After an interminable slog through security lines, my friends Huong, Lois, and I were seated and eager to see the show, which had been slated to begin at 8:30pm. We had arrived at the venue at around 7:15, and it took an hour to get from the train platform to inside the stadium. We thought we made it just in time! At 8:45 the Ivy Park (Beyoncé’s workout clothing line) video advertisement which was playing on loop shut off and the crowd went nuts. But then 9 rolled around, and 9:30, and 9:45 and still no Beyoncé. This was an even longer stint than I endured waiting for the “machine” to be fixed before Robert Lepage’s notoriously plagued Ring Cycle at the Met a few years ago. Was Beyoncé having technical difficulties too? Fighting backstage with Jay-Z? There was no announcement explaining the delay.
Unlike the peeved and restless opera audience before the Wagner, the Beyoncé crowd sat patiently and waited as they stared at an enormous white cube in the middle of the stage. It was weird. The silent cube and the politely attendant arena made me think of the Hajj pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca—and the requisite faith and patience of those who make the journey. Beyoncé inspires a rare sort of fandom. To complain about a delayed concert would be blasphemy to the Beyhive, her ferocious uber fans.
For Beyoncé is all things to all people, a true chameleon. She manages to pull off conflicting imagery and content with seemingly no irony. For example: “Single Ladies” feels feminist and empowering while actually pushing marriage proposals. It reminds me of the way people frequently misinterpret Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” as a feel-good, pro-America anthem. Beyoncé balances male-dominant singles like “Ego” and “Partition” with girl power hits like “If I Were a Boy,” “Diva,” and “Run the World (Girls).” Sometimes this tense balance is struck within the same song, like in “Suga Mama.”
Her last album, Beyoncé (2013), was a paean to marital sex while her newest one, Lemonade, is about marital strife and infidelity. And on Lemonade she manages to conflate her personal suffering with the suffering of all African-Americans as she evokes slavery, police shootings, the Black Panthers, and the Katrina aftermath. Somehow, this doesn’t read as exploitative but as a beautiful and seamlessly integrated message.
On Lemonade there are even more diametrically opposed ideas as she works through her grief in a 12-step process. She pledges forgiveness and understanding in the ballad “Sandcastles” while also invoking her 2nd Amendment right to shoot cheating cads in the country/big band song “Daddy Lessons.” She repeats the veiled threat of the title of the hard rocking “Don’t Hurt Yourself” to her lover and then professes the newfound depth of their love on “All Night.” How does she pull this off?
Even when she doesn’t get away with things, she does. Take for instance the police backlash to her Super Bowl performance which started the “boycott Beyoncé” movement in several states,