Daily Archives: January 10, 2013

Documentary impulses and Beyoncé’s “crazy archive”

This GQ profile of Beyoncé, who GQ declares “Miss Millenium,” has been all over the Internet today. It’s a fairly unsatisfying profile–no big surprise since it functions largely as an excuse to run photos of a scantily-clad Beyoncé wearing very expensive underwear. But the few glimpses we do get into her life are fascinating, particularly her constant efforts to document, archive, and control every aspect of her image and life.

Anytime she wants to remind herself of all that work—or almost anything else that’s ever happened in her life—all she has to do is walk down the hall. There, across from the narrow conference room in which you are interviewing her, is another long, narrow room that contains the official Beyoncé archive, a temperature-controlled digital-storage facility that contains virtually every existing photograph of her, starting with the very first frames taken of Destiny’s Child, the ’90s girl group she once fronted; every interview she’s ever done; every video of every show she’s ever performed; every diary entry she’s ever recorded while looking into the unblinking eye of her laptop…

And this room—she calls it her “crazy archive”—is a key part of that, she will explain, so, “you know, I can always say, ‘I want that interview I did for GQ,’ and we can find it.” And indeed, she will be able to find it, because the room in which you are sitting is rigged with a camera and microphone that is capturing not just her every utterance but yours as well. These are the ground rules: Before you get to see Beyoncé, you must first agree to live forever in her archive, too.

It’s clear that Beyoncé is heavily invested in controlling everything she can–she talks about the great degree of control she had even in the early days of Destiny’s Child. And her persistent self-documenting might be read as narcissism, particularly given the degree of careful curation she brings to her public image. But Beyoncé’s “crazy archive” is also an attempt to remain in possession of her likeness and to dictate–as completely as possible–how that likeness can be used. In a celebrity culture that, in the words of Anne Hathaway, “commodifies [the] sexuality of unwilling participants,” maintaining the sort of image control Beyoncé has achieved is arguably a fairly radical act.