What We Learned From the Five-Part ‘Beyoncé’ Documentary


As a belated Christmas present to all of us, Beyoncé just released the final installment of her Beyoncé mini-documentary — a five-part series detailing the process of creating her album, from writing to recording to filming all 17 stunning videos. We’ve known for quite a while, or at least since the strange quasi-confessional that was Life Is But a Dream, that Beyoncé only reveals what she wants us to see, so it’s difficult not to take all of her meditations on “finding the beauty in imperfection” and how liberating it is to work without a plan with a medium-sized grain of salt. That said, it’s not every day you get to watch Pharrell give Beyoncé a pep talk or hear a blown-away Justin Timberlake tell her, “There’s something wrong with you,” after a particularly incredible moment in the studio. Read on for everything else we learned from the Beyoncé documentary.

Part 1: The Visual Album

In the first chapter, Beyoncé, in a simple white T-shirt, jean shorts, and the relaxed air of someone just back from a tropical vacation, rhapsodizes over the visions that appear in her brain whenever she hears music, and her desire to bring those thoughts, dreams, and fantasies to life for her fans. “I wanted people to hear things differently and have a different first impression,” she says. “It was important that we made this a movie, we made this an experience.”

Like so many other aspects of pop music, it seems we have Michael Jackson to thank for this visual album. Watching “Thriller” on TV with her family was a powerful “immersive experience” for Beyoncé, and it inspired her to create videos so fans would invest in an entire album again instead of skimming through over-hyped singles.

Part 2: Imperfection

I have a hard time suspending disbelief anytime Beyoncé claims imperfection, but luckily this time she backed it up with examples. A standout clip in the track “***Flawless” is Ed McMahon’s voice announcing 12 year-old Beyoncé’s group, Girls Tyme, losing to Skeleton Crew on Star Search. Yes, it’s shocking but true: at one time, someone (besides Taylor Swift) actually defeated the Queen.

“At that time you don’t realize that you could actually work super hard and give everything you have and lose,” Beyoncé says. “It was a good message for me… You’re never too big to lose, and you’re never too smart to lose. It happens when it needs to happen.” Cliché, yes, but still nice to hear once in a while.

Part 3: Run ‘N Gun

Finally, in Part 3, Beyoncé lets someone else talk. We hear from Ricky Saiz, Ed Burke, Lil Internet, and Terry Richardson, all of whom directed different videos for the album. Richardson spits gems like, “It was a beautiful cycle of energies,” while he and the other directors talk about how freeing it was to work without a plan and just film what they saw.

Compulsive planner Beyoncé found this in-the-moment method liberating: “If it was my choice, I would never have a permit. I would just get in the car, get a camera, and we’d just shoot. And trust me, we tried.”

And as a fun bonus, could someone please isolate the clip of B imitating Timbaland playing piano?

Part 4: Liberation

As if to prove again that she’s our reigning Queen of All Things Visual, Beyoncé paints a beautiful picture of her “grand idea to bring all of the writers I respected to the Hamptons” — including The-Dream, Sia Furler, Shea Taylor, and Hit-Boy — and how fun it was to laugh and have dinners together while she had cornrows in her hair and breastfed Blue.

The rest of this clip is about finding her sexuality after having a baby, taking Jay to the strip club Crazy Horse for his birthday the day they got engaged (!), and letting loose while recording “Partition” — which she was embarrassed to play for her husband and still hadn’t played for her mother.

But the craziest takeaway from this one is that Beyoncé filmed the striptease dances in the “Partition” video on just one hour of sleep. She’s not human.

Part 5: Honesty

Beyoncé talks about a moment in the studio recording “Rocket,” where she was completely in the zone and didn’t want to stop singing. Justin Timberlake and Timbaland are left speechless, and you probably will be, too. Strangeness, self-absorption, money; all the usual B criticisms aside, her voice is still the other-worldly powerhouse that made her famous in the first place. All Timberlake can muster is, “There’s something wrong with you.”

Then Pharrell Williams steps in to give Beyoncé a pep talk (like she reeeeally needed it): “When does a mother and a wife talk like that? I mean, you just ran through jail and just let all the women out, cuz. You set women free!”

She closes with a canned message about being “our best selves” and taking “the good with the bad” — advice that you may need to use watching this documentary. Mostly it’s the usual Beyoncé fluff and vague affirmations, but we do see glimmers of something more interesting beneath the surface — and maybe she’ll eventually let us see it.