Books

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Queen Bey: A Celebration of the Power and Creativity of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter,’ Edited by Veronica Chambers

c.2019, St. Martin’s Press
$27.99 ($36.50 Canada)
224 pages

You were Crazy in Love.

It happened the first time you heard Beyoncé Knowles, before she won a Grammy, before she added to her life with a man and motherhood. It happened the first time you saw her, a skinny child with a mispronounced name, and in “Queen Bey,” a book of essays edited by Veronica Chambers, you’ll want to say that name again.

“What might a Black girl be in this world?”

That’s a question Veronica Chambers says she’s spent her lifetime asking. The answer arrived in the songs of a performer who “has no interest in separating herself from the struggle of being a Black woman…” That singer, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, “is the greatest performer alive,” according to Luvvie Ajayi, one essayist here.

When Beyoncé was first seen (on TV’s “Star Search” in 1993), viewers recognized her talent. Even then, she was “our generation” and that never changed: these days, she’s “named the pain of … Black women who … love Black men.” Through her actions and music, she’s shown that “Black men’s apologies to Black women matter.” Writer Ylonda Gault says that there were times when Beyoncé’s life eerily paralleled Gault’s. Meredith Broussard calls Beyoncé “a constant presence in my own life.”

She’s a businesswoman who reportedly has a climate-controlled archive of every print and digital bit of press with her name in it. She’s a writer, mother, feminist, actress, and award-winner; a “hard-working professional,” a champion for gay rights, an inspiration for young Black girls, and a comfort for women who’ve miscarried. And she’s a dancer: who among us hasn’t memorized the incredible moves seen in her music videos?

Naysayers and haters might scoff, but for a fan, there’s probably nothing Beyoncé can’t do. Says writer Edward Enninful, “she’s above trends. She can’t be put in a box. Frankly, she can do whatever she wants.”

Let’s stop right here a second: if you barely know who Beyoncé is and can’t name at least five of her songs, stop reading now. Go do something else, because this book is not for you.

Come to think, it’s not a book for mere casual fans, either. No, “Queen Bey” is a book for rabid, die-hard, sing-all-the-songs fans who know what the Hive is, and exist in it. It’s for the readers who’ve listened to Beyoncé’s albums and watched all the videos over and over again, because all the contributors to this book have done that, too. It’s for fans who’ve played the “Michael, Whitney, or Beyoncé?” game.

Just beware: this over-the-edge rhetoric here can get excessively florid, sometimes making Knowles-Carter seem like a deity, and that lack of perspective can mar the messages behind the outpouring of love. Readers with a tendency to roll their eyes might do that here, Beyoncé fan or not.

Keep that in mind when you see this book. If you’re a sometime follower, you’ll probably be happier just taking a pass. If you can’t get enough of “Queen Bey,” you’ll like it and you shoulda put a bookmark in it.

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