Beyonce and Jay-Z: Still crazy in love
Together, Beyonce and Jay-Z have built a family and a pop music empire. As they prepare to celebrate 10 years of marriage, Julia Molony charts their roller-coaster relationship.
Ten years, three children, one infidelity scandal, roughly 54m album sales, two triumphant US presidential elections and $1bn in the bank: this is Beyonce and Jay-Z in numbers.
Yet, this April, when pop’s most powerful partnership celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, they might well count their lucky stars that they made it that far. After all, as Jay-Z recently ruefully observed, “You know, most people walk away, and [the] divorce rate is like 50% or something ‘cause most people can’t see themselves”.
Their relationship has a complex history. Part love story, part high-powered business merger, they’ve survived tabloid scandal, marriage in the public eye, the strain of parenthood and the demands of their high-octane careers.
Certainly, it’s hard to imagine either of them with anyone else. Who else, even in the circles they move in, could match either of these two superstars? The king and queen of hip-hop and R&B, whose influence cloaks American youth culture, the political establishment and, indeed, the world at large.
When Jay-Z first set his sights on winning Beyonce’s heart, she was still the frontwoman of Destiny’s Child. But she was on her way to emerging as one of the most important solo artists of her generation. More than that, the former shy kid from Houston had constructed a cult of personality so powerful she looked set to join the ranks of the biggest icons of pop culture: Madonna, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe.
It wasn’t just the catchy force of hits like Single Ladies, Run The World, Bootylicious and Independent Women that propelled a generation on to the dancefloor, it was the message behind songs which crystallised the mood of our time. The Spice Girls might have named Girl Power as an idea, but Beyonce owned it.
Creatively, the union between Beyonce and Jay-Z is a meeting of equals, but their backgrounds are starkly different. His mythology is of a different theme but no less powerful; the boy from the projects, a former criminal whose gift for rhyme made him an emperor of pop.
Together, they have become more than the sum of their parts. The family life they have built together and the trappings of their fame — the private jets, the daring, outre fashion they wear like costumes, the lavish mansions — have become an aspect of the showmanship they share. But their influence has broken the boundaries of pop culture, too.
The values they both represent — of self-determinism, hard graft, striving for excellence and, beneath it all, a strong Christian faith — are why they are equally respected in political and music industry circles.
Since their twins were born, they have been based in Los Angeles (last year, they bought a complex in Bel Air for $135m in the most expensive local real estate deal of the year), but they also own homes in the Hamptons, New York and New Orleans.
Beyonce was born in Houston in 1981 into a comfortable, middle-class family. Her mother ran her own hairdressing salon and her father was a sales executive for Xerox. Knowles’ parents had big ambitions for their eldest daughter, and she was focused and disciplined from the start.
She started on the talent show circuit aged seven and was nine when she and her cousin, Kelly Rowland, performed in their first girl band, Girls Tyme, with friends LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett.
Tina Knowles recounted the start of her daughter’s love of performance to Vanity Fair. “Beyonce was very shy around children, and one of the reasons we put her in dance classes was so she’d have some little kid friends,” she said. “When she was seven, her dance teacher, Miss Darlette, told me she was special, and you know, everyone thinks their child is special, so I just said ‘Okay’.
“But then Beyonce entered this contest — she was going to sing John Lennon’s Imagine — and her dad started working with her three days before, telling her what the song was about. When she got onstage, she was just a different kid. She was so confident and she looked so happy, and we were like, ‘Who is that?’ After that, there was no stopping her — she was obsessed.”
As Beyonce became more focused on performance, she spent every waking minute practising dance routines and writing songs. Before long, the whole family united behind her career. Girls Tyme evolved to become Destiny’s Child and Beyonce’s father eventually quit his job to manage them, negotiating the details of their signing to Columbia in 1997, when Beyonce was 16.
Two short years and albums later, they’d conquered the charts at home and abroad. Soon after that, they were the best-selling female group of all time.
It’s not known when Beyonce and Jay-Z started dating. It’s possible they met as early as 1997. But over the early noughties it became obvious they were a couple. In 2001 they were both included in Vanity Fair’s cover shoot for their music issue, at which point, Jay-Z later admitted, “We were just beginning to try to date each other”. It was he, he hinted, who pursued her. “Well, you know ... you got to dazzle ... wine and dine,” he said.
While Beyonce was barely out of her teens, Jay-Z was 12 years her senior and something of an elder statesman of hip-hop. He’d already begun a seemingly Midas-like diversification of his entrepreneurial interests, branching out into digital, nightclubs, fashion and venture capital.
“She was a good girl ’til she knew me,” he said to Vanity Fair of Beyonce. When asked if she was no longer a good girl, he replied, “Nah. She’s gangsta now”.
Even his first professional overture to Beyonce demonstrated his commercial savvy. “We exchanged audiences,” he said of their first collaboration. “Her records are huge, top-40 records, and she helped Bonnie & Clyde go to No. 1. What I gave her was a street credibility, a different edge.”
Street cred was something Jay-Z had in spades. He remains always “the coolest guy in the room”, according to the producer Rick Rubin.
Jay-Z grew up in the rough Marcy Houses projects in Brooklyn, the youngest of four, where his mother was an insurance clerk. His father left the family when he was 12. He shared with his future wife an early life filled with music, but there the similarities end.
Though he was a bookish kid and good at school, by his teens he’d fallen into drug dealing to make money. It wasn’t the easiest of starts, but Jay-Z found a way to put this education to good use.
“There were a lot of things when I lived in the street that helped me in the music business,” he once said. “I knew what characters not to have around me. Sometimes it’s the people around you — whether they want to impress you or they’re still in that life — they’re hot-headed. It’s really the entourage that can be the problem.”
Though they’ve never gone into great detail about their relationship, Beyonce and Jay-Z do speak through their music. In 2003 Jay-Z featured on Beyonce’s single Crazy in Love, which offered fans plenty of clues and codes. As Beyonce released her debut solo album, Dangerously in Love, she sang about being in love with someone who was a Sagittarius. Eagle-eyed fans were quick to note that was Jay-Z’s astrological sign.
It wasn’t until 2004 that they made their first proper public appearance, stepping onto the red carpet at the MTV VMAs. But even then, neither of them said much about it.
Almost as soon as the news was out, the rumour mill started to churn. In 2005 it was reported in the gossip press that Jay-Z had had an affair with the then rising star Rihanna. Soon after, he released an album in which he hinted at the personal challenges they were going through at the time. “I don’t think it’s meant to be, B/But she loves her work more than she does me/And honestly, at 23/I would probably love my work more than I did she”, he sang, later explaining what he’d been trying to express in his book, Decoded. “These lines are about trying to have a real, serious relationship with another ambitious professional,” he wrote.
Two years later she told Essence magazine: “What Jay and I have is real. It’s not about interviews or getting the right photo op. It’s real.”
In 2008 the pair wed in a secret ceremony in their Manhattan apartment, attended by 40 guests. That year Jay-Z struck up a friendship with Barack Obama. He and Beyonce were later credited with helping to mobilise the black vote in the election of the first African-American president.
“I like to think Mr Carter and I understand each other,” Obama later said. “Nobody who met us when we were younger men would have expected us to be where we are today. We know what it’s like not to have a father around. We know what it’s like not to come from much, and to know people who didn’t get the same breaks that we did. So we try to prop open the door of opportunity so that it’s a little easier for those who come up behind us to succeed as well.”
In 2012 their daughter, Blue Ivy, was born and it looked like they’d settled into happy family life. But in 2014 shocking security footage from the Standard Hotel was released showing Beyonce’s sister, Solange, attacking Jay-Z during a fraught bust-up after the Met Gala. The world wondered what he could have done to make his wife’s sister so angry. The couple released a statement, which did almost nothing to cast light on what happened.
Speculation about Jay-Z’s infidelity reached fever pitch. Rumours abounded that he’d bedded pop star Rita Ora and partied with Belgian model Claudia Scheelen. Beyonce herself poured fuel on the fire when, during their joint tour that year, she changed her own lyrics from “I’ll always remember feeling like I was no good/Like I couldn’t do it for you like your mistress could” to “I’ll always remember feeling like I was no good/Like I couldn’t do it for you like that wack bitch could”.
Touring together that year, slinging barbs through their lines, it was the most compelling marital spat played out on a bigger scale than the world had ever seen. Using the music to mediate was clearly a strategy that worked, however, because last summer, the reconciled pair welcomed twins into the world, a girl named Rumi and a boy named Sir Carter.
It was music and therapy that saved their marriage, according to Jay-Z, who told The New York Times: “You know, at the end of the day we really have a healthy respect for one another’s craft. I think she’s amazing.”