On Friday, June 3rd 2016, I entered the presence of Queen Beyonce Knowles-Carter, and yes, it was life changing. You can listen to her music all you want, review her past concert footage, but nothing compares to seeing her live.
I cried three times.
While the concert was set to start at 7:30pm, she didn’t grace the stage until around 9:15pm, but in the words of other queen Julie Andrews, “A queen is never late, everyone else is simply early.” The downtime just provided more hype time, assisted by guest opener DJ Khaled. But the moment the sun set, Gillette Stadium lit up with Beyonce’s epic visual display, playing an almost frightening display of clips from “Lemonade” and eerie bass notes that set the tone for the rest of the show: this is about power, and she’s got it all.
In the midst of the most anticipation I think anyone in that stadium had ever felt, Beyonce steps on to the stage, magnificent hat on, nodding her head in perfect tandem with her dancers to the beat of “Formation.” Before jumping into the first song, Beyonce begins her two hour (two hour) show with a sermon on the power of everyone, culminating in the cultish chants of 50,000 people screaming “I slay” right along with the Queen herself.
From then on, she did not stop. That woman sang more than 30 songs in a row, flawless dancing, never missing a beat or a note. Not that I was waiting for her to mess up, but it was noticeable how her face glistened (never dripping) with sweat and yet her breath control for all those belt notes was perfect. Seriously, how? She performed like only she could.
However, to be honest (please don’t kill me, Beyhive-rs), her energy was low. Don’t get me wrong, she slayed every song and dance, but there was something missing from her eyes. This is one of the last U.S. stops on her tour so maybe it was just the grind of the show that drained her, but I think it was something else. You can say what you want about “Lemonade” and whether or not Jay-Z really cheated on her, but after watching this show it seemed clear to me that this beautiful woman is a woman scorned, by Jay or someone else. That fire that was restrained for portion of her show came in full force when she sang “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, “Ring the Alarm”, and “Sorry.” What a woman it takes to rake up all that anger night after night, no matter where it comes from.
Beyonce sang songs from across her years, from Destiny’s Child to “Lemonade,” and even threw in some covers. Hands down, though, the show-stopper was right near the end: “Freedom.” Her primary stage had a runway (that moved!) that led to a secondary stage in the middle of the arena, which was filled with half a foot of water for this number. It was one of the only numbers she performed all the way through, and she and her dancers shook the stadium and soaked the front few rows with a powerful step dance. The anger and the pain and the hope was heart-stopping.
I watched the entire performance looking for a pattern in her set list, looking to see if she starts with her angry songs but then resolves to love and peace and fun at the end. And just when I thought I had figured it out, she threw a curveball: for example, she followed up her redemption song “All Night” with the bitter anthem “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” I originally found this frustrating because she’s Beyonce, everything she displays has great purpose and forethought. But this is, after all, the Formation Tour. The life of an extraordinary woman–a reflection of the every-woman–is not a linear journey from bitter to peaceful to sexy and repeat. It is beautifully complicated and unique. And, as Beyonce reminded us the entire night with word and song and visual footage, you alone are there through it all.
To recap, here are some things that I walked away from Beyonce’s Formation Tour knowing to be true:
- All women are and can be sexy, fierce, intimidating, powerful
- You have not lived until you’ve watched a red latex bodysuit clad Beyonce sing a mashup of “Crazy in Love” and “Bootylicious” (this was one of the times I cried)
- Vulnerability is powerful
- I need to dance in water more often
- I slay