I watched “Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream” hoping that the HBO documentary, executive produced and codirected by Beyoncé Knowles, would help me feel her brilliance and her relevance. I’ve just never quite understood Beyoncé fever. She is lovely, obviously, and she presents one of the sweetest — and not fake sweet — personalities in pop culture. She can also sing up a storm, with a shrieky bellow that’s not for everyone — and not for me — but that is instantly recognizable.
But does Beyoncé have a charisma, a raw magnetism, that I’ve been missing all along, the kind of ineffable quality that is the difference between a hyped chart-topper and a cultural lightning rod? I haven’t been able to find any depth in Beyoncé’s voice or in her persona, and I haven’t detected anything groundbreaking in her songs or in her dance moves, flawlessly executed as they are. After her recent Super Bowl performance, Gawker declared that “Beyoncé Knowles Is the King of Pop,” with gushy morning-after glee and without irony. Really? I’ve never been able to make that leap, of seeing Beyoncé not as just a radio and awards-show regular but as some kind of trailblazing icon in the vein of Michael Jackson.