There aren’t many people that can claim to emasculate Jay Z, perhaps the world’s most significant rapper and producer, and even fewer who do so in front of 80,000 people. But, as is evident in the Stade de France on the penultimate night of their joint On The Run world tour, if anyone can undermine and outshine the inimitable Hova, it’s his wife.
The differences between Jay and Beyoncé’s presentations as they alternate solo material are immediately apparent. Both command an incredible presence and deafening screams from the French crowd, but while Jay often looks a bit lonely on the enormous stage, Beyoncé’s innate choreography, backing dancers and scene-stealing costumes blow her husband out of the water, increasing the volume of the stadium’s cheers.
It begins with a black and white film blaring from the stage – clearly inspired by French new wave cinema, it introduces Beyoncé as ‘The Artist’ and Jay Z as ‘The Gangster’, flickering moody images of them pairing up to fire machine guns at a mutual enemy. And then… bang. Gunshots turn into the forceful percussion of ‘’03 Bonnie & Clyde’, and the dynamic duo emerges to launch a rollercoaster of hits that doesn’t stop for the duration of the evening.
Jay Z is masterful, prowling the stage amidst a sometimes-obscuring cloud of white smoke. Throughout their three hours he rolls out big-hitters like ‘Tom Ford’, ‘Clique’, ‘Big Pimpin’’, ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder’ and ’99 Problems’, throwing in flashes of greats like ‘No Church In The Wild’, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and ‘Ni**as In Paris’, his biggest sing-along coming in the choruses of ‘Hard Knock Life’.
Beyoncé, however, constantly one-ups her man, and it looks like she knows it. She’ll often stand for a moment after each song, soaking up the adoration of her audience, reveling in the audacious moment of glory. Or maybe she’s just catching her breath – her dancing is immaculate, her moves heightened by dazzling costumes.
Getting ‘Crazy In Love’ out the way in the first 10 minutes, her next sucker-punch, ‘Run The World (Girls)’, soon follows, before every deft blow (a stunning duet with Nicki Minaj on ‘Flawless’; ‘Haunted’; ‘Say My Name’, ‘If I Were A Boy’; wearing a wedding dress for the potent ‘Resentment’; ‘Love On Top’; the suggestive and provocative routines for ‘Drunk In Love’ and ‘Partition’) leads to the clean knockout of ‘Single Ladies’ – and Queen Bey reaches for her crown.
The night ends with a beautiful union, as the couple sings adoringly to each other for ‘Forever Young’. The background imagery turns into home movies of the Carters and their daughter, Blue Ivy; they stand together, staring lovingly, as Jay wraps his arm around his wife, who serenades their child with the divine ‘Halo’.
The music world’s most powerful and influential partnership couldn’t fail to demonstrate the reasons for their rise to dominance. In the pairing of two such blinding stars, however, there was always going to be an eclipse. As the On The Run tour comes to its conclusion, it’s clear to see that Mrs. Carter emerges on top. But damn, it was a good race to watch.
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Words: Simon Harper