A People’s History of Beyoncé: Stardom and "Standom" in the 21st Century
date: November 7, 2018
location: Villa Sassetti

The pre-eminent pop music superstar of the first two decades of the 21st century, Texas-reared singer-songwriter-entertainer Beyoncé Knowles has managed to redefine global culture through her music, videos, films, tours and entrepreneurial ventures. Though she’s racked up 22 Grammy Awards and more than 100 million in record sales, Beyoncé’s cultural power — why she matters so much to so many people — has much to do with her evolving relationship to her fans. Nicknamed "Queen B" by her fans as a way to signal her regal dominance, Beyoncé has delivered albums and videos that have uniquely empowered and given voice to otherwise disenfranchised communities, especially women, and LGBT communities of color. Her unprecedented and enduring success suggests that we direly need a new kind of bottom-up music criticism that pays more attention to the role that everyday people themselves play in the shaping of celebrity power. Just as Howard Zinn´s landmark book A People´s History of the United States served as a rethinking of official American history told from the point of view of the nation´s most disenfranchised rather than from the top down, “A People’s History of Beyoncé” rethinks the official histories of global pop from the intersecting POVs of the fans who helped format and create it. At same time, Beyonce’s fans tell us something about the nature of crowds and power in the social media era. The 21st century rise of “standom” — a kind of loyalty beyond reason in which celebrity icons are granted the status of unimpeachable deities — is a troubling phenomenon that has had rippling, profound implications in contemporary neoliberal, neoconservative and neofascist politics in America, Europe and beyond. This timely talk looks at Beyoncé’s ascendancy to superstardom through the lens of her staunchest fans, the throngs of people around the world who have been empowered by her example even as they have transformed themselves into her subservient “worker bee” subjects. Tracing a history of Beyoncé through the “people” who help create and sustain her stardom is a way of thinking through contemporary fandom, through branding and celebrities, through the complex and dense icon worship that speaks volumes about the turbulent political moment in which we currently find ourselves.