Who is Solange?
That was the question many (old) people asked when video surfaced Monday and promptly went viral of this woman named Solange dressed in a flapper dress/costume slapping the hell out of rapper Jay Z in an elevator after last month’s Met Gala, while his wife, Beyoncé, looked on somnambulantly in a corner.
“Why is that lady so angry at Jay Z?” they wondered. “Who is she?” “Who is her kickboxing instructor?” and “Is that Kelly Rowland?”
No, and shame on you. That is not Kelly Rowland. That is Solange Knowles, the younger sister to Beyoncé Knowles, who, until this week, had done an admirable job making a mark in the music and celebrity landscape entirely dissociated from her more famous sibling. She’s a quirky, critically cherished singer whose effortlessly cool indie style is a cautious middle finger to the mainstream establishment that’s turned her sister into pop’s reigning princess—and has now reduced her to “the crazy lady from that TMZ video.”
There’s no denying the appeal of the video. Though we’ve always wondered, we can never really know what happens when celebrities leave the public eye and go behind closed doors. But now there is video of just that, and this video is juicy. (The Standard Hotel, where the video was leaked from, is “shocked and disappointed” by its release.)
But the video may also be an unfair introduction for the uninitiated to Solange.
The 27-year-old is an incredibly interesting celebrity in her own right, in that she’s not the brand of celebrity you stand 12 feet away from gawking at, soaking in their halo of fabulous perfection—a la Beyoncé. She’s instead more the celebrity you like because you sort of want to adopt her as your crazy best friend. (Wouldn’t this whole “I attacked Jay Z in an elevator LOL” story be a trip to recount with her over Sunday brunch?)
So, who is Solange? Here’s a primer on the celebrated musician turned viral video star. Does any of it offer insight into why she, seemingly unprovoked, morphed into a spinning Tasmanian devil of blind rage in an elevator at the most glamorous Hollywood event of the year? Maybe not. BUT ALSO MAYBE. You be the judge.
She’s Beyoncé’s sister.
And impressively, considering they’ve both journeyed into the typically distancing entertainment industry, they actually seem to be pretty close. The two are often photographed together and seated next to each other at events and award shows. Last month, Beyoncé even joined Solange for a jaunty choreographed dance during the latter’s set at Coachella. It was freaking adorable. (Solange called Bey her “favorite person in the world,” natch.)
But she hates being compared to her.
It’s not meaningless that, in her solo career, Solange drops her surname, distancing herself from comparisons to her sister. And though the Knowles sisters appear to be very close, Solange is quick to shut down questions about their musical ties, similarities, and differences.
Earlier on, she did this diplomatically. “Our styles are so different,” she told the Daily News in 2008 when asked whether she got any recording tips from her older sister. “I think all sisters share secrets and advice, but we try to keep that stuff in the house.” Eventually she got crankier, responding to Vibe’s 2010 question about whether she’s just being weird to differentiate herself from Beyoncé by saying, “I could really care less what Suzie B. fan, who fits a certain profile and only shops at a certain place and only goes to the spots that blogs tell her to go, thinks. Those people have never driven me.”
Basically, the lyric on her the very first song of her hit 2008 album Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams, says it all: “I’m not her and never will be / Two girls torn in different direction… No I’m no sister / I’m just my God-given name.”
She was in Destiny’s Child.
You’re not raised by Matthew and Tina Knowles and not trotted out as part of Destiny’s Child at some point. Solange’s entrée into show business was actually as a backup dancer for Destiny’s Child. Classically trained in ballet, Solange stepped in when one of the group’s backup dancers suddenly had to leave during a world tour. When Kelly Rowland had an injury during the group’s tour with Christina Aguilera, she even temporarily filled in for a few performances.
She’s already had a lot of life experience.
In 2004, when Solange was just 17 years old, she married her childhood sweetheart, football player Daniel Smith, who was then 19 years old. Ten months later, she gave birth to her son, Daniel Julez J. Smith Jr., and the family moved from Houston to Idaho. In 2007, the couple divorced, making Solange a 20-year-old divorcee with a 3-year-old son.
She’s one of your favorite songwriters.
While Solange was in Idaho, she actually wrote some of her older sister’s catchiest hit songs, including “Get me Bodied” and “Upgrade U.” She’s also written tracks for Beyoncé’s Destiny’s Child mates Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams’s solo careers.
Her solo recording career started early.
Solange’s first solo record was released in 2002, called Solo Star. It was not very successful, or really very good. It was released around the same time Solange made her biggest public debut as the singer of the theme song for the Disney Channel-originated series The Proud Family, with Destiny’s Child actually serving as background singers for her. A commercial featuring Solange recording the theme song, children of the ’90s may recall, played incessantly on the cable children’s channel, serving, at the very least, to get the younger Knowles’s name out there.
But only recently got good—very good.
Solange’s 2008 album Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams landed the star on numerous “Best of 2008” end-of-year lists. With its Williamsburg-hipster-meets-Motown-girl-group vibe, the record was called “a smartly executed, classy set of songs that’s miles away from the hoochie pop being turned out by young female R&B vocalists these days” by The Boston Globe.
The standout track from the album was “I Decided,” which ended up topping Billboard’s Dance Club Play chart.
Then in 2012, Solange released “Losing You,” which quickly and deservedly became her most successful single to date, off the EP True. Spin said the song was “remarkable for what it suggests about the direction of pop music right now; it feels like one of those moments when something lurking just below the surface of the zeitgeist breaks through in a big way.” It landed near the top of Best Song of the Year polls and lists by Pitchfork, DigitalSpy, The Village Voice, Spin, The Huffington Post, and more.
The song’s accompanying music video earned its own fair share of accolades. Featuring Solange dancing unusually—though appealingly—in different locations in the township of Langa in Cape Town, South Africa, the video captured the carefree, bohemian spirit that’s come to define Solange’s aesthetic (not to mention set her apart from her older sister), a warm zaniness that invites you smile, shed your self-consciousness, and dance to the beat of your own individuality.
Am I putting too much stock into a song and a music video? Maybe. But it’s really good!
She’s pretty forthcoming.
Solange is pretty unfiltered in interviews and with fans, a refreshing change from her sister, who remains strategically tight-lipped, perhaps in the goal of maintaining an illusion of infallibility. (It’s a special talent of Beyoncé’s, really. How many other celebrities could star in an entire documentary about their life and leave audiences feeling like they’ve gained absolutely no insight into their life?)
Solange has, for example, tweeted with fans about battling depression, spoken out about being diagnosed with ADHD and the effect it’s had on her behavior, and, when she was forced to cancel her European tour, she admitted that she did so because it was “the best decision for my mental/physical health.”
She’s a fashion icon.
Her clothes are weird, but in fashion, that’s a great thing. Solange’s bold, bright-colored style has reliably landed her on numerous best-dressed lists, typically as the offbeat alternative to the litany of waifish A-list actresses modeling standardly tailored mermaid gowns. Plus, she’s almost always sporting her greatest accessory: her gorgeous, untamed mane of big hair.
She’s been in some movies.
She’s an actress, too! Well, she’s dabbled. She starred opposite Cedric the Entertainer in the 2004 family comedy Johnson Family Vacation and has the esteemed distinction of playing the co-lead in the straight-to-video Bring it On sequel, Bring It On: All or Nothing.
So, if nothing else positive is mined from this elevator attack controversy, it is the joyful reminder that this Bring It On sequel even existed, and Solange starred in it.