#flawless

Bow Down, Bitches: How Beyonce Turned an Elevator Brawl Into a Perfect Year

A scandalous family feud and a tearful VMA speech—not to mention flawless music and performances—made Beyoncé, somehow, better than ever.

Kevin Winter/MTV1415/Getty

Beyoncé has, for close to a decade now, been a deity in entertainment: untouchable, successful, divine. In 2014 she became something even more impressive. She became human.

That is perhaps the most important thing an entertainer can be these days. That doesn’t mean we don’t crave perfection. In fact, we demand it. Beyoncé certainly delivers it in spades, too—and effortlessly. But whereas we used to be satisfied gazing on that perfection as it stood up on a pedestal, now we want it down among us. Our mandate is nearly impossible now: we want a performer’s perfection to be relatable.

Beyoncé was perfect so many times in 2014, and for that alone she should be the year’s best entertainer. But it’s the “Flawless” singer’s very flawed, very scandalous, very vulnerable moments this year that win her the title.

First, though, the perfection.

Her sneak-attack album Beyoncé, released by surprise at the end of December 2013, was not only arguably the best beginning-to-end album of the year, it also completely changed the industry by introducing a release strategy that would actually convince people to purchase albums. To boot, despite being released in 2013, it was still the second-best selling album of 2014.

There were the bevvy of performances promoting Beyoncé, too, which were characteristically spectacular. No one performs live like Beyoncé does, which she proved with her incomparably sexy—and just a little silly—performance of “Drunk in Love” at the Grammy Awards, and arena-worthy vocals of “XO” at the BRIT Awards. There was the astounding nightly phenomenon that was her work during the On the Run stadium tour with Jay Z, a well-oiled and jaw-dropping feat of “putting on a show” that wiped the floor each night with her poor husband, a notably captivating performer in his own right.

But it all led up to her MTV Video Music Awards epic, a 16-minute non-stop medley of every single song from the Beyoncé album. No artist had ever done anything like that at an awards show. To be fair, no artist had ever been asked to, or could have pulled it off if they had. It was fearless and raunchy and fun and ridiculous and weird and feminist and powerful. It capped off a night in which music’s best entertainers—the likes of Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Sam Smith, and Usher—had already performed. None of them came close to the brilliance of what Beyoncé had accomplished.

It should have been scattershot cacophony, what with Beyoncé singing 75-second snippets of an album’s worth of songs. But under her expert guidance, it became riveting art. By the time it concluded with a sing-a-long of “XO,” Beyoncé had done the rare thing. She had transcended performer entertaining an audience. The shared feelings, the bubbling emotion, the awe: she became an experience.

Then at the end of it all, at the end of a 16-minute performance that saw Beyoncé pull out every dance move and emotion in her repertoire and with the audience still on their feet in rapturous and stunned applause, the singer did something that she had never done before. She was vulnerable. She was genuine. She cried.

That’s because as perfect as Beyoncé was for us this year—as perfect as music output was and as perfect as her performing was—it was, perhaps, the first year that wasn’t perfect for Beyoncé.

The Queen’s iron throne began to crack when she became mired in scandal. And not gross gossip rag scandal. There was evidence of it. There was video of it. There was family drama and marital issues and it wasn’t all swept under rugs by PR experts, to be dealt with privately behind the scenes while the veneer of perfection purveyed in public. Beyoncé had a personal life and it was messy and we all, even if we weren’t invited to it by her, became a part of the mess.

There’s an argument to be made that the fascination and global buzz over that TMZ video itself, of Beyoncé’s sister Solange attacking Jay Z in an elevator while Beyoncé watched passively, contributes to B’s status as the year’s biggest entertainer. If entertaining means provoking conversation and stoking interest in your life, nothing met that criteria more in 2014 than the elevator brawl seen (and dissected within an inch of its life) ‘round the world.

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The video set rumors into motion about Jay Z’s infidelity, Solange’s hatred of her sister’s husband, and the possibility that Beyoncé and Jay Z were headed for divorce, staying together while they raked in money from their joint tour before parting ways—the ultimate and icky confluence of business and personal decisions that Hollywood is notorious for.

The whole affair had us, talking about Beyoncé not as an infallible artist, but as a wronged woman to pity, an object of vulture-like tabloid curiosity, and, at worse, as a showbiz monster who was duping us all with a sham marriage.

We’ll never know whether any of that is true. It’s likely that none, or at least most, of it isn’t. But there’s no doubt that the speculation took a toll on a performer we expect nothing but strength and ferocity from. So when at the climax of all that speculation and at the conclusion of a performance overflowing with strength and ferocity, Beyoncé paraded her husband and daughter across the MTV stage, called Jay “My Beloved,” and broke down and sobbed, it changed the way we looked at the star.

It gave human qualities to an idol we didn’t just worship when she was great, but who we had spent part of the year feeling the license to villainize and demean when she was down. It was the most real Beyoncé had ever been, and, strangely, because of that it might have been the greatest performance of her career.

The truth is, though, that the vulnerability she exhibited at the VMAs was a continuation of a musical mission she had been embarking on throughout most of the year. Beyoncé’s music is known for its confidence, specifically its self-confidence, and for its unabashed assertiveness—whether she’s talking about falling in love, breaking up, or just girl power, in general.

But Beyoncé was an album very much about insecurities, for once. “Pretty Hurts,” “No Angel,” “Mine,” “Jealous”—they all presented a woman unsure of herself, unsure of her love, and unsure of her worthiness to be loved. Especially in the latter, she sings about her neuroses and nonsensical, self-inflicted emotional torture. Even on the album’s more fun songs, like “Drunk in Love” and “Partition,” the dialed-up sex and raunch we’ve come to expect from Beyoncé is presented with more self-aware, unflattering shades. Maybe she drinks too much. Maybe she’s too filthy. Maybe she’s a disaster.

And then, in the midst of it all, a reminder that despite all of that—or maybe because of all that, she’s still #flawless. It’s your perfection and your insecurities, your attributes and your flaws, that work together to achieve such hashtag worthiness. There’s a reason that “woke up like dis” became a meme in 2014. It might be the most powerful affirmation, and perhaps even a feminist or political statement, from any public person this year.

For nearly her entire life Beyoncé has been giving us her blood, sweat, and tears in her career. Now that we can actually see those tears, she’s all the more important to us. She’s almost like one of us. She’s the entertainer of the year because in 2014 she made the previously unthinkable happen. She made us all feel like we know Beyoncé.