This is not real life. That’s the first thing we saw on the giant screen erected on stage, as we walked into downtown Toronto’s Rogers Centre. It didn’t feel like real life.
For this particular event, I was as adult fangirl as they come, and although I’d already seen Beyonce perform live, it was the years following my first concert that my appreciation for her talent grew. Like most young girls in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I was into Destiny’s Child. I knew Bey was gorgeous and cool, but she was the gelled part of a trio. When she stood alone on that stage in 2006, belting out song after song with ease, I fully realized the magnitude of her voice and the intricacy of her stage show, from the choreography to the all-female band. She was exuberant, and it was contagious. It didn’t hurt that when I met her at a pre-show meet and greet, she was sweet, kind and funny enough, the word I used to describe her at that time was, “FLAWLESS.” So I kind of invented that.
I had all of this in my head as we sat down in our section 114 seats, a pretty great view of the stage, but still so far away. I would spend the majority of the performance staring at the large projections. I couldn’t help but wonder if Rogers Centre was B+J’s first choice, or if they were forced there because Lady Gaga had already booked the Air Canada Centre for the same night. I wasn’t super impressed with the acoustics, or the layout of the stage. Anyways, hubs and I (bless his heart,) made sure to arrive well before 8PM, when the show was scheduled to begin. We ended up sitting until around 8:45, waiting, and people watching. The people (and for me, fashion) watching was so wild that it kept us moderately entertained. Then, the three giant screens lit to life, and the story began.
If you missed the ‘On the Run’ official trailer, (What? Your summer concert didn’t have a trailer?!) you missed the premise of the show. Beyonce and Jay are literally, “on the run” from the law after a crime spree involving the likes of Don Cheadle, Sean Penn, Jake Gyllenhal, Blake Lively, Emmy Rossum, and so on. If you like film, drama, and branding, you would have appreciated the timing, quality, and editing of the trailer, and all the videos that aired during the show. There were a LOT of videos. I think too many. I understand most of them were there to allow for Bey’s many costume changes but… it got to be a little much.
When the lights came up, there they were, Mr. and Mrs. Carter, walking side by side in silence until the strains of ’03 Bonnie and Clyde’ rang out and the crowd erupted into joyous fanaticism. It all happened so fast. Shortly after, ‘Upgrade U’ and ‘Crazy in Love’. It practically happened before I could even realize it or hear it. I was having trouble identifying the music (those poor acoustics?) and the sound was muffled.
I had two immediate thoughts, and one was not, “HOLY CRAP! IT’S HAPPENING!” They were, “Beyonce is so beautiful,” and “She looks so sad!” Did she really look sad or was it a part of the act? Perhaps we’ll never truly know. The rumblings of marital infidelity ruined my little fantasy of the happy Carter family, so that was fresh on my mind, and I spent more time than I should have looking for signs of discontent.
The show was spectacular. It was a delicately balanced blend of Beyonce material, Jay Z material, and combined efforts between the both of them. I believe this was the way to go, instead of forcing people to sit through two traditional, separate set lists. It became immediately clear that most of the fans there were not in attendance to see Jay Z. In fact, many people would sit down when he came on stage! I almost felt bad for him. I’m not a rap music expert. I decided that if I was ever at a strictly rap show, I’d be pretty bored. Still, I wasn’t about to SIT DOWN, babies! Jay showed no mercy and was precise with every lyric. Most of the preteen crowd didn’t seem to recognize his earlier hits, but hubs and I grooved along happily when he performed songs like ’99 Problems’ and ‘Big Pimpin’.
The show was also extremely produced- and what do you expect from two known perfectionists and shrewd business people? Not a moment was left to chance, to any rawness, or sadly, genuine emotion. Every crisp dance move from Bey and her dancers, every facial expression, and maybe even every little touch between the husband and wife were planned, and surely in the exact same format as the previous concert in Baltimore. This is what I struggled with. I kept waiting for some flicker of something that didn’t seem to be there. A last minute change of set list. Maybe it was the chemistry that Beyonce oozes for her husband on her latest album that I wanted to feel, or maybe I wanted them to acknowledge the audience more. Luckily, the end sequence smoothed things over for me.
All throughout the show, the high-end movie clips depicted scenes of gun warfare, explosions, sex, and now and then, you’d see the words “this is not real life” flash across the screen. At the time, I took it as some kind of artistic nod to the film noir genre. The final movie clip wasn’t of the characters driving off into the sunset or going out in a blaze of glory, but instead never-before-seen home movies of Beyonce, Jay Z, their family, and their baby girl, Blue Ivy. It was the realest and most satisfying part of the show. While Beyonce sang ‘Halo’, we watched her and Jay get engaged, get tattoos, get married, see Beyonce hold Blue for the first time, and watch Jay crawl all over their kitchen floor, playing and encouraging Blue to walk. While we watched, they watched, arm in arm, smiling widely and for the first time, looking like they were truly happy to be together. In the final seconds, “THIS IS REAL LIFE,” flashed across the screen. And it all made sense.
That was a lot of reviewing. Let’s sum up what we learned about the ‘On the Run’ tour.
- It was one of the most heavily produced spectacles (besides a Broadway musical,) that I’ve seen.
- In the chase for perfection, Beyonce and Jay Z left little to chance, and in my opinion, they left little room to be in the moment, express true emotion and display the chemistry we’ve all been waiting to see since they began dating 12 years ago.
- They looked great, performed well, and delivered on all the fan favorites.
The bottom line is their public life, whether in concert, on Instagram, or on a red carpet, is entirely controlled and orchestrated by them. They control what you see, and how you see it. Their message that most of what you see in the media isn’t real life, is exactly true. Until Mr. and Mrs. Carter allow you to see reality, you shouldn’t assume anything.
You’re probably shocked that I wasn’t weeping in admiration as I wrote this. I’ve been known to fawn. My love for Queen Bey has not changed. I think she’s an incredible woman. I think Jay Z better watch himself. What I’d like to see, next time we are reunited, is her just laying it out on the table, unconstrained by the need to produce a specific kind of image for the masses about what her marriage is or isn’t. I want to see that enthusiastic girl from 2006, a fresh solo artist, putting her heart and soul into every note she sings. Because as Bey herself has said, “Perfection is so… eh.”