Formation (Screenshot: YouTube)

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter has lived a life both extremely public and extremely private. The wildly successful, much imitated singer and pop icon does not do many interviews and keeps her personal life under wraps to the extent such a thing is possible in the media-saturated landscape of 2016. At the same time, everything she does is closely followed by the press and the public, and her lyrics are full of autobiographical details. There’s enough information in the lyrics of her songs, both from her solo career and her time with Destiny’s Child, to fashion a quasi-autobiography. And that’s just what writer Niki McGloster has done with an article at Genius called “Beyoncé’s Life Story (In Lyrics).” Readers are invited to click on the text at any point to see how these lyrics were originally used.

Beyoncé addressed her own life story most vividly in the 2016 track “Formation,” so naturally that song’s lyrics are referenced heavily. But McGloster jumps around the singer’s discography, taking a phrase here and a line there out of context and then assembling all the fragments into new sentences and paragraphs. The result is a story that is vivid and inspiring but also vague and selective. Make no mistake: This is a success story. If there was tension within Destiny’s Child, for instance, it is not in evidence here. The article concentrates instead on the group’s commercial triumphs and Beyoncé’s avowed love and respect for her musical partners. Fame is another motif. Even the singer’s role in Goldmember does not go unnoticed.

Elsewhere in her music, Beyoncé has been famously candid about her marriage to Jay Z, especially concerning his alleged infidelity. But she’s still cagey and calculating here, too. The following passage is typical:

There’s ups and downs in this love, but it’s the risk that I’m taking. Give you some time to prove that I can trust you again. Show me your scars and I won’t walk away—I’m gonna kiss up and rub up and feel up on you.

See? No real names are used. No specific accusations are made. And, ultimately, the message is one of hope. It’s not about wallowing in grief or assessing blame. It’s about healing and moving on. That’s the version of Beyoncé that can be gleaned solely from song lyrics. Whether it’s the real woman is anyone’s guess.

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