Beyoncé’s Family Feud
When Beyoncé Knowles announced in March that she would no longer require the services of the only manager ever to steer her career–her father, Mathew Knowles–the decision seemed as amicable as leaving the family picnic in separate cars. “He is my father for life and I love my dad dearly,” the pop superstar said at the time. And Mathew Knowles seemed equally sanguine. “Business is business and family is family,” he said. “I love my daughter and am very proud of who she is and all that she has achieved.”
But based on court documents filed this week by Mathew in a Harris County, Texas district court, the fissure between them runs much deeper than was ever previously known and speaks to a certain amount of, well, bad blood. The filing indicates that Beyoncé believes her father stole from her, and as a result she banished him from her business affairs. And now, even while Mathew appears determined to assert his innocence, Beyoncé’s career seems to have somewhat abated. She is no longer burning through popular culture with the supernova intensity that made her one of the world’s most celebrated performers throughout the ‘00s, leading some industry observers to wonder whether the singer is up to the task of masterminding her career without her father’s help.
“She went off on her own, said, ‘I’m going to take more control,’” said a well-placed music industry source who asked not to be identified. “And now people are watching her, crossing their arms like, ‘OK, are you really up to this?’ There’s this idea she could fail for the first time.”
According to TMZ, which broke the story, and a piece Tuesday in The Houston Chronicle, the court filing details Mathew’s main gripe: that the concert promotions behemoth Live Nation forced him out of his manager role because they wanted to run Beyoncé’s lucrative 2011 world tour. As a result of what he describes as false statements by Live Nation, a law firm conducting an audit for Beyoncé accused Mathew of fraud and she fired him. So now he wants to ask a judge for permission to question Live Nation officials to find out who waged the whisper campaign telling Beyoncé that he took money to which he was not entitled. And those depositions will form the basis of a subsequent lawsuit.
“Upon information and belief, after failing to secure rights to Beyoncé’s world tour, Live Nation agents or representatives made statements to Beyoncé, alleging that [Knowles] had stolen money from Beyoncé on her most recent tour or otherwise taken funds,” the filing says.
This behind-the-scenes glimpse of her personal turmoil arrives at a transitional moment in Beyoncé’s storied professional arc. Over the past nine years as a solo performer, after selling more than 15 million albums and becoming one of the most successful artists on the planet, the singer had grown, as she describes it in a recent documentary, “a bit overwhelmed and overworked” by the whirl of touring, collecting awards, and showing up for promotional appearances. So Beyoncé decided to take a year off from the limelight.
But 2011 marks her return to the world stage–a public unveiling made without the crucial failsafe that micromanaged her career moves for the past 14 years: Mathew Knowles.
Known as a tireless and outspoken champion of both his daughter and her career, he oversaw Beyoncé’s development from her start in the multi-platinum-selling R&B trio Destiny’s Child on through to her solo superstardom, with smash hit CDs, more than a dozen Grammys, and roles in Oscar-bait films such as Dreamgirls.
And until he was shown the door, neither of the Knowleses had ever shown the slightest indication their relationship was anything but two-part harmony. (Representatives for Mathew Knowles did not respond to requests for comment.)
For her part, Beyoncé has remained silent on all matters surrounding the court documents and a representative for the singer could not be reached. But in Beyoncé: Year of the 4, the documentary about her that aired on MTV in the promotional blitzkrieg that accompanied the final run-up to her album release, the performer relates that a desire to take greater creative control of her career compelled her to fire dad and form her own management firm Parkwood Entertainment.
“I’ve been managed by my father for a long time,” Beyoncé says in the documentary. “And a real change meant separating from him. It was scary but it empowered me. And I wasn’t going to let fear stop me.”
Although the erstwhile Sasha Fierce has long enjoyed what MTV.com calls “one of the most loyal fan bases of any recording artist,” her new album has so far failed to catch fire with listeners–especially compared to her previous LPs–and has not produced a single with the kind of blanket ubiquity of such past Beyoncé bangers as “Crazy in Love or “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”. On Jul. 5, 4 topped the national album chart with comparatively lackluster sales of 310,000 copies in its first week, Beyoncé’s lowest first-week album sales since first bowing as a solo artist with the CD Dangerously in Love in 2003. The much-anticipated lead single from 4, “Run the World (Girls)”, did not manage to crack the Top 25 on the singles chart (despite an impressionistic, fashion-y video that owes much to the stylings of Lady Gaga) and the album’s second single “The Best Thing I Never Had” has yet to have an impact.
“You’re just not hearing her songs on the radio,” a music industry source said.
And Beyoncé’s case for creative self-sufficiency suffered its gravest blow when Page Six ran an item last month citing executives at her label Columbia Records who were “nervous” about the new record’s commercial prospects; the story quotes a source who felt Beyoncé’s career has “stalled a bit” and details “quiet discussions” about a reunion of Destiny’s Child intended to make up for 4’s soft sales.
To be sure, Beyoncé is not exactly hurting for money, fame, or influence. In June, she became the first female performer to headline the UK’s Glastonbury music festival, matching a feat by her husband, Jay-Z, who in 2008 became the first hip-hop superstar to headline the fest. And last year, Beyoncé ranked second on Forbes list of the one hundred most powerful celebrities in the world.
The question going forward: is blood thicker than the legal and financial head-banging that come with superstardom?