Where is everyone on Beyoncé right now? When she steps out on stage during half-time at the Super Bowl next weekend, it will be to a category of reception she has, over the course of her decades-long career, been amazingly free of: skepticism, and the lurking schadenfreude that underlies all major forms of success. If she was a politician we'd be calling her "embattled".
It's not just the lip-synching, which at this point has gone beyond the initial stages of shock-denial-acceptance and into Grassy-Knoll-style scrutiny; (accounting for distance, wind speed and the angle of the mike, could the sound she was making at the inauguration possibly have come out of a can? And if it did, was it sponsored by Pepsi?)
The Pepsi deal, said to be worth $50m, has seen Beyoncé perform as a human billboard in the run-up to next Sunday's performance, appearing in various media with the soft-drink logo painted on her lips and the date of the Super Bowl on each cheek, infuriating public health campaigners and bringing at least one comparison between the singer and the NRA lobby down on her head.
The obesity line seems a little off, to me. Since when were pop stars required to espouse healthy living? No one's coming at Gaga for her long list of sponsors, including Diet Coke, Miracle Whip and Wonder Bread. But Gaga at least does it with a certain playfulness. The problem for Beyoncé is that hiring herself out as a slate-faced corporate stooge is just not, as they say, a great look for her. The amount of money involved and the prominence of the advertising momentarily inverts her status as a pop star with a lucrative deal to a marketing opportunity with a sideline in music.
It must be almost impossible at that level of fame and accomplishment not to let things occasionally go a bit Kim Jong-Il. In a recent GQ interview to promote her forthcoming "self-directed" documentary, she led the writer into "a narrow room that contains the official Beyoncé archive, a temperature-controlled digital-storage facility that contains virtually every existing photograph of her, starting with the very first frames taken of Destiny's Child … every interview she's ever done; every video of every show she's ever performed; every diary entry she's ever recorded while looking into the unblinking eye of her laptop."
Beyoncé has every right to be impressed with herself, but paradoxically, the minute she lets the self-worship show, she undermines her value as the inspirer of worship; aloofness is a requirement of being at the top, and the archive has about it a whiff of vanity associated with more desperate types, those trying to persuade themselves of something, ie Donald Trump. When people look back at the Obama administration, there will be certain photos that capture its glorious moments of cultural shift, and the shot of Beyoncé and Jay-Z at the White House will be one.