Bewitched. Bothered. Beyoncé.
What's lurking behind the admiration -- and resentment -- this pop diva attracts?
When "The Beyoncé Experience" concert stops at TD Banknorth Garden next Sunday , the arena will be filled with fans who love Beyoncé -- or at least her work. After all, this world-renowned former member of Destiny's Child has a second solo CD, "B'Day," that's gone double platinum; heads the successful clothing line House of Dereon; and recently had a starring role in the Oscar-bait hit film "Dreamgirls."
But scratch below the surface and it becomes apparent that Beyoncé Knowles is a star people both love and love to hate.
Part of this is a function of her public image. In interviews, the singer keeps details of her personal life to a minimum. Many still don't know when Beyoncé and her boyfriend, rap superstar Jay-Z, started dating. Yet as a celebrity pair they are magnets for attention; paparazzi eagerly shot invasive images of their vacation in the south of France this summer.
The singer mixes the old-school celebrity style of a Whitney Houston with the Internet-fueled fame of a Lindsay Lohan, says Emmett Price, a professor of music at Northeastern University. While she doesn't indulge in the drug-taking and partying that characterizes Lohan and other Hollywood bad girls, Beyoncé still draws a level of Web-generated scrutiny that can have detrimental effects on a career, says Price.
"In pop culture we've had a disdain for those people who have reached that kind of level of celebrityhood and worldwide acceptance," he says.
Beyoncé emerged on the music scene as a member of Destiny's Child, but she's been a source of controversy since the 2000 breakup of the group's original lineup. Some viewed that sudden shake-up as her premeditated first step toward solo stardom.
Further complicating matters is the fact that she's a black woman. Her race, and her skin color, provoke diverse reactions that aren't always positive -- even on urban gossip blogs, where she and Jay-Z are the equivalent of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in terms of intensity of interest.
Beyoncé is also one of the rare black celebrities to garner continual attention on mainstream blogs and websites. In this unrestrained medium, comments and photo captions often get rude. For example. the gossip site TMZ.com referred to Beyoncé's appearance at the recent BET Awards, at which she wore a robot costume, as the singer's "roboho performance."
On the urban site Concrete Loop, a post about Beyoncé can devolve into hundreds of Beyoncé lovers and haters sniping at each other electronically. A March post featuring all the videos created for the re-released version of "B'day" logged 821 replies, the most comments the blog ever received for a Beyoncé post.
Black gossip bloggers know an item about Beyoncé, one of the world's most popular black celebrities, will draw not only crowds, but drama.
"They just go crazy with the comments," says Angel Laws, the creator of Concrete Loop. "It can go on for days."
Beyoncé began her quest for worldwide popularity in her hometown of Houston with the support of her parents, Mathew Knowles, who is now her manager, and Tina Knowles, her stylist. Television profiles of the singer often include videos shot by her parents that show Beyoncé and her friends Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Roberson, and LeToya Luckett devotedly practicing dance routines as children.
Their persistence paid off in 1998 when Destiny's Child's self-titled debut album produced the hit "No, No, No." However, the title of the group's second CD, "The Writing's on the Wall" proved prophetic for two members: Beyoncé's father replaced Roberson and Luckett with Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin, after the two founding members attempted to dump him as their manager.
Roberson and Luckett accused Knowles of favoring his daughter in group business, and entertainment gossip writers alleged that the firings were part of Knowles's effort to secure a solo career for her.
Thus years later when Beyoncé snagged the plum role of Deena Jones in "Dreamgirls," her critics thought it perfect casting: The part echoed not only Diana Ross's experience as the star who emerged from the Motown girl group The Supremes -- on which "Dreamgirls" is loosely based -- but Beyoncé's own with Destiny's Child.
For a celebrity who steers clear of controversial comments and has a carefully maintained image, it's hard to understand why Beyoncé elicits such passionate feelings. The humorous website beyonceitis.com likens the star to a career-damaging disease that has struck down such female singing rivals as Christina Aguilera and Ashanti. But comments online and in interviews offer answers ranging from overexposure to jealousy to racism.
The answer is pretty simple if you ask Alicia Canady, a 25-year-old Dorchester resident who bluntly says of Beyoncé, "I don't like her."
The reason? "She's with Jay-Z," Canady says. "I've loved Jay-Z for years. . . . I don't like to see anything about her because I don't like their relationship."
Natasha Eubanks, creator of the gossip blog Young, Black and Fabulous (ybf.blogspot.com), thinks the strong feelings on both sides have more to do with balance.
"With as many [fans who love her] as she has, of course she's going to have as many haters," says Eubanks. "It infuriates people that she's that powerful and prominent in society."
Gossip sites with predominantly white readers often feature comments that criticize the singer for having a curvaceous body in a celebrity world that embraces an almost anorexic look. Comments from blacks occasionally touch on the subject of Beyoncé's skin color.
"People [who post on the websites] have a problem that she's light-skinned," says Eubanks. " 'Oh they only want the light-skinned chicks.' "
The criticism reveals the deeply ingrained problem of colorism that has vexed the African-American community since slavery, when the mulatto children of slave owners received better treatment than darker-skinned slaves. Although often left unspoken, race does play a role in how people perceive Beyoncé, says Price.
"They do have a tendency to be portrayed [in print and television ads] a little lighter than their skin color," Price says of Beyonce and other black celebrities who are presented in ways that make them more palatable to the mainstream.
The June TMZ post containing the "roboho" comment elicited 335 responses that revealed the blogosphere's various feelings about Beyoncé. They ranged from the accusatory ("Beyoncé was so freakin' stuck up at the awards! She stole Kelly's [Rowland] performance!!! Bad Beyoncé!!!!") to the laudatory ("Beyoncé's outfit, performance, and reunion with Destiny's Child was the best and hottest ever.")
The international pop star Kylie Minogue, who is white, wore a similar robot costume in concert, but didn't generate such criticism.
"When we were watching 'The Dukes of Hazzard' and watching Daisy Duke, these comments weren't made," says Price, referring to the TV show from the 1980s featuring a scantily clad white female character. "When we talk about Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke in the movie, some 20 or 30 years later, again these comments aren't made.
"But now that we have Beyoncé, who is black, a good-looking woman, a hard worker, [critics] want to be able to make these kind of comments."
Recognizing the uproar, TMZ responded to the complaints with a statement on its website that pointed out the term was used to describe Beyoncé's "performance outfit " and "not Ms. Knowles herself."
It's sometimes necessary to make such distinctions. As Eubanks notes, the cynical nature of blog gossip makes it difficult for readers to discern whose side the blogger sits on.
"People are confused if I'm a fan or not," says Eubanks, before clarifying that she is, indeed, one. "I'm obsessed with this chick. Every blogger has his or her pet person."
Nevertheless Eubanks -- and many other gossip bloggers -- happily posted video footage from YouTube of Beyoncé's headlong fall down a short flight of stairs during a concert in Orlando, Fla., last month. Eubanks's caption read, "I told y'all all those Mama Tinaesque sideways looks Kelly and B gave Michelle when she busted her [expletive] on TV would catch up to them."
Eubanks was referring to an infamous appearance Destiny's Child made on BET's video countdown show "106 & Park" in which Beyoncé and Rowland merely glanced over when member Michelle Williams fell onstage during the group's performance.
But Eubanks also writes admiringly of Beyoncé, "I'm just trippin' that this chick bounced . . . back up like her weave was an invincible air mattress and kept the party goin' without missing nan a beat. Her recovery game is on point."
Even when there's a puncture in the singer's carefully constructed persona, no one can deny her professionalism and talent.
Julia Shia, a 17-year-old dancer from Cambridge, became a Beyoncé fan after the release of the singer's first solo CD, "Dangerously in Love." Shia admires Beyoncé's dancing ability, particularly the way she intertwines hip-hop with flamenco and salsa styles.
But Shia also understands where the criticism of Beyoncé comes from.
"She portrays herself as a sex symbol rather than an artist," says Shia, who would rather see Beyoncé focus on her dancing and singing skills.
Such shrewd marketing has not only made Beyoncé famous, but one of the most overexposed artists in the entertainment industry. With albums, concerts, movies, and a clothing line, it seems as though the singer hasn't taken a break since she released "Dangerously in Love" in 2003.
Price believes that Beyoncé's constant hustling reflects the manic nature of modern celebrity.
"In the entertainment industry, if you miss the next shot there's always going to be 20 people behind you waiting to be the next big thing," says Price. "You can almost never be out of the line."