This weekend, Victory Plaza turned into the Beyhive. A packed house at American Airlines Center spent the evening cheering, crying and twerking for the Dallas stop of Beyoncé's Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. Her reputation as one of the world's most entertaining performers was reinforced by a galvanizing stage show that included a myriad of dancers, pyrotechnics, video installations, a high wire act, two stages and the most beautiful lace front wig you will ever see in your life. (VQ)
By Vanessa Quilantan and Deb Doing Dallas
I know it's easy to toss off the fans of Beyoncé as a cult of women eager to ride the coattails of her empire. Women with thinner hair, cheaper clothes and less impressive entourages screaming along to the songs as though they had the same power, talent and budget. I know the high-pitched giddiness spreading across Dallas on Sunday earned an easy eye-roll from naysayers because her fans, all assembled in one place in their Beyoncé bandwagon, did indeed seem like a cult.
Walking into the AAC on Saturday night, though, for one of the biggest pop tours of the year, I saw few children, no costumes and a crowd of women largely older than 30. It's a strange observation in this class of pop tours, where fans largely assemble dressed as their chosen icon and generally draw a young fan base of Top 40 radio listeners. Even the Lady Gaga tours, which feature overt and advertised bondage-inspired sections, don't deter the under-14 set. This was a class of fluffed and perfumed grown-ass women there to pay respect to the ultimate symbol of grown-ass female productivity. (DDD)
It's deeper than estrogen. The palpable force of female empowerment in the room during numbers like "Grown Woman," "Survivor," and (especially) "Irreplaceable" could be overwhelming. Women love Beyoncé because in a world where we feel consistently disenfranchised by society, her music provides a sense of determination to stay strong and stand up for ourselves. Picture 30,000 manicured fists pumping in unison, eyes welling with tears, and the most beautiful woman in the world assuring you that whatever problems plague your life, you will survive it. You're not going to give up, you're going to make it. Everyone needs to hear that sometimes. (VQ)
I am happy to overstate the power in Beyoncé's symbols all day, but in her first song of the night she set the stage for why I find her aesthetic divisive in pop music's contemporary culture. The opening bars of "Run the World (GIRLS)" started and it was a contagion, introducing the Beyoncé army to the screaming audience. The song is overly simplistic, trading in her signature melodies for a war-like chant of female power. It set the tone of the night perfectly. First came the dancers, all female, athletic and stomping. Second, Bey herself strode out in time with her mane blowing powerfully behind her like a lighthouse for the chorus following behind. Third, her powerhouse female background-vocals group, "The Mamas," was spotlighted. Finally, her 13-woman backing band, "The Sugar Mamas," was backlit within an inch of themselves, glowing like some sort of alien pack of talent.
I don't think you had to be a woman to appreciate the singularity of this image , but it might help. At my count we were looking at a stage filled with 30 women working to bring to life one of the most popular and expensive tours of the year. It was breathtaking. And it's a lot of money to spend on a bunch of girls. Despite the screaming and singing along and good old-fashioned fun of it all, it's also rare. Which provided an exciting and strangely disheartening start to the night.
To speak to the actual music experience, Beyoncé sounded as prepared for a night of belting as you imagine she would. Every note clear and in tune, The Mamas taking over during moments of vocal rest (by the by, great back ground vocalists are an obvious if overlooked solution to the controversy of vocal tracking in popular music). New arrangements of obvious hits like "If I Were a Boy" and "Single Ladies" made particular use of the band, and "Diva," got an especially grimy rendition. A Whitney Houston-dedicated performance of "I Will Always Love You," should be sentimental but worked. (DDD)
It was especially exciting to hear new live versions of classic Beyoncé singles like "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)" and "If I Were A Boy." The former featured a jaw-dropping interlude including elements of Rebirth Brass Band's "Feel Like Funkin It Up", as well as a run of the theme from The Jeffersons on the hook. The latter dropped out the original arrangement altogether for the instrumental from The Verve's '90s favorite "Bittersweet Symphony." It was a fresh and interesting take on what is otherwise one of Beyoncé's least exciting singles. The reinvigorated versions of fan favorites kept longtime fans up on their feet, and exceeded crowd expectations. (VQ)
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The only new single, "Grown Woman," got an entire section of the tour with a glamorous African and 2013 Kenzo collection-inspired vignette. It's as simple of a song as "Run the World (Girls)." It's chorus "I'm a grown woman, I can do whatever I want," never gets more complex than that, and yet seems wildly relevant after a week of filibustering in our own state from another new female icon with powerful hair, Wendy Davis.
Beyond producing memorable pop, Beyoncé is going out of her way to create images that we would not see otherwise. Along with her traditionally beautiful hair and her hetero-normative-approved sexuality sits overt female power. Her anthemic calls to realize your own potential go hand-in-hand with her desire to make some time to take care of a lover. It's a compelling contradiction to female and feminist symbols in pop culture because we so infrequently see a grown woman do what she wants without apology, or admit that what she wants is sometimes contradictory.
In Mrs. Carter's house the definition of being a woman is broader then she gets credit for, but if she is to be believed, it is defined entirely by you. And it's fucking catchy. Like, really, really catchy. (DDD)