September 2018 is shaping up to be a powerful month for The Carters — Beyoncé more specifically. She graced the widely sought after September cover of Vogue, celebrated her 37th birthday, and is continuing the global On The Run II tour with her husband, Jay-Z. However, on a more subtle level, she is successfully winning vindication from the world one city at a time, proving how healed and strong her marriage to Jay-Z is.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z — now branded as The Carters as of their latest album’s release, Everything Is Love (June 2018) — stopped at AT&T Stadium on Tuesday, the 38th show out of the 48-show On The Run II Tour. The Carters haven’t toured together in Texas since summer 2014, and a lot has changed for the couple since then. In their first Dallas OTR Tour, the couple was thick in rumors of Jay-Z’s affairs, especially coming off the infamous elevator fight, which happened the same year. Four years later, The Carters have not only withstood the divorce rumors, but they’ve turned their marital ups and downs into a highly-lauded trilogy of albums and then welcomed twins into the world.
It seems they've gone through hell and back for each other only to come out on top. And they're making sure everyone knows it.
In Beyoncé's Vogue issue, she said she takes pride in opening doors for artists who come from different ethnicities, emphasizing, “We will continue to have a narrow approach and view of what the world actually looks like. That is why I wanted to work with this brilliant 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell.” True to her word, she also hired the 18- and 20-year-old sister duo, Chloe x Halle, to be the opening act for OTR II.
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Despite walking out to a largely empty stadium, Chloe x Halle started exactly on time at 7:30 p.m. The Beyoncé doppelgängers maintained good spirits and displayed both powerful voices and instrumental talent while wearing candy-colored MC Hammer-style pants and bomber jackets. In contrast, their hair and makeup were markedly understated, vaguely reminiscent of Beyoncé’s aforementioned Vogue photo shoot feature: minimal makeup and natural hair. No wigs. No false eyelashes. Just true, real beauty.
Chloe x Halle undoubtedly gave Dallas a great first impression. The problem was, it was painfully obvious the fraction of the audience that filled the stadium was not familiar with their songs. It was almost quiet when they completed their set and walked off; but The Carters will have their cake and eat it too. They can support young, unknown artists and still send the crowd into a frenzy before blessing the stage with their presence.
Enter: veteran hype-man for Beyoncé tours, DJ Khaled.
All it took was an utter of “We The Best Music” for everyone to stand up, throw their arms up and proclaim that all they do is win. Everyone’s favorite DJ hit the stage promptly at 8 p.m. and kept the energy high for 15 minutes, singing over recordings of hit songs by Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Drake, Cardi B and more, never staying on the same song for more than 10 seconds.
Keeping energy high, DJ Khaled introduced two rappers with hit songs to the stage. Fans danced as Yella Beezy, decked in labels and diamonds, rapped “That’s On Me” and sang along with Rich The Kid to “Plug Walk.” As his final act before a 30-minute intermission, DJ Khaled announced a $100,000 scholarship in partnership with the Shawn Carter Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club, to a male student attending the University of Houston for a bachelor's in sign language. Supporting young artists, young people with potential in general, was a consistent theme in the moments leading up to the main act.
DJ Khaled was able to control the energy of the room, and it was compounded by the cameras zooming in on audience members, who did not respond in a typical “caught-on-camera” fashion — act shocked, wave big, point and smile — that we’re used to seeing at sporting events. No, this is a Beyoncé concert. This is the Bey Hive. When a camera zoomed in on an unsuspecting fan — typically a woman — would respond with a “come hither” stare while twerking, popping, and God-knows-what-form-of-moving to the beat, and were applauded with whistles and cheers from fellow fans. People in the audience loved nothing more than seeing people in the audience.
That is, until the stage blacked out and went silent at 9 p.m. sharp, signaling the arrival of the living legends they all came to see.
During the 30-minute intermission, the older-than-expected, more mature audience stayed seated, mostly staring at their phones. There were far more attendees in their 60s than teenagers. Most people seemed to be around the same age as the Carters themselves, ranging from mid-30s to mid-40s. This was proved by the fact that the audience responded much more enthusiastically to Lil Jon and The Eastside Boy’s “Salt Shaker” than to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. album.
Before The Carters were lowered via a platform onto the stage, the words, “THIS. IS. REAL. LIFE,” flashed one by one on the connected three-part, stadium widescreen, followed by fast-paced video clips of the couple vacationing on a beach, relaxing at home and socializing with others in dark, small rooms that appear to be bars or hotels.
In the midst of the energy, excitement and the gratifying feeling you get when an anticipated show begins, you can’t help but acknowledge that this is, in fact, not real life. This is only real life if you and your spouse have a combined net worth over $1 billion.
In a way, fans don’t want Beyoncé and Jay-Z to give a performance that feels “like real life.” People spend time and money to watch two people who seem so completely not of this world, who appear to be immortal only because they give us behind-the-scenes footage of life at home, where they do normal things like rest, spend time with children and cook.
Otherwise, these two God-like beings we call Beyoncé and Jay-Z appear anything but mortal onstage. Jay-Z is younger than his years as he is able to succinctly rap without missing a beat, without losing his breath, even changing the pitch and flow of older songs to give it a fresh sound. Beyoncé, even more unfathomably, hits high notes and maintains melody while punctuating every choreographed move with a power and aggression only The Queen can make look feminine.
You never see them drink water, catch their breath, stop a song casually to converse a miscellaneous thought with the crowd. You witness a masterful performance that is executed seemingly perfectly. You see something that could be anything but real life; it’s become the expectation, the standard that The Carters have set for themselves.
Other aspects of the show were also expected — wildly welcome, but nonetheless expected.
We expected the signature thong-cut leotards and thigh-high boots born again from previous tours, in new fabrics. We expected the signature backup dancers, with personalities and attitudes all their own, in equally revealing leotards. Likely all pop music fans in this day and age expect stages to transform, detaching and moving around the venue, offering openings for exits and staircases alike. The OTR II stage satisfied this expectation well with a wide section of the front stage going over the heads of the centered floor-seat section. The two runway stages ejecting into the floor section were accompanied with a treadmill-like floor that stole the show with a solo dancer reminiscent of Kanye West’s “Fade” star, Teyana Taylor.
We even expect to be cut as deeply by the sentimental songs as we are uplifted by the bangers. Beyoncé famously times a pause with a meaningful glance or knowing smile after the lyrics, “I know she was attractive” in the song "Resentment," and she is able to take us through the trenches of her past, as she kneels on the stage, belting out the universal feeling of heartbreak.
But with every performance expectation, even for the veteran ticket buyer, comes surprises. With the scantily-clad dancers, joined more groups of entertainment: of brass players dressed in all red, who intertwined horn instruments in almost every song, and a group of male dancers dressed in baggy black clothes supported many of Jay-Z’s classics and songs from 4:44.
While live entertainment of any form is the main event, OTR II will most likely be just as remembered for its pre-recorded video clips, played between and during songs. It wasn’t just snippets from music videos, which they have plenty of, or even shots from social media. The videos had an independent short film quality, never-before-seen footage that was unmistakably produced by professional directors and writers. The clips were always fast-paced and shocking at times — even showing a S&M leather-clad Beyoncé dancing for an onlooking Jay-Z in a small red-lit room with a bed — giving you no time to check your phone or look away between songs.
You may expect to cry, but you may be surprised at the reason why you’re crying.
The penultimate song in the tour is one audiences are unlikely to forget. Beyoncé serenaded Jay-Z in the “Perfect Duet” originally sung with Ed Sheeran. Miraculously, your attention is taken away from Beyoncé’s voice and stage presence to Jay-Z’s gaze upon her. He truly looked at her in the way every woman wants to be looked at by a man. Behind them, the screen played videos of their love life — moments at home, moments from their wedding, vow renewals, traveling, hugging, laying on bed, offering their version of “real life.”
There was an inexplicable energy that filled the stadium during that song.
In a culture of celebrities who “amicably divorce” and “separate but still love each other,” a stadium filled with thousands of hearts that have been broken by divorce and damaged relationships watched firsthand the way Jay-Z looked at his wife, watched firsthand what real marriage looks like — celebrity or not — a kind of marriage where individuals rise above their own pain, heal and continue to love their spouse to honor their vow. And thousands of hearts were healed.
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The only way to follow up a moment so powerfully moving, was by topping it with their latest hit, saved for last. Have you ever seen a crowd going APESHIT? Pulling out all the stops for their final song, the crowd did just that.
Ending a concert as immaculately as The Carters did for OTR II begs the question, what’s next? How do you top a trilogy of marriage albums that exhaustively cover both heartache and healing? We can only expect the couple to continue the effort of forging their career together, not as Jay-Z and Beyoncé the individuals, but as The Carters, or else surely “the last tour together” would have been a major marketing push. Will they be able to make music that’s appealing on mainstream levels? Will they continue to successfully marry pop and rap?
They seemed to answer all the questions above with four little words that filled the stadium-length widescreen: This is real love. Spoken with a tone that is indifferent to critics and truthful to fans: whether they stay married or not, whether they uphold their successful careers or not, this is, in fact, real love.
After witnessing the live visual performance of the marriage trilogy — Lemonade, 4:44 and Everything Is Love, sprinkled with their individual career hit songs — it’s not only far more agreeable than the opening “This is real life” but is absolutely undeniable.