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Beyoncé says as a young Black woman she felt she “couldn’t mess up”

by Lewis hawkins
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Ahead of turning 40, Beyoncé gives a rare interview reflecting on her incredible career. In it, the 28-time Grammy winner talks about navigating the entertainment industry and how as a young Black woman, she knew she “couldn’t mess up” or it would all go away.

While plenty of stars have made personal missteps and thrived, “I felt as a young Black woman that I couldn’t mess up,” the “Irreplaceable” singer said in the Harper’s Bazaar Icon issue. “I felt the pressure from the outside and their eyes watching for me to trip or fail. I couldn’t let my family down after all the sacrifices they made for me and the girls,” referring to her Destiny’s Child group-mates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams (who she notes in the article are still her “best friends.”)

“That meant I was the most careful, professional teenager,” the singer and Ivy Park designer said, “and I grew up fast. I wanted to break all of the stereotypes of the Black superstar, whether falling victim to drugs or alcohol or the absurd misconception that Black women were angry. I knew I was given this amazing opportunity and felt like I had one shot. I refused to mess it up, but I had to give up a lot.”

The performer, who uses the hyphenated surname Beyoncé Knowles-Carter in the piece, said she “sacrificed a lot of things and ran from any possible distraction” in her teen years. The Texas native said in addition to committing to being a good student, she put the rest of her energy went into the girl group she fronted “and the dream of us getting a record deal and becoming musicians. If something wasn’t helping me reach my goal, I decided to invest no time in it.”

Even when she was younger, she felt she had to work harder than the others because of her skin color.

“I was competing in dance and singing competitions at age 7,” she recalled. “I was often the only Black girl, and it was then that I started to realize I had to dance and sing twice as hard. I had to have stage presence, wit, and charm if I wanted to win.” She started voice lessons at 9 and had “recorded at least 50 or 60 songs in the recording studio” by 10.

While she long ago parted ways professionally with her father, Mathew Knowles, who managed her career (as mom Tina Lawson, who she calls “my queen,” styled the group in her original, unforgettable designs), Beyoncé said he “constantly encouraged me to write my own songs and create my own vision” as a girl and “is the reason I wrote and produced at such a young age. I remember when I started hearing people criticize me after I had put on some weight. I was 19. None of the sample clothes fit me. I was feeling a bit insecure from hearing some of the comments, and I woke up one day and refused to feel sorry for myself, so I wrote ‘Bootylicious.’ It was the beginning of me using whatever life handed me and turning it into something empowering to other women and men who were struggling with the same thing.”

She also spoke about that professional split from her manager dad after being “pushed to my limits.” It was then, “I learned the power of saying no. I took control of my independence at 27 and started Parkwood Entertainment. At the time, there wasn’t a company that did what I needed it to do or ran the way I wanted it run.”

Now in her solo artistry — and, yes, she has new music coming, she reports — she rejects doing things the way they’ve always been done. 

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