“Who run the world?”: A critical analysis of Beyoncé and her Instagram

10 minutes to read
Academic paper
Anastasia Goana

Beyoncé is one of those celebrities who seems like they can do it all. She is a singer, songwriter, producer, and actress and one of the world's best-selling recording artists. Her use of Instagram to show her life and to mostly promote herself and her 'brand' is an interesting one to analyse. By looking at Beyoncé as a brand and by analysing her portrayal of her 'self', this paper aims to discover how such a high-caliber celebrity makes use of a social media platform such as Instagram.

Beyoncé represented on Saturday Night Live

In an episode of Saturday Night Live (2014), the protagonist claimed that Beyoncé was not-all-that-great and as a result, was forced to face the repercussions of committing so-called treason. One of the characters exclaimed, “tell them you wouldn't say something bad about Beyoncé” (0:41-44). And, when the protagonist refuses to accept this statement, the other characters in the film appeared to be in distress by the words uttered. Consequently, the protagonist goes into a life of hiding where he meets other characters who, like him, had made similar statements regarding the superstar. Some of whom, end up dead.

While the film is a comedy and plays on the over-exaggeration of the love that people have for Beyoncé, with Big Brother watching the characters’ every move, it underlies a deeper message about the status that Beyoncé enjoys in our current society as the queen of popular culture. 

The business of Beyoncé

Dubbed “... the royal couple of culture”, powerhouse couple- Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter and Shawn “JAY Z” Carter are best known for their unparalleled influence in the music industry (Luhrmann, 2013). With businesses in music, basketball, champagne, and start-up companies, the duo is also known for their charitable works and political affiliations (“BEYONCÉ”, 2017; “Beyoncé Knowles: Musician”, 2017; Davies, 2013; “JAY Z”, 2017; Lamarre, 2017; Pagliery, 2015; van der Beek, 2017). In a collaborative song by JAY Z and Kanye West, JAY Z raps, “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man! Let me handle my business, damn”, explicitly stating the kind of image that JAY Z attempts to build for himself (Springsteen, Brion & West, 2005). Beyoncé, on the other hand, appears to take a different approach. 

Van der Beek (2017) notes that the story of Beyoncé commenced early on in her career with the personality that she construed for herself through her songs - a tenacious woman who is constantly fighting to emancipate herself from a man’s world. She aligns herself with the concepts such as Feminism. The name, Beyoncé, in itself, has since become “... a global brand” and this is revealing of the brand positioning of Beyoncé in current society (Davies, 2013). So much so that this cultural icon has since entered the academic sphere (“Beyonce course is offered at an American university”, 2014; “Copenhagen University in Denmark offers course on Beyonce, Gender and Race”, 2017). Furthermore, it is observed that individuals who have spoken ill of her have often suffered backlash for their opinions (Goldstein, 2014; Petit, 2017). And thus, the rhetoric that shrouds Beyoncé is one that highlights that Beyoncé is indeed the diva of all other divas.

Beyoncé's Behaviour

Beyoncé's Instagram account was created on November 6, 2012 (Busis, 2012). Despite her fanbase of 140 million followers, she does not “follow” anyone. To me, this aspect was rather astonishing and simultaneously, revealing the status that Beyoncé has gained. The fact that Beyoncé does not abide by the typical socially-accepted “rules” of Instagram whilst still remaining relevant in society showcases, her strategic positioning of how she “... run[s] the world” (“Run the World (Girls)”, 2017). Her seemingly fickle and yet, deliberate postings on Instagram, documenting only some aspects of her life, with almost little to almost no description on each post, have been dubbed to be ingenious (Duboff, 2016; Hall, 2017).

The lack of consistency in Beyoncé's behaviour on Instagram is her consistency and these esoteric actions keep her fans constantly on their toes.

"Beyoncé" the brand

Lury (2009) highlighted that a “... brand [is] not simply [a] mass product but [should be viewed] as assemblage” and further adds that, this is, arguably, the most valuable aspect" (p.78). Reflecting upon this aspect and relating them to view Beyoncé, as a personality and consequently, as a brand, it can be argued that Beyoncé is a brand due to the conditions that work in place that allow it to exist. In other words, the personality Beyoncé, as well as, the brand Beyoncé is not a static phenomenon and, a number of factors work in sync with each other in order to enable the brand culture of Beyoncé to stay intact. 

Brands as a gathering of conditions are illustrated in the manner in which Beyoncé, the person, engages with her followers on Instagram. It must be established that interaction is not limited to speaking or the exchange of words but rather, communication through nonverbal interactions of her followers accepting that she does not follow anyone. And yet, each post continues to remain successful and the Instagram page for the brand still continues to have a strong following.

The lack of consistency in Beyoncé's behaviour on Instagram is her consistency and these esoteric actions keep her fans constantly on their toes

Although the arguments that  Arvidsson (2005) made were regarding pre-social media use, I assert that his commentary can be extended to the context of Beyoncé's Instagram posts. That is - the very act of looking and scrolling through Instagram posts is in itself, a process that creates “value” (Arvidsson, 2005, p.239). In doing so, the viewer makes meaning of each post for himself or herself (Arvidsson, 2005). Seeing that Beyoncé, arguably both the brand and the person behind the brand, does not appear to have a particular pattern in uploading the images to her Instagram page with each post having almost no description, it can be argued that the viewer plays a substantial role in decoding the images posted by Beyoncé. The interpreting of the message is merely the primary means of conceiving the intended meaning (Krauss & Chiu, 1998). After which, the decoder has to postulate the motives that lie beneath the message (Krauss & Chiu, 1998). The very action of double-clicking each post to indicate a like reinforces this (Arvidsson, 2005; John et al., 2017). These processes highlight the brand concepts of brand awareness and brand recognition that fall under the culture that enables Beyoncé to exist as a brand.

Strategic alignment of self

Television personality Ellen DeGeneres once claimed that it was her life goal to have Beyoncé follow her on Instagram (TheEllenShow, 2017, 1:50-1:53). Although this statement is highly comical, this further reveals that even her fellow celebrities place Beyoncé on that pedestal- reinforcing the brand value of Beyoncé. 

There are a limited number of individuals who are featured on her Instagram profile. These individuals are Black influential and well-known personalities including Barack and Michelle Obama, Kobe Bryant, Nipsey Hussle, Serena Williams, and Kelly Rowland, notable individuals that Beyoncé associates herself with. There is a cliché saying that goes, you are who you surround yourself with, and it appears that this aspect rings true in the individuals who Beyoncé chooses to feature on her profile. In this way, the message that is sent across is that Beyoncé is part of this influential circle that she portrays.

Humanizing the 'diva' and being in control

On her profile, Beyoncé also posts images that showcase celebrations of life, family members, and romantic love. Taken together, these features bring about a humanizing aspect of the Beyoncé. Although she is often portrayed to be the diva of all divas, the images of her embracing JAY Z and celebrating Mother’s day, communicate that she too is human. The depiction of her family life produces a sense of connectedness that portrays an individual who is relatable.

Figure 1: Example of an Instagram post. Posted by Beyonce on October 15th, 2017

It is also observed that Beyoncé has a tendency to upload images of seemingly random body parts (as seen in Figures 1 and 2). Race and media theorists have often highlighted the ways that women, especially colored women, are objectified in the media (Bobo & Seiter, 1991; Harrison & Fredrickson, 2003; Press, 2011; Richards, 2017). Extensive research has been done in this area that has given rise to women to the re-examination of the notions of sexism, oppression, racism, and feminism.

Figure 2: Example of an Instagram post. Posted by Beyonce on December 9th, 2019

In this line of thought, I draw to attention the way in which Beyoncé assembles herself as a personality and as a brand. I contend that this highlights a larger message- that Beyoncé, as a personality, is in control of her own body. She has the power to appropriate her own body as she sees fit. This aspect is also observed in the songs that she has produced, especially so, in discourses surrounding her, arguably, most popular and successful album, Lemonade (Bale, 2016).

Brand Identity

Another aspect that drives the brand name of Beyoncé is revealed in her references to popular culture. She is married to the “G.O.A.T in New York” [abbreviation for Greatest Of All Time in New York], or so, she claims. Additionally, during her pregnancy, she aligns herself with religious figures and various goddesses (“The Secret Meaning Behind Beyoncé’s Pregnancy Photo Shoot”, 2017). This is reinforced by the very fact that her pregnancy announcement picture is reportedly “... the most-liked Instagram [picture] of all time” (Unterberger, 2017).

Beyoncé as a brand, is revealing a much larger phenomenon- a brand that fights for equality for women. This is particularly demonstrative in the causes that she supports and stands for. These include “#DAYOFTHEGIRL” and Beygood. These align the brand identity of Beyoncé to come across as a figure of hope, especially for young Black girls. 

Taken together, this ultimately places the brand name Beyoncé on an even higher pedestal. These references she draws upon are not questioned but merely, accepted. This branding technique is highly strategic as together, these propel her position within society- from celebrity to diva to goddess. Thus, once again, highlighting, reinforcing, and showcasing her positioning in society. 

Concluding Remarks

Discourses surrounding Beyoncé often portray her to be at a level that other individuals in the media industry can merely dream about- the celebrity above the other celebrities. Viewing Beyoncé as a personality and Beyoncé as a brand, as well as the forces around it, has led me to understand how brands are ultimately “... a multi-layered ontology” (Lury, 2009, p.67). They are not a straightforward phenomenon but are inclusive of a multitude of factors that work in conjunction with each other (Lury, 2009). 

Beyoncé’s inconsistency in uploading images on her Instagram profile is her consistency but more than that, she consistently uploads images of her family, friends, her outfits, and other moments of her life. The story that she seems to continuously tell is one that portrays her as more than just a singer and as such, analyzing the images on her Instagram page has led me to conclude that this aspect has given her a humanizing touch which is one that says - Despite being the diva of divas, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is human, too.


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