Since tying the knot in 2008, Jay Z and Beyonce have emerged as alpha capitalists not only in their respective spheres of urban music but in Pop culture. Jay can “drop the label” and get his Magna Carta Holy Grail album essentially subsidized by Samsung. Beyonce can emerge during the fourth quarter and shut down sections of the Internet with the secret release of a self-titled album. They’ve been individually building towards such moments for the bulk of their careers, and they’ve strategically picked when to mutually capitalize on them since respectively appearing on each others albums with “Dangerously In Love” and “’03 Bonnie & Clyde.”
Their “On The Run Tour” stands as the most recent example of the Carter/Knowles conglomerate flexing their combined muscle. Going strictly by the numbers, Forbes.com estimates the expected $100 million the tour will rake in would make it the second most successful tour of all time based on gross revenue per show. With an average price of $424.44 per ticket, TiqIQ.com listed the August 2 date at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena as the most expensive stop on the tour.
Between inclement weather, reports of a man biting another man and what appeared to be some rare footage from Jay and Beyonce’s wedding, there were no shortage of surprises. When spectacle and insatiable consumerism meet, does it live up to the hype? Perhaps that’s a rhetorical question best answered by those who coughed up the $100 just to get to the nosebleed seats (assuming they purchased early enough). If you weren’t in the building Saturday night or plan on catching one of the remaining dates, here are five insights from the show in Pasadena.
Heavy Use Of Iconography & Images
From Jay getting riddled with bullets in Mark Romanek’s “99 Problems” video to Beyonce’s more-recent showcasing of her assets in the “Partition” video, these two have rarely shied away from provocative imagery. As with most concerts in huge venues—where the majority of the crowd only gets a closer look via the jumbotron—‘Hov and Queen B didn’t skimp on backing visuals. One gets the feeling this is how Beyonce wanted her self-titled “visual album” to come across, as the experience was equal parts installation art and overall flexing of the skills developed through hundreds (if not thousands) of live performances.
With “***Flawless” in particular, Beyonce was backed by huge screens essentially giving a five-minute dissertation on feminism. Key words from Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche—whose TED talk Beyonce samples in “***Flawless”—were highlighted on the screen in a bold font and superimposed behind a patterned background for effect.
Similarly, during Jay’s rendition of “You Don’t Know,” the stage was flanked by columns of flames centered around a glowing red crucifix. There was also a bevy of Christian/Catholic imagery as Jay performed “No Church In The Wild.” At one point the screen held on an image of a nun with a black bar covering her eyes. It doesn’t mean Jay is being whisked off in a blacked-out SUV after each show to go sacrifice a live animal confirming his Illuminati membership. But it does mean he’s acutely aware of what people are saying and isn’t above needling those perceptions to make the tour more provocative.
Jay & Beyonce’s Hit Or Miss Transition Game
Here’s an uncomfortable truth. Aside from a handful of really classic songs such as “Crazy In Love,” “Drunk In Love” and “Upgrade U,” Jay Z and Beyonce duets are kind of hit or miss. There’s a good chance Beyonce’s overpowering vocals turn the song into too much of an R&B affair. There’s also a good chance the production makes Jay pick some weird cadence to rhyme in that doesn’t appeal to his fans or Beyonce’s. Such is the dilemma when joining two somewhat dissimilar fan bases for the grand purposes of charging them an average price of $118.53 per ticket. As such, there are some seemingly awkward transitions from Beyonce’s portion of the performance to Jay Z’s and vice-versa.
Obviously what a fan thinks the “best” Jay/Bey duets is subject to interpretation, but for some strange reason the most popular and commercially successful pairings were performed very early in the show. Saturday’s Rose Bowl performance began with “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde,” “Upgrade U” and “Crazy in Love.” Occasionally viewers get some pleasantly deft mashups like Beyonce’s “Ring The Alarm” over the instrumental for Jay Z’s “Takeover” or B subbing in for Justin Timberlake on “Holy Grail.” But instead of sprinkling those tracks throughout the duration of the show and allowing for natural transitions from Jay’s solo set to Beyonce’s, wardrobe and set changes are facilitated by a long form version of the “Run” trailer. Despite their Pop culture dominance, neither Jay Z nor Beyonce are particularly versatile actors. But Bey plays to her strengths during a bank robbery scene where she goes off on a hostage, screaming, “Bitch, ain’t nobody tell you look up. Do you see this gun? Lay your ass back down!”
Rain, and sometimes its prolonged absence for months at a time, will always be a story in Southern California. Saturday night was no different as what was forecast as a 30% chance of rain became a consistent but light shower for the majority of the performance. It barely put a dent in what was a sizeable crowd, and it surely didn’t stop the omnipresent glow of smartphones during “Drunk In Love.” Jay made mention of the rain several times, venturing out into the crowd several times and taking the brunt of the rare California precipitation during his verse on “Partition.” Beyonce—who was equally reliant on her vocal chops as some intricate choreography—instead used the rain to dramatic effect.
Beyonce Channels Lauryn Hill
Those who have been paying attention to the “On The Run Tour” setlists posted online were likely not surprised by Beyonce’s performance of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor.” But for those unfamiliar, the combination of the rain and the utter surprise of Beyonce busting out a Lauryn Hill album cut nearly 15-years-old was quite the surprise. And it worked on multiple levels.
Jay and Beyonce have milked (or dodged, depending on your interpretation) the speculation of a rift between them since Solange decided to display her roundhouse kicks in an elevator earlier this spring. Beyonce tracks such as “Why Don’t You Love Me” and “Resentment” have been analyzed by obsessive fans and media types alike, so consider this fuel added to the fire for those who seek out such things.
Tabloid fodder aside, during Lauryn Hill’s commercial apex, Beyonce was just coming into her own. Aside from maybe “Doo Wop (That Thing)” pretty much anything Hill sang would be critically considered on the polar opposite side of Beyonce’s spectrum. It speaks to just how dominant Beyonce has become not just among female vocalists but as a Pop culture machine that she so deftly handled one of Hill’s more revered works without breaking a sweat.
(Not) Back To Shawn Carter The Hustler
In case lines like, “Niggas want my old shit / Buy my old album” didn’t make it clear, you’ll rarely see Jay dive into his early or obscure Roc catalogue. Perhaps such a high-dollar ticket as “On The Run” is only about the hits, or perhaps a married father in his forties doesn’t want to revisit the Reasonable Doubt days. Either way, Jay Z didn’t offer any material recorded before 1998’s Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life. Someone should probably suggest the inclusion of “Can’t Knock The Hustle” with Beyonce filling in for Mary J. Blige. And aside from “Big Pimpin’” complete with an acapella tribute of the late Pimp C’s verse, most of Jay’s grimier fare was trimmed from the setlist. Although, seeing tens of thousands of suburban (read: non-black) teens yelling, “Jigga My Nigga” at the top of their lungs will likely always be unsettling for reasons too detailed to explain here.