Beyoncé finally posted her Halloween photos on Instagram on Friday night, two carousels of pictures three full days after Halloween. If you’ve been following closely you’ll understand why this was such a momentous event: Yes, fans finally got to see what Bey dressed up as this year (Lil’ Kim, in several different looks), but also, those two posts marked the end of one the most memorable Instagram streaks in recent memory—a two-month-long period that saw her posting only in coordinated sets of three.
For all of September and October, Beyoncé not only posted more frequently than usual, she also seemed to finally have embraced the concept of “the grid.” For the uninitiated, that means she was posting three Instagrams at a time instead of the usual one, so that in addition to their function as individual posts, the tiles worked together to form a larger picture when you visited her Instagram profile page: rows of triptychs that layered on top of each other, like a chic version of the layers of the Earth, where crust to core, it’s Beyoncé all the way down. Sometimes the posts were actually videos or carousels (slideshows of several images), but their stills were always set to fit in with the grid. Each triptych was designed as intricately as a magazine spread, collaging together various photos and poses, often set to backgrounds that seamlessly connected between posts (most obvious in the triplet where her silhouette and disembodied hands, mouth, and sunglasses were for some reason set against a background of rock—your geology could never).
It’s a social media strategy only for the most sophisticated users, because it requires advanced planning and a certain amount of austerity—other accounts that make use of the grid, like @NYCBallet, presumably have whole social media teams behind them. Beyoncé may well have a social media team at her disposal, too, but details about its size and scope will probably continue to remain about as easy to come by as the mystery of what happened in that elevator.
Beyoncé has long been concerned with putting forth a particular, carefully curated aesthetic. So it seems fitting that she unlocked a way to up Instagram’s ante, taking what is already the most visual social media platform and making it even more intense. She was also effectively declaring herself important enough to take up three times as much space and three times as much of your time—honestly, who could resist clicking through to her profile page to glance the full effect each time? Maybe there were a few naysayers out there side-eyeing Beyoncé’s three-in-a-row updates, arguing that even the queen shouldn’t hog our feeds. But by and large it was exhilarating to watch her bend the platform to her will, creating something that was orders of magnitude ahead of your typical influencer’s “fit pics.” It’s not for me to say what Beyoncé’s most artistically fertile period has been musically speaking, but watching her stunt on Instagram, it did feel like we were all witnessing an artist at the height of her powers.
Fans and admirers were of course in thrall of Beyoncé’s grid; some wondered if the increased activity meant she’d be releasing new music, even a whole album, soon. (This could still happen!) Others have connected the uptick in posts to the arrival of her twins earlier this year, as if her growing family also birthed an Instagram renaissance. Either way, she’s even proved influential among other celebrities: Lady Gaga has lately started posting her grams in sets of threes lately, too.
But living by the grid is a high-wire act. First of all, as Instagram made clear when it was said to be testing a new four-across layout earlier this year, the service’s layout could change at any time, and bam, your beautiful grid would be ruined. Today’s blue check mark, so coveted, could be tomorrow’s top 8, so quickly forgotten. In a way, that only makes it more enticing, because we know it can’t last forever. Once you start posting in threes, do you have to post in threes forever? You could grid yourself into a corner there’s no way out of, only to have it ruined by Instagram at any time.
Maybe if you’re other people, anyway. If you’re Beyoncé, one day without ceremony, you just end the grid, and you never explain a thing. The experience of visiting Beyoncé’s page now is like looking at a sliding puzzle game whose squares are misplaced: You can see how they’re supposed to fit together but are frustrated by the lack of competition.* But as imperfect as this grid-us interruptus is, we still can’t stop staring.
*Update, Nov. 7, 2017: On Monday night around 9:20 EST, Beyoncé posted one Instagram photo, which restored the effect of her grid, though this row of three was not posted as a set. Only time will tell if she’ll go back to gridding.