Wow. That’s what I kept saying again and again, bearing witness to Beyonce as she “murdered errybody” at TCF Bank Stadium on Monday night. Wow.
Wow. It was my third time seeing the Queen, but never had I seen her so emotionally raw, triumphant, and downright giddy, like when she let out the most adorable giggle and gave us a genuine look of surprise and delight when we kept on singing “Love on Top” even after she was through.
Wow: What a time it is to be alive, to be watching as one of the greatest pop stars of our time transcends all boundaries we put around her, tears her heart open on stage, and mutilates our ideas about sexism, racism, classism, and marital strife while wearing a sequined, ruffled leotard and dancing like a Michael Jackson-meets-Tina Turner superbot.
“I’m so honored to be here tonight,” Beyonce said, somehow not out of breath even though she’d just marched halfway across the stadium and back. “Thank you for riding with me through the storm.”
Because of course a nearby bolt of lightning almost threatened to cancel Beyonce’s show, and of course all of her fans had to shuffle inside the hallways of the stadium and other nearby arenas to wait it out, and of course she could say something as simple as “thank you for riding with me through the storm” and it could apply to the literal storm that threatened the show, or the storm of her life that she documented so elegantly in Lemonade.
As we’ve learned from the lines of poetry that she recites between the songs on her visual album – many of which were chopped up and replayed for us on a towering monolithic screen-cube on stage — she has become a master at delivering a message concisely and profoundly. And in concert, she is able to forego many of the other trappings that pop artists fall into in a stadium-sized show (the gigantic stage sets and props, the convoluted storylines that go nowhere), paring it down to a killer backing band, dance troupe, and a tasteful and short acrobatic performance toward the back of the stage that felt more like window dressing next to Beyonce’s star power.
We demand so much of our female pop stars. The last 20 years have felt like an experiment in seeing how explicitly sexual, outrageous, and over-the-top these arena shows can get; Miley Cyrus sliding down a giant replica of her own tongue in a thong and crop top was the inevitable conclusion of that trajectory. And don’t get me wrong — I love that Miley puts it out there, and she can obviously represent herself any way she chooses. But when society demands that a certain kind of artist must express a certain kind of sexual openness to even be considered, what does that do to our conscious and unconscious perception of women artists, and our ability to absorb the messages they are trying to express? Whether their fans are celebrating or slut-shaming them, the physicality of a pop performance has been at the center of the narrative for far too long. Who is actually in control here?
And then here comes Beyonce, one of the most famous people in existence, a gifted vocalist, visually and aurally restless creator, powerhouse dancer, and yes, feminist. She exercises control over her own image and ideas in a way that would make Prince proud, somehow revealing so much to us yet always leaving us wanting more. She shows her ass, her brain, and her soul, all at once. She is a cheerleader, dreamer, poet, woman-done-wrong, activist, fashionplate, sex goddess, icon. She is our generation’s Led Zeppelin, Prince, Bowie, the Beatles. Screw the halftime show — she is the Super Bowl.
I found myself on the verge of tears so many times throughout Beyonce’s show, and not just because she brought the whole damn house down (and I kid you not, made it rain) by getting on her knees and professing her love to Prince with a devastating cover of “The Beautiful Ones.” She followed it up by playing “Purple Rain” over the speakers and leaving the stage empty, bathed in purple light, driving home the horrible nightmare that we will never see his majesty grace an arena like this again. Those moments were incredibly emotional and heartfelt, to be sure. But perhaps the best tribute paid to Prince that night was the fact that at least two dozen African-American women were given the space to shine, including every member of the show’s fiery backing band and the dozen dancers who fell into formation behind Beyonce.
It was impossible not to get chills listening to B spell out the line “Better call Becky with the good hair” while a row of dancers with mile-high afros bounced away behind her. It was stunning to see so many black women given a stage, like the guitarist and bass player who were led into the spotlight to slay. And it gave an added sense of urgency to the whole performance, like we were making up for lost time, or like we were watching those lines from Malcolm X that Beyonce invokes in Lemonade (“the most disrespected person in America is the black woman”) being challenged in front of our very eyes. It’s impossible for black women to be marginalized when they are the only ones on stage. And that’s a formation well worth bowing down for.
“Do we have any survivors in the house?” Beyonce asked, standing ankle-deep in water, shoes off, looking up to challenge the dark skies overhead. Every single person in the arena screamed.
Run the World (Girls)
Me, Myself and I
Runnin’ (Lose It All) (Naughty Boy cover)
6 Inch / I Care / Ghost (Interlude)
Don’t Hurt Yourself
Ring the Alarm
***Flawless / Feeling Myself
Drunk in Love
Hip Hop Star / Freakum Dress (Interlude)
Love on Top
The Beautiful Ones
Purple Rain (Interlude)
Crazy in Love
Blow (with samples of ‘Nasty Girl’)
Die with You / Blue (Interlude)
End of Time