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Christina Aguilera is a better performer than Beyoncé. I promise that feels just as weird for me to type as it does for you to read, but it’s true. This week I was lucky enough to see Beyoncé live for the first time as part of her On The Run tour with Jay-Z. There are a few things about watching Beyoncé live that are apparent from the moment she takes the stage: Beyoncé is not fucking around. Beyoncé is absolutely, really, truly, NOT FUCKING AROUND. Beyoncé is perfection personified. Beyoncé truly believes in the power Beyoncé. Beyoncé is very generous for allowing her husband to perform a few of his songs during her concert.
Watching her onstage, it’s hard to wrap your thoughts around notions like “Beyonce is a human person” or “Beyonce feels feelings” or “Beyonce sometimes gets ketchup on her t-shirt.” Because she’s not, and she doesn’t.
Beyoncé is a concept more than anything else, and even a TMZ candid video of her sister beating the crap out of her husband in an elevator can’t tarnish her image or her ego — she might be skin on the outside, but she’s adamantium on the inside, and her power is Wolverine and eternal.
But Beyoncé’s performance, for all its success — its nauseating, knock-you-off-your-feet tidal wave of overwhelming presence — is completely insincere, as Beyoncé herself is insincere. Her On The Run show had many contrived moments — the feminist voice over coupled with huge pink words flashing across the stage, proclaiming equality between the sexes; her vainly trying to convince us that her marriage to Jay-Z is “troubled” — even when she reached for poignancy, she fell short, because everything Beyoncé does is perfect, and perfectly vapid.
When she took to the stage towards the end of her high energy dance epic, in a “casual” outfit of denim shorts, leather jacket and baseball cap to sing “Pretty Hurts,” it was meant to be one of those raw moments that makes live music magical. But there was a hollow thumping where our shared moment should have been.For all her blessed talents, Beyoncé was unable to connect.
Please don’t misunderstand: Everyone was mesmerized by Beyoncé. We were having the Beyoncé experience, but we weren’t part of it. Which is where I came to the conclusion that Christina Aguilera, or dare I say, Xtina, is a better performer than Beyoncé.
I saw Xtina way back in 2003 on her Dirrty tour, and between her tacky costumes and white girl dreds, stripper-style dance moves and hand painted sets, I can’t, with integrity, say the show was better than On The Run. On The Run is by far the sleekest, most professional and engaging show I’ve ever seen. But Xtina, bless her assless chaps, managed to do something Beyoncé can’t: she connected.
At the end of the show, after all the fanfare and grandiosity, Xtina stepped out on stage with her hair mussed up, face washed clean of make up, in a pair of old jeans, a simple white t-shirt, and no shoes. She wasn’t Xtina anymore. She was just Christina or Tina or Chrissy or your oldest friend from school. She was going to stay up all night with you eating snickerdoodles and telling you her biggest fears and you were going to tell her yours and then you were going to fall asleep in your floral pyjamas holding hands. With only an acoustic guitar accompanying her, Christina or Tina or Chrissy sang softly, “You are beautiful, no matter what they say.”
Groups of women around me began winding their fingers together, swaying, gently, in unison. I cried. We all cried. Christina was crying. At one point we could no longer hear her, the crowd was singing so loudly. In that moment there was no “Genie In a Bottle,” no Redman, no show that came before and nothing to come after. We were just these strangers in a big room who suddenly knew each other intimately and we were chilling with our friend Chrissy, and she was telling us how she hurts sometimes, and how it’s OK for us to sometimes hurt too. It could sound trite, and it will definitely sound like a pun, but it was the most beautiful moment I have ever experienced in live music.
I wanted that from Beyoncé. I wanted her to tell me that pretty hurts. Although reflecting now, it doesn’t even matter what the message is — all I wanted was for us all to be together at this big silly event, without judgement, simply acknowledging one another, and the commonality of emotion. I wanted Beyonce to touch me the way Christina did more than 10 years ago, to facilitate an exchange in which a vast audience of different people silently say to each other “I see you,” and “I get it.”
The reality of Beyoncé, however, is that she doesn’t acknowledge anyone but Beyoncé. And in her presence, we are not invited to acknowledge anyone but Beyoncé. We’ll never have the intimate, exclusive experience we have with other performers when we go to see Beyoncé because deep within her impenetrable heart, Beyoncé doesn’t understand what it’s like to be the rest of us, and she probably doesn’t really care either.