Better Than: Most of Jay Z’s other collaborative tours.
It’s difficult to believe power couple Beyonce and Jay Z have never toured together before. Their solo albums are hardly without a guest appearance from the other, and in their hometowns it’s usually a given one will show up in support of the other. The timing of this particular collaboration is perfect, coming the summer after Jay joined Justin Timberlake on a stadium take-over of their own and Yonce embarked on her massive ‘Mrs. Carter World Tour’ and dropped her surprise self-titled album in time for everyone’s year-end lists. Separate, they are empires never needing the other’s name to validate their endeavors in both business and art, so why wouldn’t they continue their world domination together?
The pair are attune to many of the facets of being successful, including what makes a hit and how to stay on the tips of everyone’s tongues. With great success comes life under a great microscope, and as a couple much of their relationship has remained blissfully private and in the realm of speculation rather than reality. Only in the past year or so has a crack been revealed, an entrance for people to examine the realities and rumors of what it’s like to be a couple as successful and oft-cited as they are. The crack was pushed wider by Beyonce’s most personal lyrics to date on her most recent album. And possibly their biggest and most tangible scandal as a couple involved leaked and grossly invasive surveillance footage of a fight between Jay and Bey’s sister Solange in an elevator. As much as we love to admire success and perfection, we may collectively find pleasure in the ruins of both even more.
Prior to the tour, those who cared were left with speculation and a desire for answers to questions they never needed to ask. Being the cryptic pair that they are, Bey and Jay have used their joint tour to turn this all on us and fuel the speculation by playing out on stage a fictional Bonnie and Clyde romance that blurs the lines between a fantasy world and reality. This was teased with the star-studded tour trailer released in May that features the couple acting out every trope of gangster movies and over-the-top cinematic romances. Though it ends with “Coming Never,” the film is brought to life on stage, with clips strewn throughout the performance and their songs are very precisely chosen to weave together a narrative told from both sides. The story on stage begins with “This is not real life” plastered in the background and ends with “This is real life,” and in between we can choose to categorize or just go along with the ride.
Appropriately, the concert starts and ends with the pair together. In between, they take turns owning the stage before reuniting every few songs. While the duets were guaranteed and wonderful as always, the true artistry came when they segued from one person’s solo effort into the a song by the other. It was almost like a call and response with Jay’s playboy banter being squashed immediately by Beyonce’s woman scorned before returning to an apologetic Jay. After “Big Pimpin'” Jay sat on a throne that turned around on-stage to reveal his wife sitting on the other side and out to scorch him with a wildly unhinged version of “Ring the Alarm.” A rocked-out version of “If I Were a Boy” and cover of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” with the repetition of “cry for me” is responded to with Jay’s “Song Cry” before Bey snaps back with her much-talked about lyric-changes in “Resentment” while clad in a wedding dress. The latter was a darker segment and shockingly candid, though slightly uncomfortable to watch. But maybe that was the point — they wanted to make the audience uncomfortable by giving them the exact kind of drama they desired.
Aesthetically, the show was thrilling. Beyonce as a performer is magnetic and powerful. She controls her audience with the squint of her eyes and the tilt of her head. Her choreography may possibly be the best in any live pop show out there, and it doesn’t hurt that her singing voice is somehow more massive and remarkable than a recording can capture. Sure, Jay poses and swaggers with the best of them, often shrouded in red light and usually in front of a large cross set aflame. But if the concert were a competition in showmanship, his wife would’ve definitely taken first place.
The aforementioned Bonnie and Clyde break-up and heartache section came towards the end of the show, with “Resentment” transitioning into “Love on Top,” “Izzo” and a Michael Jackson tribute in between. Before they reached the finish line, the couple proudly displayed the product of their union for all to see — their daughter Blue Ivy. Pictures and video of her were serenaded by her proud parents, letting everyone know that she may be the only reality they are concerned with.
Critical Bias: I feel as if I’ve waited my entire life to see Beyonce live. WORTH THE WAIT.
Random Notebook Dump: The celebrity mugshot slideshow was kind of random, even in the crime and punishment theme of the show, but I can never pass up a chance to giggle at Justin Bieber’s goofy “I just got arrested!!” smile.
Random Notebook Dump #2: There were two girls wearing “Single Ladies” inspired bodysuits and had golden gloves that they pulled out the minute the song began. I think they had been waiting their entire lives to see Beyonce, too.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 14, 2014