Last Sunday, during the first five minutes of the Grammy Awards, a committed, monogamous marriage officially became the sexiest act two people could engage in. In case you missed it, this was when Beyoncé and Jay Z opened the 2014 show with their hit Drunk In Love – she, a vision of vampy dampness; he, a model of hand-holding and husbandly butt-groping. The song has been called a “marriage anthem.” (The fact that the lyrics include S&M, blackout sex and an Ike Turner reference shows just how much the public is willing to embrace within the confines of holy matrimony).
A short time after the performance, Jay Z was at the mic again to accept the trophy for best rap/sung collaboration. In his speech, he thanked the universe for, “putting that beautiful light of a young lady in my life.” (Cue gesture to Beyoncé, now wearing bridal white in the front row.) He finished up by telling two-year-old Blue Ivy Carter that daddy had gotten her a gold sippy cup.
The love-and-marriage routine resulted in a collective “Awwwww” from the social-media sphere, with tweets like “Dating no men until one treats me like Jay Z treated Beyoncé at the Grammys,” and “Your marriage should be like Beyoncé and Jay Z’s, otherwise get a divorce.” Said marriage being one where mom and dad give baby Blue™ a bubble bath and then have hot, steamy sex in the same tub. All night long, if the lyrics of Drunk In Love are true, which of course they are not.
These two public figures may very well be in love. They may not. Their actual relationship has almost nothing to do with their Grammy performances or any of their performances (read: any time they appear in public). Mr. and Mrs. Carter are a business – a merged megabrand. And these days they are pimping their most valuable product to date: domestic bliss.
“Celebrity parenthood and domestic life is absolutely a currency,” says Jo Piazza, author of Celebrity Inc.: How Famous People Make Money. Piazza points to how relatability and intimacy build brand loyalty (“My kid has a sippy cup too,” etc.), prompting the savviest celebrity spouses to play the long game: “Ten years ago, they were selling their baby photos for huge amounts of cash, but that was a one-off. What we’re seeing now is a wheel with many, many, many spokes.” Album sales, for one, concert tickets, for another, and those are just the most obvious veins of income. “I am almost certain that Beyoncé and Jay Z will come out with a line of children’s clothing in the future,” says Piazza.
Baby booties from a guy previously associated with blow and B-words? To some extent, it’s a matter of growing up with their audience. But even more than that, it’s the realization that there is a lot more money to be made in being a family-friendly brand. “A company like Pepsi is not looking for someone controversial,” says Piazza.
Presenting the perfect home life can be about more than monetary gain. Look at the 2013 awards season, when Argo was a dark horse in the best-picture category. (If Ben Affleck had trotted out his family for one more photo op, California may have had to reconsider its child-labour laws). Or Gwyneth Paltrow, who combats her incessant image problems by posting videos of her kids’ organic-lemonade stand. Reese Witherspoon knew the best way to handle her 2013 DUI drama was to present her infant son to the paparazzi like a scene out of The Lion King. Even Kim and Kanye are offering up their mommy-daddy devotion to 12 million followers and counting on Instagram.
That we want the same lives as celebrities is nothing new. That we covet their domestic lives is. Consider iconic couplings of the past: Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder, Sean Penn and Robin Wright, Jude Law and Sienna Miller. Sure, we’re jealous of their good looks, their salt-water swimming pools, and 24/7 cleaning staff. Their volatile relationships? No thanks.
Today, presenting a perfect ideal is as key to the celebrity playbook as talent or great hair. The postmillennial Martha Stewartization of society made regular folk feel like their home life should be worthy of a photo spread, and then social media implored us to share our every home-baked biscotti and adorable infant snap with the masses. Note that few people post not-cute photos of their kids or the DIY project that ended in disaster. We curate and then project what we want the world to see, which means that maybe we are “just like” Bey and Jay after all. Minus one very valuable sippy cup.