I don’t know whether I want to have children, however I’m going to have to preface what I’m about to say with an apology to those potential future sprogs of mine, just in case. Tonight was the best night of my life. It wasn’t the night you were born, or the day I watched you take your first steps or any of that other stuff you do which is great. It was Beyonce and Jay-Z’s On The Run II Tour at the London Stadium. Sorry.
Why? First off it had everything your standard Beyonce or Jay-Z tour would have: the massive hits ricocheting from "99 Problems" to a slowed version of "Me, Myself and I", from "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" to "Diva" and "Deja Vu"; the spell binding dancing (more on Bey’s part) which by now — after years of slickly choreographed tours — centres on power, on strength; the costumes — Jay in a simple Gucci, Bey in anything from a black rubber leotard to a silver iridescent leotard, to a leopard print leotard with matching leopard print stompers. This was all, as Beyonce might put it, flawless.
Indeed, it had all the ingredients of the perfect stadium show. Having seen Beyonce three times, and Jay-Z once, the set all the same hits, the same unimaginable talent, and centred on similar stories — of love, of power, of rage and of healing. So what made this one so special?
Usually, artists as culturally phenomenal as Beyonce or Jay-Z feel untouchable. Yes, watching a live show feels exciting, but oftentimes an actual connection with the artist feels unlikely, if not impossible: you, one of 56,000 people watching this teeny dot of a person telling you they love you feels, frankly, impersonal. And while it’s a privilege to see your favourite artists sing your favourite songs, sometimes it can feel like you could have saved the cash and watched clips on YouTube for the same effect.
But last night these two icons achieved something I had never seen at a stadium show before: mass collectivity. In this, the age of political and social disunity, the power of these icons squared is one which transported a whole crowd to another place, another temporality: one filled with power, and joy, and love, and brilliant black talent. While it definitely was, it didn’t feel like the Beyonce or Jay-Z show. Instead it was an ode to the love of each other — not in a saccharine or smug way though, but, with clever use of imagery and song, in a way which showed us why we need to love each other, and what has happened when we don’t.
The politics are nestled in, they’re subtle, but they’re so effective. Everywhere you looked people were weeping, holding each other, united by the glory of Beyonce and Jay-Z, and how spontaneous so much of it felt because they were sharing a stage, and a moment. My friend with whom I attended said she’d never felt more represented, three girls from Lancashire who had saved up months for tickets and a hotel recited Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists monologue, with their arms around each other.
I grew up in Lancashire, and I can assure you that for the most part these ideas aren’t brought about by heavy theory books, they’re brought about by artists like Beyonce who provide unknowable amounts of power to countless fans across the world.
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She even took a moment to honour the lives lost in the Grenfell tragedy, dedicated the song "Forever Young" to their memory. It’s ironic that a global superstar from Houston, Texas has now said more on the subject than our current prime minister.
Yes, one could critique various things about the show, although thinking back it’s hard to really pick something. Not because, as the pair floated across the audience like deities on their hydraulic hovering space ship stage, we all danced so hard that my notepad was swept away into the crowd never to be seen again, but because it doesn’t matter what I think.
It’s so boring to be that one loser who says things like “is there too much focus on capitalism?” or “are the messages of Jay-Z’s songs at odds with those of Beyonce’s?” — firstly, who cares, and secondly these songs narrate the experiences of a once working class black man and a black woman who have, through their music and their talent, not only hit the apex of culture, but are shifting it to a space where it’s not about white people.
In the past, Beyonce has been critiqued for being too perfect. But last night, she shut those critics down and was every part vulnerable human. Flanked by her husband,and backed by a mostly female, all black band and dance troupe - this was a show for the history books.
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