In an exclusive excerpt from the essay collection QUEEN BEY: A Celebration of Power and Creativity of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, former Billboard deputy editor Isabel González Whitaker recalls her experiences interviewing the singer and the immediate warmth and kinship she felt during their interactions over the years in a piece entitled: “Finding La Reina in Queen Bey.”
It wasn’t until the third time that I met Beyoncé that she showed me her superpower.
The first two times, in the late nineties, I just said hello at record industry meet and greets, where Destiny’s Child was working hard to get fans to say their names. The third and fourth times were a decade later, in 2008 and 2011, by which time Beyoncé had reached certified solo status, as an artist and in name, and I interviewed her for cover stories for InStyle magazine, where I worked as an editor.
The first time I sat down with her, I was nervous and new to my job, as well as emotionally fragile, having lost my mother a few weeks prior. Beyoncé was my first true superstar inter- view. I remember exactly what I wore because I gave it tons of thought, as you do when you are going to meet an artist you have long admired. But I was also there to get a job done, so I chose a boxy Maria Cornejo black top paired with a black high- waist wool gabardine Stella McCartney skirt, Lucite wedge heels from United Nude, and one of my mom’s chunky necklaces for good luck. My boss told me I looked chic, which was what I was aiming for. Beyoncé complimented my shoes, which is why I’m sitting here now wondering why I ever got rid of them.
I’m sure she could tell I was nervous, though I tried my best to project confidence and stay focused, even as my mind wandered to my mother and how I wished I could tell her how nice Beyoncé was to me, how pretty she was, and to tell her what Beyoncé wore (a green jumpsuit by YSL, my mother’s favorite designer).
Near the end of our allotted hour, sitting next to her on a black leather couch in the industrial photo studio, I glanced at my list of unasked questions and knew I wasn’t going to have time to get to them. I don’t think I appeared flustered, but she picked up on my anxiety nonetheless. When a handler came in to end the interview, Beyoncé told her that we were fine and to give us more time. “Go ahead,” she told me: “Ask what you need to.” I exhaled and thanked her.
The last question of the interview was about her desire to eventually play a superhero in a movie. “What would be your superpower if you could have one in real life?” I asked. “The power to disappear and just watch people,” she replied. “The older I get, I can see what people are going to do—it’s not like I’m psychic, I just have a good read on people. It’s really what I do. I walk into a room and I read people.” On that day, I very much appreciated her superpower.
Each time I’ve met her she’s been warm but with interper- sonal boundaries that convey the hard-working professional she is: firm handshakes, sustained eye contact, focus and attention to the questions. She means business but she’s kind, smiles a lot, and is quick to laugh at herself. What struck me the most though was how supportive she was of me, and it’s why I know her sense of sisterhood is real, that she truly is a woman’s woman.
QUEEN BEY: A Celebration of the Power and Creativity of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, edited by New York Times editor Veronica Chambers is out now and features essays by Luvvie Ajayi, Edward Enninful, Ebro Darden, Lena Waithe, Michael Eric Dyson, Brittney Cooper and Melissa Harris Perry.
Copyright © 2019 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.
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