The identity of Beyonce’s "Becky with the good hair" could go down in history like Carly Simon’s "You’re so Vain" or Rod Stewart’s "Maggie May" as one of those mysteries for pop culture aficionados to endlessly deliberate.
Hours after Beyonce’s song was released, many fans believed fashion designer Rachel Roy outed herself as "Becky" in a suspiciously timed and worded Instagram post.
"People were still wondering [for 43 years] who Carly Simon was referring to in her song, up until she admitted it was Warren Beatty last year," said Rick French, chairman and CEO of French | West | Vaughan. "It kept interest in the song alive; [Roy] may have screwed that up to some degree [for Beyonce] by suggesting it was her."
The "Becky" lyric, which alludes to someone having an affair with Beyonce’s husband Jay Z, is included in the first single "Sorry" from Beyonce’s newly released "Lemonade" album.
"The release of Lemonade and that song and the speculation that has swirled around for some time was a brilliant PR move by Beyonce as a first single," said French. "People would have been speculating about who that person is for a long time."
Roy’s Instagram post likely undercut Beyonce’s carefully planned PR strategy to use the song, "Sorry," to create a level of mainstream awareness for the album, French added.
The release of Beyonce’s new album Lemonade – broadcast in full on HBO on Saturday night, with a video for each song – was already up against some unfortunate timing. At any other time, the pop queen’s new songs would have most likely hit number one on the pop charts, but Prince’s death just two days before Lemonade came out resulted in him getting that spot.
The "Becky" mystery could have been another way for Beyonce to garner long-term interest in her album. In the short-term, however, Roy’s faux pas has certainly caught the attention of global media outlets, thus creating more buzz for Lemonade.
As for whether Roy can bounce back from this matter – from a personal reputation and business standpoint -- the ball may be in Beyonce’s court.
The way Roy moves forward depends on what actually happened – if she had an affair with Jay Z or not – and whether or not Beyonce really knows the truth.
If Roy is innocent, she needs to "mend fences" with Beyonce, said French. If Roy can get Beyonce to publicly state that she wasn’t the person referenced in the song, she is in the clear. If Roy is "Becky," however, she has put herself in a difficult position that may not only damage her reputation, but also her fashion business.
"Short term, this could inflict some damage [on Roy’s business]," said French. "Longer term, the life cycle of a designer can be short and celebrity taste and public emulation can be very fickle. So if for even a short period celebrities decide they are not going to wear her [clothing], then the halo over her brand starts to dissipate."
And Roy’s business is doomed if Beyonce publicly confirms that the designer indeed is "Becky," French said. Luckily for Roy, French doubts the pop superstar will do that.
"If Beyonce leaves it out there for people to speculate about who ‘Becky’ is, it will keep interest in the song alive for longer than it normally would," French said. "My guess is Beyonce will decide not to name the person; then it will be up to [Roy] to say, ‘It wasn’t me.’"
Roy has started down this path, providing a statement to People on Tuesday in an effort to kill rumors that Beyonce’s song was about her.
"I want to put the speculation and rumors to rest," she told People. "My Instagram post was meant to be fun and lighthearted; it was misunderstood as something other than that. There is no validity to the idea that the song references me personally. There is no truth to the rumors."
Jeremy Pepper, communications consultant, explained that Roy needed to put out a statement following her controversial Instagram post, which had received a firestorm of criticism from Beyonce fans, also known as the "Beyhive." Angry fans pelted Roy’s social media pages with bee and lemon emojis and insults in support of Beyonce. Staying silent on the matter would have made the situation worse for Roy, Pepper said.
Although Roy waited a few days to address the issue, Pepper said timing doesn’t necessarily matter in this case.
"She could have posted her [follow-up statement] immediately and it still wouldn’t have quelled the stories," Pepper said. "The great thing about it is the pop culture and gossip site news cycle is 24 hours at best because things move on quickly. But the worst part is Beyonce fans are extremely loyal and won’t let it die, so she will continue to be attacked by the fans for a while."
Another reason why Roy needed to issue a statement was to save face with clients.
"It is very possible she backtracked on the Instagram post because she realized it may not be a good look for her," said French. "She is a celebrity designer to stars like Beyonce, and if they feel like she as a designer does not have their backs, it is true other celebrities might choose not to wear her clothes on the red carpet."
French suggested that, instead of doing a wide array of interviews, Roy should now give one or two definitive interviews to completely clear the air of the rumors.
Experts agreed that Roy’s move to cancel a scheduled appearance on Monday due to a "personal emergency" was a step in the right direction.
Lippe Taylor CEO Maureen Lippe said that she should lay low, distance herself from Beyonce and Jay Z, and keep away from social media for at least two months. But when Roy finally returns to social, she should make a permanent change to her social media approach, Pepper advised.
"After this whole thing settles down, [Roy] should go more professional, less personal – which I know is antithesis to publicity and fashion," said Pepper. "But at this point it would be a better social media strategy if she makes it 95% focused on her clothing, brand, and fashion, and not herself with selfies with friends on Instagram."
Unfortunately, no matter how much she distances herself from this situation or how many years go by, the "Becky" controversy will always be a footnote in Roy’s biography. Every news article that mentions her from here on out will bring this up, noted Pepper.
"The thing we think is flippant and cute can come back and really bite us," said Pepper. "When Trevor Noah was picked to replace John Stewart, people dug through his old tweets to find [offensive] stuff. Think twice before you hit post."