 for High Snobiety)
Beyoncé made headlines worldwide recently for an Instagram post which revealed that she was pregnant with twins. The image was just one of a series of pregnancy photographs (later released in full on the star’s official website) lensed by photographer Awol Erizku, an established artist whose intimate, intelligently referential work has been previously displayed in New York’s MoMA.
Incidentally, the photographer explained last year in a Dazed interview that his intention has always been to critique the whiteness of art history and increase visibility of black aesthetics – a mission which, considering his image of Beyoncé broke the record for most-liked Instagram post ever in just 11 hours, Erizku has undoubtedly accomplished.
Unsurprisingly, a slew of articles, features and opinion pieces quickly surfaced, many of which were ignorant to the subtle symbolic nods to fertility, joy and womanhood woven throughout the imagery. One particularly controversial article labeled the shoot as a reclamation of ‘tacky’ aesthetics, thus leading to a series of far more intelligent pieces written by people of color, explaining the problems with this analysis in detail.
The amount of coverage garnered by one sole Instagram post is emblematic of the way in which Beyoncé manages to remain simultaneously enigmatic and ubiquitous – ultimately, her use of social media is nothing short of genius. Not only does the star post infrequently (with the exception of a few obligatory promotional posts) and only share key details of her life, her feed is carefully-curated as opposed to random.
Instead of simply posting a candid snap of her bump, for example, she chose to take the time to stage a photoshoot worthy of gallery inclusion and, in the process, promoted the work of an innovative photographer whose non-sexualized depictions of beautiful black bodies are sorely needed in today’s political climate. Basically, Beyoncé wins at social media.
We could all learn a thing or two from Beyoncé’s online presence. Today’s cultural climate is dominated by the ‘social media influencer,’ a term used to describe the various online personalities earning stable income through channels such as YouTube and Instagram.
Unsurprisingly, income earned is loosely proportionate to the amount of content shared, meaning that quantity (as opposed to quality) often succeeds. This, of course, varies: many brands now try to gauge whether or not interaction with these sponsored posts is ‘authentic,’ meaning that a market is slowly opening up for small-scale bloggers to profit from dedicated followers.
Still, the profession encourages an element of immediacy and proximity recently exacerbated by tools including Instagram Live which ultimately facilitate oversharing.
It used to be that the Kardashian family were emblematic of this modern cultural climate. Several sisters quickly realized the potential to monetize their personalities and soon set about creating apps which revealed the minutiae of their daily lives, whereas Kim Kardashian-West and her iconic Selfish – a coffee-table tome filled with hundreds upon hundreds of selfies – became a symbol of modern narcissism.
The star recently took a lengthy hiatus from social media triggered by a horrific armed robbery in Paris and, when she re-emerged online a few weeks later, appeared to have shifted towards a more curated, ‘intimate’ method of interacting with fans.
This has, however, been negated by her recent activity which has, as usual, included sponsored posts (including a light-up phone case – perfect for bomb #belfies!) and a ‘preview’ of a list of 20 things we may not have known about her. One of these facts is that she cracks her knuckles every morning – an inclusion which inarguably demonstrates that she has resorted back to the old formula of quantity over quality.
Not only do stars like Beyoncé retain an aura of authenticity and mystique by posting rarely to celebrate personal milestones, they manage to retain a level of privacy not afforded to many of the ‘influencers’ making daily headlines. Not only was Lemonade a musical opus centered around themes of black womanhood and empowerment, it was an album laden with references to infidelity which, to this day, have remained unconfirmed.
Instead of using social media to divulge the intimate details of her love life, Beyoncé instead wove a tapestry of ambiguous meaning through her lyrics, her tone and her visuals. While Lemonade may have been a personal tale of betrayal, it may also have been a narrative created to explore the universal themes of broken trust and bruised ego. The star herself has never revealed the details and, therefore, public interest remains at an all-time high – an interest proven once again by her record-breaking pregnancy announcement.
This argument clearly doesn’t apply to all of us – after all, how many of us are hounded by paparazzi on a daily basis? Still, the case to be made for retaining personal privacy is stronger than ever in the context of live-streaming apps and their increasing availability.
We now have the option to watch distant acquaintances eating meals in real-time, or staging pointless ‘hangouts’ usually viewed by a mere handful of unknown followers. Oversharing isn’t a phenomenon unique to the influencers of this world – many of us share the mundane details of our daily lives on a regular basis, thus negating the value of face-to-face interaction. After all, how much do we truly want to know about our friends? Furthermore, why are we not discovering this information in person or over the phone?
Finally, there’s an element of personal safety to be considered. Kardashian-West was unfairly blamed for her own robbery, which is perhaps unsurprising considering these critiques largely came from notorious trolls such as Piers Morgan.
The truth is that no amount of ostentatious posting or glamorous selfies can be used as justification for robbery. We do, however, increasingly have the option to include geo-tags on our posts even when we’re tweeting from the comfort of our own homes, whereas Snapchat and Instagram Live can undoubtedly give hints at our location if we’re in public. The more information we share, the more risk there is of it being compromised.
Ultimately, the easier it becomes to overshare the less appealing it is to do so. An abundance of apps are designed to make us feel we’re never alone – now, we can all share every minute of our lives with somebody somewhere in the world. It doesn’t have to be genuine, it just has to be there.
Not only does this tendency to ‘connect’ with others online shift focus away from meaningful interaction, it often leads to hours spent wasted watching YouTubers eat breakfast – or perhaps reveling in the knowledge that Kim Kardashian-West feels just as ‘weird’ as we do because she has a few moles and a habit of cracking her knuckles.
Beyoncé, on the other hand, uses press coverage to divert attention away from herself and towards the various brilliant artists responsible for the visuals we’ve come to know and love. She shares news of important events on her own terms and remains tight-lipped on the issues we’re all desperate to hear about – thus making us more interested.
Social media is, without doubt, an excellent tool. It just so happens that, as is the case in many areas of life, when it comes to social media use we should aspire to be a little more like Beyoncé.