Beyoncé has been in the public spotlight for more than 15 years, but for the most part, she has kept her private life out of its harsh glare. She offers some illumination with her new HBO documentary, Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET/PT), a portrait of someone who, for all her fame, has remained mostly a mystery.
For years, the superstar has existed behind a veneer of perfection and control that rumor, controversy and no amount of speculation could penetrate. Her personal life remained off-limits and public missteps were avoided. But the special shows a different side: Here's a woman with her hair up and unadorned by makeup speaking candidly for the first time about the pain of firing her father as her business manager,her devastation after suffering a miscarriage, her deep affection for husband Jay-Z (they dated for years and barely acknowledged it), and the joy and pride she takes in daughter Blue Ivy.
Also telling are her explanations of why she writes so many feminist anthems, that her life's goal is "independence," and the importance of family. She reveals more personal details in 90 minutes than she's offered throughout her career. For someone who seems like a force of nature on stage, she appears very down-to-earth off of it.
"People are taking pictures of you and exploiting your personal life as entertainment," she says. "When Nina Simone put out a record, you fell in love with her voice. ... But you didn't get brainwashed by her day-to-day life, and what her child was wearing and who she is dating. All things that are really not your business. It shouldn't influence the way you listen to the voice and the art, but it does."
The singer -- who co-directs with Ed Burke and executive-produces the film -- tells her story through a candid interview punctuated by family movies, behind-the-scenes and performance footage, and video journals. It isn't a perpetually glamorous life, and it's apparent how draining the daily grind of recording, performing and running her business can be.
The family theme is interwoven throughout. She talks about her middle-class upbringing in Houston and how her father guided and inspired her early on. There's footage of private moments with Jay-Z, who is probably even more famously guarded than she is, on vacation and at a birthday party she gave him. And near the end, a beaming Beyoncé holds 1-year-old Blue Ivy at a family gathering. Home is where her heart is.