OK, Ladies, Let’s Get Information…on Beyoncé’s Historic Vogue Cover

A cover 126 years in the making.

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, not known to slay simply for the sake of slaying, takes great care with the images she gifts unto the world, and for her fourth Vogue cover, the reigning Queen of Pop wanted to send a message.

“I think it’s important for women and men to see and appreciate the beauty in their natural bodies,” the singer/icon/raison d’être tells the mag. “That’s why I stripped away the wigs and hair extensions and used little makeup for this shoot.”

And to capture all this beautiful naturalness, Bey chose 23-year-old Tyler Mitchell, the first black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover…ever. In 126 years. Just let that sink in for a minute, and then let’s take a closer look at the work they created together.

Though shot outside London, the images convey the American South: the tableau of a black woman hanging laundry on one cover, while adorned in the colors of Africa; the white Gucci dress on the other, echoing visuals from Lemonade, itself a reference to the 1991 film Daughters of the Dust about a black family in the turn-of-the-century South.

“A lot of the research was very cultural as well,” Mitchell told Business of Fashion, discussing the inspiration for the shoot. “How do we tie in references from the diaspora and what it means to be African American?”

Those questions have seemingly been at the forefront of Beyoncé’s mind for some time, having ascended to a level of “no fucks given” to which we can only collectively aspire. With such unprecedented power—Vogue EIC Anna Wintour reportedly relinquished the creative reigns to Knowles for this issue—Queen Bey wanted to remind us all not just of our own beauty, but our own importance.

“If people in powerful positions continue to hire and cast only people who look like them, sound like them, come from the same neighborhoods they grew up in, they will never have a greater understanding of experiences different from their own,” she says. “The beauty of social media is it’s completely democratic. Everyone has a say. Everyone’s voice counts, and everyone has a chance to paint the world from their own perspective.”

Depending on how you look at it, that is the beauty of social media and its inevitable drawback, as the internet begins to draw comparisons to that other Queen of Pop, Rihanna, and her Vogue UK cover, also a notable first: Ms. Fenty is the first black woman to cover British Vogue’s September issue.

With all due respect to the Hive and the Navy, we should resist falling into the trap of pitting divas against divas—and black women against black women—and instead acknowledge what a watershed moment this is for fashion, which has long championed diversity as if it is a trend and not simply the way of the world. But with “people in powerful positions” like Beyoncé and Rihanna and Vogue UK’s EIC Edward Enninful exerting their power in visible and valuable ways, fashion is finally catching up to the world it adorns.

Lester Fabian Brathwaite is a roaming writer, editor, bon vivant, and all-around sassbag. He's formerly Senior Editor of Out Magazine and is currently hungry. Insta: @lefabrat