For most of their six-year, seven-digit-earning marriage, Beyonce and Jay Z were a glimmering aberration in the world of celebrity rumors: an unflappable married couple seemingly impervious to gossip. In fact, just one year ago, two people tightly controlled the Jay Z/Beyonce media narrative: Jay and Bey. They were the Untouchables.
What a difference a year makes. Actual facts surrounding their private relationship are extremely thin, but the public perception has changed since those "Crazy in Love" days, and it no longer feels like the couple has the same tight, respectable stranglehold on that perception.
In the midst of their first-ever co-headlining U.S. tour, once-dismissed rumors about Jay Z's alleged mistresses started gaining traction. Speculation that Beyonce was changing song lyrics to blast Jay on stage made the rounds. Their On the Run tour, coupled with trouble-in-paradise whispers, was making headlines on the daily -- something even Kanye West's Yeezus tour didn't manage.
Suddenly, it's okay to gossip about Jay Z and Beyonce's marriage. Hell, this random woman released an infidelity accusation in the form of a music video. Things are getting weird.
So what changed? In the mind of Gawker/Defamer staff writer Jordan Sargent, the elevator scuffle with Beyonce's sister Solange on May 5 after the Met Costume Institute Gala was a significant curveball in their happy-couple narrative. "The elevator fight was definitely an unplanned crack in the veneer. It was really the first time they experienced a real tabloid controversy that was totally out of their control," Sargent tells Billboard.
In Sargent's eyes, Jay's taken the brunt of the public pummeling. "Jay is -- from what I can tell -- now seen by many as the no-good cheater breaking up America's own royal couple who, on top of it all, is being dragged around the country by his wife so that she can call him out in front of 50,000 people every night. I don't think that's exactly what he had planned."
Then again, perhaps that's exactly what he planned -- at least, if you have a conspiracy theory-oriented mind. Celebrity publicist Jonathan Hay -- who's worked with clients from Sony to Wiz Khalifa and provides PR crisis management -- spoke to Billboard in a separate interview and speculated this entire affair is just carefully orchestrated tour promotion.
"Always consider the timing in these situations," Hay says. "That staged elevator fight hit the news immediately before the release of their On The Run tour trailer video. The fight gives regular news stations -- beyond just entertainment news -- a headline, which broadens their audience. They're also going to bring up the On The Run tour and ask questions like, 'Will their be drama on the road?' and, 'Is this going to be the final performances of Jay Z and Beyonce?' They created a compelling spectacle, which ultimately creates a demand."
Hay, incidentally, knows a thing or two about creating a compelling spectacle. He openly takes credit for planting those false Jay Z/Rihanna romance rumors back in 2005 to promote her debut single "Pon de Replay." Obviously, that stunt worked a little.
But doesn't a co-headlining tour of the Carter Dynasty create enough demand on musical merits alone? Why would they need a scandal? After all, the On the Run tour has netted $100 million in revenue in the U.S. alone.
But it's worth noting that many of those tickets were sold after the tour -- and the media onslaught -- kicked off. "These shows sold tremendously well at the end," Omar Al-Joulani, the tour's promoter, told Billboard for a separate story. Only as each date grew closer did sales skyrocket -- which is what led several outlets to incorrectly predict disappointing sales for the tour.
Even if you don't believe the cheating rumors were cooked up by Jay Z, Beyonce or a publicity mastermind, you have to wonder why the media is suddenly so comfortable casting doubt on the previously untouchable couple.
Sargent, for his part, thinks it's the snowball effect running its course.
"Each successive story about their relationship legitimizes the discussion and makes it okay for another story to be written. All these stories -- from gossip blog posts that seem obviously untrue to more reported pieces like the one in Page Six to a meta story like this -- have created enough smoke that people are starting to believe there is fire there," he says, but adds, "I don't think the rumors about their relationship have necessarily changed the bottom line at all."
Similarly, Hay scoffed at the veracity of the stories swirling around the tour. "I saw the report about their lawyers now being on the road with them. Of course there are lawyers on the road with them! They are generating millions of dollars a night," he says (the tour's take is about $5.2 million per show, in fact). "They have an infrastructure. Jay Z is a brilliant businessman. His affairs are in order, no pun intended. Jay Z and Beyonce are not getting divorced. Jay Z did not cheat on Beyonce. It's all theater."
Whatever is going on behind closed doors with Jay and Bey, the On the Run tour itself is a story all its own. "It definitely seems to be the most closely watched tour in a while," Sargent says. "It feels like there are stories each day about what happened at the previous night's show, which is unusual even in the current era of publishing. Because of that I think we'll look back on this tour in five or 10 years as a real moment in time."