Jay-Z and Beyoncé Are Redefining Privacy

A breakdown of the revealing lyrics in his new album “4:44”

Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images 

After four weeks of teasing us with no fewer than five cryptic video clips, Jay-Z finally dropped his new album, “4:44,” precisely three minutes before midnight last night. Headlines poured in shortly thereafter citing a lyric in the album’s title track as unequivocal confirmation of Jay-Z’s infidelities:

“And if my children knew / I don’t even know what I would do / If they ain’t look at me the same / I would probably die with all the shame,” Jay-Z raps in song’s closing verse. “‘You did what with who?’ / What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soulmate? / ‘You risked that for Blue?'”

In another moment of candidness, he sings, “I apologize for all the stillborns / Cause I wasn’t present, your body wouldn’t accept it.” And then: “I never wanted another woman to know / Something about me that you didn’t know/I promised, I cried, I couldn’t hold / I suck at love, I think I need a do-over / I will be emotionally available if I invited you over / I stew over what if you over my shit?”

Not only is Jay-Z seemingly admitting to his affair (or affairs), but he is also apologizing — berating himself, even — for how his actions impacted his and Beyoncé’s relationship, and their efforts to start a family together.

But this isn’t just an apology — it’s a very, very, very public one. Much like Beyoncé’s “LEMONADE,” “4:44” shines a light on some of the deepest intimacies of Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s marriage — cheating, forgiveness, emotional unavailability and stillborn children — to the entire world. This openness is radical enough in its own right for any major celebrity, but the Carters’ extreme privacy adds another layer of significance.

Given that they control their narrative, as a couple and as individuals, down to the punctuation, it would be logical to conclude that these musical exposés are a very intentional part of that narrative. If art trumps privacy and privacy is a mechanism for protecting themselves, does art trump self-preservation? Or is creating the best work they can, as an honest product of their experiences, the greatest act of self-preservation that exists in the sense that not doing so would be living a lie?

Jenna Wortham made a pertinent observation during a round table discussion about “LEMONADE” in The New York Times: “There’s also something incredibly powerful about telling your own story in 2016. That is not something that most celebrities get to do. It’s either going to be in Us Weekly, it’s going to be in the Shade Room, it’s in the comments. And this is her saying, I’m telling my story, this is my narrative, and that’s the ultimate act of agency.”

Beyoncé and Jay-Z are masterful in their ownership of their voice and their story. They are effectively championing vulnerability, and cementing a place for personal storytelling to do what it does best: remind us that we’re all human beings, and we’re not alone.

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  • Greenborough

    What if it’s all made up for publicity? I don’t believe anything about Lemonade or 4:44. I think it’s fiction for our celebrity driven consumption.

    • Rebecca

      I have typically thought the same thing. But knowing how much they love Blue and their family, I don’t think that he would incorporate her miscarriage into the lyrics unless all of the lyrics were true. To include that very factual part of their story with false information just to increase commercial interest would seem to cheapen his exploration of the miscarriage as a topic. It’s too visceral, too raw to be used for marketing. What use do they have for half truths at this point? We either get everything or nothing from them. I’m grateful for anything they choose to share.

      • Greenborough

        Hi Rebecca! I get what you’re saying but we don’t know these people. We think we do because we see photos of their famliy at basketball games and birthday parties. You probably wouldn’t go around talking about a miscarriage you never had, or an affair your husband never had but we don’t know what Beyoncé and Jay-Z think about their work and public image. They are out there making money and music and doing it their way. But we really don’t know anything about them.

        • Rebecca

          Haha, yeah I understand your point, although I in no way think i “know them” personally simply because I’ve seen photos. I have been a fan of Beyonce’s work for 20 years and although we can never truly know a celebrity’s motives, we can get some idea of them through their past actions. Beyonce and Jay may be over the top at times, but their charity work and the private moments they have shared lead me to believe some things would be off limits to exaggerate or make up. And BTW, Beyonce 100% had a miscarriage so please do not insinuate that she did not, as that is a very painful thing for any woman and she has been open about that herself in her documentary and music. My last point is, they are artists. They use their lives to produce a body of work to share with the masses and to express themselves. None of us can ever truly say what is real or fake within anyone’s art, even local artists and musicians, The point is the end result, has the artist brought about a conversation with their art? And I think we can all agree, Beyonce and Jay have allowed millions of people to maybe discover things about themselves through their music, and that is what is most important, not whether something is 100% true.

    • Cristina

      I 100% agree. As with the Kardashians, I just have a hard time accepting that ANYTHING is real and uncalculated. As terrible and heart-wrenching as it all is, I think it’s a smart move to stay relevant, to curate your image and relationship, to sell these anthems and to keep your dynasty going. I hate myself for thinking that. But I also just find it so hard to believe this is their truth given how private they have literally been their whole lives and how they never try really speak on previous rumors the media creates. I am so thankful I am not a celebrity, it sounds like an exhausting life to live.

      • gracesface

        I read an article a year or two ago (before Lemonade) that was all about how Beyoncé hadn’t done a real interview in like 2 years (at that time). Apparently she has a ROOM dedicated in NYC to all of her appearances – print, TV, etc and is very, very coordinated in her public image. Am I surprised? No. But I’m also not a big fan of her music so it’s more just interesting to me to study how celebrities act in 2017. Sure does sound tiring.

    • Vida Rose

      Like all of pop culture the power is in how people relate to it, whether or not it is fiction. The mythology of the story, the permission it gives people to tell theirs- that’s what matters. Many families struggle with infidelity and miscarriages. A pop star twenty years ago would not be able to tell that story, that way. What does that say about our culture? Also Lemonade was more than a story about infidelity- it was a story of strong African American women surviving America together.

  • Elisabeth Austin

    I’m inclined to speculate with Greenborough, knowing what I do about dis-information floated out by reps of celebrities. Everything from “house-shopping” to bearding , depending on whether they want us to think about their inflated net worth or mega-romantic adventures. I’m not just referring to “Bey-Z” exclusively. We’re at a point where none of this can be taken seriously.

  • mollie blackwood

    I’m pretty convinced these aren’t actual “confessions.” They know how to play the celebrity game pretty well.

  • Laura

    Loved this! I think the Knowles/Carter family is different than some celeb fams because they seem to be controlling their own narrative rather than reacting to the media’s perception of it. They release a good balance of information, where it’s enough to be human and humbling but they don’t capitalize on it too much to where it seems for the sake of scandal. For example, I think Beyonce being frank about her miscarriage wasn’t a publicity stunt, but opened the possibility for other women to be honest about that issue.

  • It’s so beautiful to see two artists who are married express themselves through their work. As listeners we get to hear both sides which I don’t think has ever been done to this capacity. I haven’t listened to 4:44, but Lemonade moved me. It moved masses, and that can only be done by creating art from an authentic place. It changed the game for women of color and I am forever thankful for that body of work Beyoncé shared. I have high hopes for Jay-Z’s work as well.

    • gracesface

      hellooooo Fleetwood Mac Rumours!? Lol, i’m a big fan of the stevie/Lindsay tunes.

  • spicyearlgrey

    tbh dont care if it’s real or fake, i just like the idea of intimate convo through music. i think it makes these topics easier to navigate for me (and probs others)

  • Andrea Nievera

    I’m a big fan of both Beyonce and Jay-Z and I think it would be short sighted to dismiss any amount of vulnerability in their albums as purely for show. Yes, they have teams working for them. As I understand it, thats the nature of music and its not a one man show. I think as artists you explore themes that resonate with you or mean something to you and when there’s something real there, everyone who’s ever felt an inkling of heartache or infidelity will want to hear more. Well their careers are decades long and still groundbreaking.