Kamis, 04 Desember 2008

Beyoncé: How to Be a "Fierce" Diva

With a new album and two movies on the horizon, it appears the Season of Beyoncé has begun.

Then again, one could argue that it's always Beyoncé season.

Two years ago, it was all about the release of her second CD, "B'Day" and her starring role in the movie "Dreamgirls." Last year, her "Irreplaceable" was up for a top Grammy and she was on a world tour. And this year, besides a high-profile Grammy performance with Tina Turner, her hush-hush marriage to Jay-Z and appearances on hit remixes with Justin Timberlake and Usher generated headlines.

Though it may have been hard to tell, she actually did take a yearlong hiatus from recording music.

"I think I did need to take a break. I honestly did," she says, sitting on a sleek chair in an even sleeker hotel room during a recent interview. "I needed to take a break even personally so I could relax and appreciate all the things that I worked for."

Of course, Beyoncé being Beyoncé, her hiatus wasn't a complete vacation: She spent part of that "break" filming her upcoming movie, "Cadillac Records," in which she peels off the glamour to play R&B great Etta James during her drug-addled years.

Beyoncé says not only did the role propel an acting breakthrough, it provided a musical one, too.

"I felt like after I played Etta James, and I sang these beautiful, emotional, deep, honest songs, I really learned a lot about myself. And I wanted to make classic music ... to grow and make that transition into legendary," she says.

Her bid at musical immortality comes this week with the release of "I AM ... SASHA FIERCE," her third solo CD, something of a departure from the frenetic funk of her previous two multiplatinum albums, "Dangerously in Love" and "B'Day."

While the new album certainly has its share of club anthems — one of its first singles is the bouncy jam "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" — it is a double-CD with two personalities. The upbeat side is dubbed "SASHA FIERCE" (the namesake of her onstage, divalicious alter ego); the "I AM ..." portion is a ballad-centric pop album that features Beyoncé at what her father and manager, Matthew Knowles, calls her most revealing.

"She shows more vulnerability on this record," says Knowles, who with Beyoncé acts as executive producer. "That's a natural growth of her age and life experiences."

Though Beyoncé is an established veteran after more than a decade in the spotlight (she made her debut along with the rest of the members of Destiny's Child in 1997), the 27-year-old has always been among the more guarded celebrities, staying on message about her music and movies while giving up little about her life outside the spotlight.

She still refuses to divulge much about her private life (other than confirming her marriage to Jay-Z — a breakthrough itself — she declined to speak much about the relationship). But she seems more at ease during interviews, more willing to let the Sasha side of her personality come through. The day after the election of Barack Obama, the giddy singer was in good spirits, wearing a suit in honor of the candidate she supported and laughing often as she talked about politics, music, and her future.

"I'm learning the importance of balance, which is one of the biggest (concerns) of all working women _ when is it enough, when is it time to relax, and to take care of yourself? But I'm very proud of my progress," she adds with a laugh, "and I'm growing."

Songwriter Makeba Riddick, who co-wrote songs on "B'Day" and was part of a team of writers on the ballad "Ave Maria" with Beyoncé, says that growth was apparent during the creation of "I AM ... SASHA FIERCE." "The energy, it was different," says Riddick. "'B'Day' was a bunch of dance tracks and it was a lot of fun records, party records, and this is more reflective and personal. (She's) just showing a more mature side of her and music."

That's partly because of where her head was at after filming "Cadillac Records," which she executive produced. The movie, which also stars Oscar-winner Adrian Brody and Jeffrey Wright, documents the heyday of the Chess R&B label.

To depict James in the harrowing throes of addiction, Beyoncé spent time at a Brooklyn rehab center in to better understand something she says she's never done: drugs. The experience, she said, took its toll.

"I don't go around focusing on negative things, so it was really a difficult thing for me to be in that much pain for that amount of time, crying all day, all night, even when I left I was in a funk. I was a different person."

Beyoncé also takes a dramatic turn in the upcoming thriller "Obsessed," due out next year.

"She's played two roles that really have helped change and mold her growth," says her father.

To that end, Beyoncé appears to be taking a more streamlined approach to her music.

"I just wanted to do things that make people feel, make people think. Even with the uptempos, with 'Sasha Fierce,' I wanted it to be simple and classic."

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