I just finished watching Beyoncé’s documentary, Life Is But A Dream, and I think what I was most struck by is an overwhelming sense that vulnerability is hard for this young woman because she’s trying to live up to an impossible ideal.
I didn’t get the sense that she wasn’t interested in being truly vulnerable so much as unpracticed at it. I have this profound sense that this is a 31-year old woman who has never allowed herself, or been allowed, to feel deeply.
So this film is an exercise I think in watching Beyoncé learn to be vulnerable. There’s that moment where she says, almost surprising herself, that she can’t do it alone. Or the way she conveyed more deeply the hurt she feels that people would think she would fake a pregnancy than she does relating what it must have been like to have had a miscarriage.
And then there’s that moment early on when she’s talking about how hard she worked for her father’s approval and how he withheld it, presumably to make her into the very thing she is: this hyper-poised star. This is the most revealing, honest and vulnerable moment in the entire film precisely because I think it cuts to the core, for me, of who Beyoncé is as a figure and a person.
And it helps me understand her vocal approach – the very thing that for me makes her such a frustratingly disappointing artist to listen to. So much talent, but such a profound inability to connect to the emotion of whatever it is she’s singing*. We see her singing “Listen” and “Resentment” and I know it’s supposed to be deep emotion, but it’s not. It’s Beyoncé trying to approximate what she thinks it must feel or sound like, or more accurately, willing herself to get there.
For the first time, I feel genuine empathy and sadness for what it must be like to be Beyoncé. It is just for reasons different than I expected.
*There are exceptions of course, “Speechless,” “Lay Up Under Me,” “Crazy Feelings” – and yes through sheer force of will, “Resentment” – chief among them.