The enormous shiny spectacle of Beyonce and Jay Z’s On The Run tour wallowed into South Florida’s SunLife Stadium Wednesday night, launching their national tour and latest bid at pop domination with a whole lot of chest and booty-pounding grandeur. They’re the king and queen, and we’re just the adoring, cash-spewing masses that keep them on the throne.
The tour was reported to be selling poorly after it was announced this spring, prompting rumors that perhaps pop music’s most famous couple was finally – could it be? – over-exposed, and that their perfect, diamond-hard image had been marred by that tawdry Solange elevator attack incident. Both had recently finished massive solo outings this year; Beyonce with her Mrs. Carter tour, and Jay Z with his Magna Carta tour (as well as with Justin Timberlake), all of which played South Florida within the past year. Besides the chance to see the soft-porn writhing of their huge hit video Drunk in Love live, what was there to draw audiences back?
But Bey and Jay’s celebrity and showmanship seem to have won out. SunLife Stadium was almost full – though not sold out. A scan of the venue’s Ticketmaster seating and sales map late Wednesday afternoon showed tickets available in all sections and prices, from a modest double digits in the upper reaches to hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the field. If you were prepared to pay high, you likely could have had a seat within blowing distance of the fan that seems to follow Beyonce’s hair wherever she goes onstage.
No, there wasn’t much in the way of new material in the two and a half hour concert, which ranged from foundational hits like Beyonce’s Single Ladies (oh yes she did) and Jay Z’s 99 Problems through recent songs, all the way to (oh yes they did) a relatively restrained Drunk in Love. But the show was a visually stunning, grandiose spectacle, an expert exercise in fabulosity and pop myth-making.
In the black and white movie (which riffs on Godard’s Breathless, Bonnie and Clyde, and 70’s blaxploitation films) that provides the concert’s branding and image narrative, Jay and Bey are an outlaw couple, too hot to handle their own heat, on the lam – from the law, from fame. (There’s a creepy amount of gun-stroking and random shooting.) In the first part of the concert, they alternate explosive, aggressive numbers, facing off in between in briefly admiring interludes. Beyonce, backed by a platoon of dancers, emerges from blinding fog or lights in a series of gorgeously inventive and booty-enhancing costumes (one actually featured cutouts for her buttocks) for exhilarating, militaristically precise routines – she twerks to conquer.
Jay Z raps with machine gun speed and precision, a performance that seemed a verbal equivalent of his wife’s physical attack. Though for all his swagger and virtuosity, he didn’t match her energy – this crowd filled with women and couples responded more warmly to Beyonce’s humor and imperious sexuality. They roared when she sang the agonized, self-abasing ballad, Why Don’t You Love Me? (Never mind that it follows songs like Run the World (Girls) and other proclamations of female empowerment – accompanied, of course, by stripper-worthy grinding and hair-flipping.)
But the show moves on from over-heated sexual conflict to celebration – a Michael Jackson tribute, the disco-exuberant Love on Top. And finally, Jay Z and Beyonce holding hands while they and the crowd watch a home movie montage of them romping with daughter Blue Ivy and their diamond-sprinkled, yacht-borne life. It was the opposite image of the glamorous violence of the show’s start, and the audience seemed to love it best.