Like much of the components that complete her brand, each post on Beyoncé’s Instagram has always been curated to a tee. Interviews with the musician are rare, and she is renowned for controlling her own narrative, limiting the access any of us can have to her outside of consuming her music and clothes. And her fans love her for it—her strategic attention to detail, her consistency, her Virgo-ness are all part of what make her an intriguing celebrity who won’t back down from her convictions.
When Beyoncé shared on Instagram a video of her commencement speech for YouTube’s “Dear Class of 2020” virtual graduation event, it stood out as one of those rare moments in which the musician was speaking directly to her followers.
In the past couple of weeks, she has been increasingly outspoken about demanding justice for victims of police brutality and those murdered by the police—like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, both of whom were featured on her Instagram and website. A week ago, Beyoncé shared a rare front facing video of herself (which is not exactly typical of what one has come to expect to see on her feed), in which she demanded justice for Floyd and calling for “no more senseless killings of human beings.”
That is not to say that Beyoncé has shied away from discussing the intersection of politics and race—her music has been political at times (her 2016 BET Awards performance of “Freedom” and her documentary Homecoming, which was a recording of her 2018 Coachella performance that incorporated HBCU homecoming aesthetics, come to mind as recent examples), she has aligned herself with the Obamas as both a supporter of their politics and as a personal friend, and her website has a portion dedicated to supporting various disaster relief programs and other fellowships. And now there just seems to be a more clear convergence between what is a statement on behalf of her brand and what is a statement on behalf of Beyoncé as a person.
The musician addressed the class of 2020 with a virtual commencement speech, as did Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Lady Gaga, and the online event saw a performance of the “Savage” remix with Megan Thee Stallion as well as performances by BTS, Maluma, and more.
For YouTube’s “Dear Class of 2020,” Beyoncé gave an uninterrupted 10-minute direct address to the camera, opening up with a word about the killings of unarmed black people and the ongoing global racial tensions, before opening up about the sexism she has experienced in the music industry and the steps she’s taken to build an inclusive brand and label.
“One of the main purposes of my art for many years has been dedicated to showing the beauty of black people to the world—our history, our profundity, and the value of black lives. I’ve tried my best to pull down the veil of appeasement to those who may feel uncomfortable with our excellence,” she said.
She spoke with the occasional moment that seemed to be a little bit off script, calling for a redefinition of masculinity, and telling young women to remain excellent. “You don’t have to speak a certain way to be brilliant, but you do have to spread your gift around the planet in a way that is authentically you,” she said, before calling out those who are “part of a group that is called other” and asking them to live authentically, too.
She then addressed the the Black Lives Matter protests taking place across the world. “Look what you’ve been able to do in the last 14 days. We’ve seen the power of the collective. We’ve seen what happens when we join for the same cause,” she said, urging all graduates to hold themselves accountable.
It’s somewhat atypical to get this level of candor from Beyoncé, but as she urged the graduates to use this moment to improve themselves in all aspects of their lives, it appears she is using her platform to do the same for herself.