When Beyoncé announced that she was naming her new album I Am..Sasha Fierce after her "fun, more sensual, more aggressive, more outspoken" alter ego, many people thought it was a silly gimmick–which, of course, it is. Identifying and naming your stage persona is basically the definition of "publicity stunt." (See: Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines) In the case of Beyoncé/Sasha Fierce, however, it is also completely uncontrived. She didn't make up an alter ego to sell a record; the alter ego just happened and now she's using it to sell a record. The name may be 8 different kinds of ridiculous, but Sasha Fierce is a very real, very separate personality housed within the Beyoncé industrial complex. I know, because this weekend at Saturday Night Live I watched Beyoncé shift into Sasha and back into Beyoncé and it was exactly like watching Ed Norton in Primal Fear but with hard dancing and leotards instead of Richard Gere and legal drama. In short: Beyoncé is crazy. But crazy really, really works for Beyoncé. During the commercial before her second musical performance, Beyoncé stood at the edge of the stage waiting for her cue, head down, mic in hand, completely still except for the wind machine silently whipping her hair. The whole of Studio 8H was hushed, and everyone was looking at Beyoncé–probably even Bill Paxton, who was there for some reason. A voice from the audience above yelled out, "We love you B!" breaking the tension. Beyoncé looked up, smiled, and answered in that calm, almost spacey voice she uses for public appearances: "Thank you." Less than 20 seconds later, Paul Rudd introduced her, and it was like someone flipped a crazy switch on that cyborg glove she was wearing because the calm, serene woman who had been standing there a moment ago was now (only one way to describe it): Sasha Fierce.
The staccato choreography, the leotarded dancers, the live singing, the intense crazy faces, the rhythmic flashing of the cyborg glove. It's hard to describe how exhilarating all of these things are when they're all happening on a stage less than 25 feet from you. Everyone in the audience was swaying or dancing, presumably even Bill Paxton who, like I said, was there for some reason. Even though she'll never do it, because she's the kind of recording artist who shoehorns mentions of her clothing line into her lyrics ("Tighter than my Dereon jeans"), Beyoncé/Sasha should do a tour of smaller venues. When you squeeze her stadium-big on stage persona into a smaller space, it's highly entertaining. After the performance, those of us standing on the floor of the studio filed out into the hallway, to try and make our way back upstairs to watch the rest of the show. About a minute later, a large security guard led Beyoncé and her dancers through the throng, squeezing right past me. Her two leotarded dancers were out-of-breath, audibly panting from their onstage workout. Beyoncé, however, was eerily, completely composed–smiling serenely as if she hadn't just been cardio air-punching and intense twitch-dancing on stage less than 2 minutes ago. But, of course, that wasn't Beyoncé. It was Sasha. Witnessing Beyoncé's multiple personality disorder live and in person was definitely the highlight of the show. I'm sure even Bill Paxton, who was there for some reason, would agree with me.