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June 14, 2024

Is a body of work the new personal brand?

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My first LLC-official business was a brand strategy company. I started it the second semester of my senior year at college to channel my entrepreneurial energy. Branding was a playground where I could curb my urges to start new ventures by helping clients brand theirs.

I used to define a brand as “every interaction your business has with a client or a potential client.” Like Mufasa and Simba standing atop the cliff in The Lion King, I saw branding in everything the light touched.

It didn’t take long before my interest in branding expanded beyond companies and into people. Looking back, personal branding appealed to the outsider in me. I wanted to believe that if I could box myself up in the right one-liners, prop-filled photos, and color combinations, people would finally get what I’m trying to do through my work.

They’d get me.

True to the Taylor name, I had my eras. I called myself a brand strategist. At one point, both my email signature and the first line of my bio read: Quasi-creative. Communicator. Change agent. (The quasi before the creative deserves a piece of its own.) I leaned into the founder title for a while.

But these eras were only the headliners on my personal marquis. The longer I’d talk to someone, the more I’d reveal about this other role I held or some project I’d done related to the topic at hand.

Try as I might, my personal brand, whose packaging rivaled the department store gift-wrapping in Love, Actually, couldn’t contain my prolific proclivities.

So I ingested that into my personal brand. I talked about having a portfolio career so people would expect me to have a full and varied career plate.

Problem solved, right?

I thought so, but Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter had other plans.

She infused the Super Bowl with the pop culture spice it’s recently lacked by gifting us two surprise tracks.

Those seven minutes and 40 seconds of music, when placed in conversation with her music catalogue, gave people enough material to hold them over until the album released the following month. I listened to podcasters and TikTokers notice how the end of Texas Hold ‘Em is a house beat, a nod to Act I. The way she sang the word legacy in 16 Carriages reminded me of her song “Bigger”. Users on X confirmed I wasn’t the only person who noticed.‍

The full album, Cowboy Carter, released at 11 pm. For the first time in my life, I stayed up and listened in real time with thousands of other fans online. We were simultaneously teen girls at a sleepover and scholars at a roundtable. Beyoncé told us this was a Beyoncé album, not a country album. Still, the genre-transcendent quality of Cowboy Carter surprised and delighted us.

There are traits we associate with Beyoncé. She’s hard-working, obsessive, and aloof with the public. (Although she’s less aloof these days!) We trust the quality of her work, but we’ve learned not to place too many expectations on what the work will be.

A true artist, Beyoncé built a body of work that becomes more revelatory with each fresh addition. Beyoncé doesn’t update her bio to read Family Woman. Artist. Musicologist. She shows us.

She starts a haircare line with her mom, lets her tween daughter join her on tour, and gifts her kids Grammys by adding them to tracks. She nods to chain gang music and then references the Beach Boys, Migos, and Tina Turner in one song.

An artist’s body of work drives the conversation in a way that a personal brand can’t.

Beyoncé showed me that’s I want. I’m not interested in making my career make sense to other people. I want to pursue projects, build businesses, and develop skills that interest me.

No more refreshing Thesaurus.com, looking for the perfect words to encompass my varied work. Instead, I’ll spend my energy creating and sharing. (Oh, how I love to skip that sharing part. Again, an exploration for another post.)

This mindset shift also shifts the responsibility. Where personal brands try to manipulate people into viewing you a certain way, bodies of work give people material to make their own connections and draw their own conclusions.

I’m responsible for creating integrous work, not for your understanding of it or me.

What a relief.

Freed from the pressure to make sense, I can finally be unapologetically prolific.

You’ll never know what’s next, but you’ll always know I’ve got something cooking.

Thanks for the lesson, Beyoncé.

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