Beyoncé’s fans haven’t seen any new music videos for her seventh album, Renaissance, in almost a year.
For a celebrity whose visual style has always been entwined with her music, it’s an odd decision.
She has always used fashion and iconography to enhance her songs, from the bubblegum-popping, celebrity-making video for Crazy In Love to the multi-layered investigation of infidelity and black womanhood in the visual album, Lemonade.
Her new world tour is thus the focus of attention. How would she interpret on stage Renaissance’s daring examination of underrepresented Black and Queer club music?
The anticipation is as strong as the stakes. Beyoncé is embarking on her first solo tour in seven years, as well as her first performances following her momentous, politically charged headlining performance at the 2018 Coachella festival.
A crowd that includes Dua Lipa, Frank Ocean, Kris Jenner, and Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z, is filled with excitement and anticipation as the lights dim and enormous, stadium-width video displays fill with sky-blue visuals.
What she reveals is an extraterrestrial explosion of mind-blowing extravagance—a journey within a disco ball that features 34 songs, a flying horse, many dance competitions, and choreographed robots—all connected to the pulsating heartbeat of Renaissance’s club beats.
But before that happens, Beyoncé surprises everyone.
She begins the performance with four early piano ballads from her career; these aren’t even the well-known songs like Halo or Irreplaceable.
Instead, the album opens with the Destiny’s Child song Dangerously In Love, which was altered to serve as the first single for her debut solo album. Deep cuts like 1+1 and Flaws And All follow.
In honor of Tina Turner
Yes, it’s a tease, but it also functions as an overture in the vein of Las Vegas. Beyoncé is allowed to roam the stage before the harder-to-follow scripted numbers, talking with fans and reading their signs. She exclaims, “It’s your birthday!” “I cherish you!”
After Tina Turner’s passing last week, she also takes a moment to pay tribute to the singer, who she has frequently cited as being one of her greatest influences.
She begins by asking for permission to sing one of her favorite songs, a slow, gospel rendition of Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High.
She continues, “We love you, Tina,” and raises her gaze to the sky.
The introductions, though, are quickly over. The visual screen informs us that the Beyoncé we just saw is no longer there and displays two suns orbiting one other. She has been revived, rewired, and changed into an extraterrestrial disco diva with chrome plating. A superstar alien.
She appears clad in metal, and as she performs Renaissance’s definitive opener, I’m That Girl, robotic arms gently remove her armour plating.
From this point on, the pop extravaganza begins as the artist progresses through the album’s 16 tracks and reimagines some of her earlier songs.
The Tottenham Stadium is transformed into a giant nightclub by Renaissance’s best three-song sequence (Cuff It, Energy, and Break My Soul), which makes an appearance intact.
Beyoncé, who is wearing an iridescent bodysuit by David Koma and matching knee-high boots, and her dancers frolic over a circular catwalk to the center of the audience as arms flail and drinks pour.
The Blue Ivy look
A run of songs with a harsher edge, such Black Parade and Formation, heightens the ambiance.
Beyoncé performs above atop a big silver tank while her daughter Blue Ivy, age 11, directs the dancers to the front of the stage.
Even though this is only her second time performing on stage, she is calm as a cucumber and keeps pace with the pros while 60,000 spectators watch.
Beyoncé responds to the audience’s cheers with a bright, maternal smile, offering a rare look behind her faultless perfectionism.
Beyoncé has some great, jazzy vocal runs during Plastic On The Sofa as the event transitions into soul and R&B.
After leading the crowd in an a cappella version of the final four choruses of the jubilant Love On Top song, complete with key changes, she says, “I’ll have to stop you there or you’d be going all night.”
The steamy, hedonistic party anthem Heated, which concludes with a frantic rap directed at her critics, is the star’s favorite song, she claims.
She informs us, perhaps oblivious that everyone can see the autocue that has been feeding her the lyrics throughout the event, “Sometimes I mess up the words, so y’all got to help me.”
But that’s hardly a criticism. This mind-blowing event, where nearly every song references another aspect of Beyoncé’s discography, contains a lot to remember. For instance, Virgo’s Groove, an addictive electro-funk tune, borrows ideas from seven other songs, including Say My Name by Destiny’s Child and Naughty Girl.
Beyoncé also pays tribute to the Jacksons’ Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground), Kendrick Lamar’s Alright, and Madonna’s Vogue in other songs.
It is a maximalist ode to dance music that never comes off as forced or cumbersome.
The staging follows the more-is-more strategy that has come to be expected for stadium concerts.
Beyoncé makes cameos as Botticelli’s Venus in a clamshell, an Athena riding rockets into space, a living stained glass window, a big bee (a tribute to her stage name, Queen Bey), and other characters at various times throughout the song.
A glitterball the size of a small caravan, an incredible amount of glitter, and – for the finale – Beyoncé flying around the stadium atop a huge silver horse, in an homage to Bianca Jagger at Studio 54, are also among the other highlights of the performance.
People who arrived expecting the kind of social commentary that Beyoncé provided on her album Lemonade and the accompanying Coachella performance may be disappointed by this performance because the songs from Lemonade are notably missing from this lineup.
Underneath the surface, however, is a message of self-acceptance, tolerance, and expectation-free living.
As the crowd enters, the television screens show what appears to be a TV test feed but is actually the Progress Pride flag’s colors.
The same displays light up at the conclusion of the performance with a picture of Beyoncé’s mother Tina and her “godmother,” her late uncle Jonny, who was homosexual and HIV-positive and exposed Beyoncé to a lot of the music on Renaissance in addition to creating some of her early stage outfits.
While Beyoncé sings about quitting your job and plunging headfirst into a life of hedonistic pleasure (something she presumably allows herself to imagine once a day, just after breakfast, before snapping into a perfectly timed dance break), the show is interspersed with legendary commentator Kevin JZ Prodigy paying homage to the Ballroom subculture that originated among the black and Latino LGBTQ communities in New York.
The overall message is one of acceptance and joy. Joy in expressing who you are, in dancing, in letting go, and in being with others.
It’s possible that she saved the visuals for the tour because listening to this record best takes place in a social setting.
plus Beyoncé. On a bejeweled horse.
- Dangerously in Love
- Flaws and All
- 1+1 / I’m Goin Down (Mary J. Blige cover)
- I Care
- River Deep, Mountain High (Tina Turner cover)
- I’m That Girl
- Alien Superstar
- Cuff It
- Break My Soul / Break My Soul (Queens Mix)
- Run the World (Girls)
- My Power
- Black Parade
- Savage (Remix)
- Church Girl
- Get Me Bodied
- Before I Let Go
- Rather Die Young
- Love on Top
- Crazy in Love
- Green Light
- Love Hangover (Diana Ross cover by house band)
- Plastic Off The Sofa
- Virgo’s Groove / Naughty Girl
- America Has A Problem
- Pure / Honey
- Summer Renaissance
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