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On Monday, TMZ released the footage that is now surely etched into your memory: a frantic Solange attacking Jay Z, "while a stoic Beyoncé looks on." The Internet has spent the subsequent news cycles analyzing the incident, conjuring Illuminati symbolism and making elevator-related puns. Days after the inquiry began, however, there remain shreds of Rihanna-themed gossip and no real answers. We have to wonder what this would look like on any other set of celebrities; it would likely be written off as a hot mess of a confrontation and relegated to the tabloids. The whole thing is scandalous, sure, but probably the biggest draw of elevator-gate is that it completely shatters our idea of Bey and Jay as this perfect couple and, more important, forces us to wonder what we truly know about our reigning Queen of the Universe. That's why somebody kicking somebody else in an elevator at the Standard Hotel feels so shocking; not that it happened, but that it happened to Beyoncé.
The way we talk about Beyoncé consistently verges on idol worship. We say she is “everything,” and in a way that's more telling than the vacuous term ever intends to be. More accurately, Beyoncé can be "anything" that we want her to be. Through the empowering lyrics and execution of her work, we are able to project whatever we need her to symbolize. She can be a beacon of feminism or sex positivity, hard work, success or an aesthetic ideal. What iteration of flawlessness do you need from Queen Bey today? An imaginary best friend? A maternal figure of wisdom? Just read whatever you're looking for into her latest song and / or Instagram upload.
But when we pause from "literally dying" over her every move, what do we really know about Beyoncé? She creates the perception that she’s sharing with us. Beyoncé posts what seem like intimate glances at her life to Tumblr. We see her frolicking with Blue Ivy, rolling around in pajamas or “going make-up free,” but it’s all highly curated. Over the course of her career, she and her husband have built a brand on the basis of untouchable perfectionism. The most stunning example, of course, is the movie “Life Is But A Dream.” Amid singing, dancing and crying, Beyoncé reveals virtually nothing. In the polished, middle-of-the-night confessionals (in which she still has camera-ready hair) we learn of her miscarriage and love for Jay Z, but it’s nothing she hasn’t carefully measured and re-packaged in the most flattering form. Her entire presence, be it through filtered photos or quasi-confessionals, is perhaps the most genius PR operation Hollywood has ever seen.
In a realm where we expect to know everything about celebrities, Beyoncé has managed to sidestep the voyeurism while maintaining our interest. In Internet years, an eon has passed after the Solange attack. Yet, Beyoncé has made no comment or statement beyond uploading a cryptic prayer and some old photos of Solange to Instagram. It’s questionable how much we genuinely know about any celebrity, but the stunning thing about Beyonce is that in most cases, she seems to almost control the rumors before we can think them up. This is a woman who has made us believe we have access to her behind-the-scenes reality, while simultaneously attempting to delete Super Bowl images from the Internet. If only briefly, elevator-gate shatters that guarded image, giving us a grainy, black-and-white glance into everything we don’t see, and forcing us to realize that we basic individuals never knew much of anything in the first place.
Update: Bey and Jay have released an unsurprisingly vague statement noting that family is important and Solange wasn't drunk. As Matt Bellassai of Buzzfeed put it: "I'm surprised Beyoncé didn't handwrite this statement on a napkin and Instagram it tbh."
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca