Beyoncé is running what is almost certainly the tightest ship in the music business, if not the entire entertainment industrial complex. She not only produces genre-defying art projects that derail the weekend plans of an entire planet, but manages to keep them completely secret, despite the fact that the byzantine creative process of putting that work together involves hundreds of people working across several fields for months at a time. In the era of TMZ and cascading, endless information feeds, it’s the second part—secrecy in a time of unrivaled transparency—that is almost the most impressive.
But how does Beyoncé ensure that the details of everything she is working on stay under wraps? Appropriately, we might never know! Even though she announced Lemonade was coming in the weeks before it dropped, it didn't leak—and these days, everything leaks. Beyonce clearly chooses to work in her immediate circle only with people who she trusts, who she has worked with for a long time. But those conditions can’t extend to the sheer number of people required to produce something on the scale of her new visual album, Lemonade.
Which, since its release, has let everyone know on no certain terms, do not mess with Beyoncé.
Break Beyoncé’s iron-clad non-disclosure agreement and she will get madder at you than she was at Jay-Z, which as we now know, was very. Break the NDA and perhaps Beyoncé might murder you. Or if not flat out murder you, definitely set fire to your stuff. Definitely be extremely angry with and disappointed in you, beyond the expression of mere words. Beyoncé’s heart would break at your unfathomable betrayal. How could you be so stupid? Really? Did you not know what you had? Did you not appreciate what you were a part of? Did you not want to stay connected to the creative powerhouse casually dropping surprise soulbombs from nowhere like it’s nothing?
You literal idiot. Beyoncé would ghost you worse than Charlize Theron. You would be dead to her. If you were lucky, she might turn a white-hot gaze of pure contempt on you as you were marched off the premises of her life forever. More likely though, Beyoncé would not waste her contempt reserves on you. You would just be done.
This might be how it’s all kept secret, or, there might be financial penalties so severe that they would bankrupt you and your future heirs and their children and any children they might have. Whatever the terms, Beyoncé inspires/enforces fealty among her collaborators that House Lannister can only dream of.
Mystique is extremely hard to cultivate inside the panopticon of social streams and web channels that artists now inhabit, where sharing life’s minutiae blurs the line between They’re just like us/Not at all like us that fuels our deep fascination with the people who inspire, move and captivate us. Beyoncé has long deftly walked the line between being accessible and from another realm entirely. She famously gives few interviews and even the ones she does give are tightly controlled. This mastery over her image does nothing to dull the intense connection to her felt by her enormous fan base; it amplifies it.
Prince—whose commitment to creative control was as much a part of his artistry as it is for Beyoncé— attempted to maintain some mystery on the internet by trying to keep his music scarce in a medium of plenty. Beyoncé, born of another era of the music industry, has mastered the systems of distribution that have proven difficult for so many other artists to conquer, by making her new releases spontaneous events, gone viral because of the sense of wonder at their arrival.
Beyoncé takes the measure of the new business reality of the internet and bends it to her will; her creativity extends to a deeply nuanced understanding of the means of production. She pioneered the surprise album drop, being the first to realize that the only way to conquer a market where traditional release strategies had become ineffective was to create a multimedia masterpiece event release—over the weekend! This proved to be the best way to not only get people to care and to pay immediate, excitable attention, but to pay actual money also. Everyone following in her footsteps is playing catch-up to her and her team’s strategic plays. Beyoncé is both artist and businesswoman; she is a seamless melding of the two.
Anyone on the outside catching a glimpse of the NDA document is as unlikely to happen as an insider breaking it. However it is that Beyoncé and her team keep secrets on par with the Vatican’s finances, the main takeaway from this weekend’s release is, do not under any circumstances break your word to her. The message is directed at her husband Jay-Z explicitly, but to her hundreds of collaborators implicitly.
Elmo is a writer with Real Future.