The tabloids are at it again.
This time they’ve been eagerly reporting the apparently poor sales for Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s tour, relishing the social media gossip that tickets are being given away for free in carparks. But they’re going to have to try a lot harder than that if they want to dampen the spirit of On the Run II – an action-packed tag-team show from two of the world’s biggest stars, tied together conceptually with cinema-worthy visuals and backed by an army of 17 dancers.
The Carter’s more raucous material makes for some of the most hair-raising moments. During 99 Problems, the stage screens show a series of mugshots – ranging from Angela Davis, to Meek Mill, Jane Fonda, Snoop Dogg, David Bowie and Jim Morrison – to accompany Jay-Z’s anecdotal lyrics about standing tall in the face of police harassment. Performing Lemonade’s furious track Don’t Hurt Yourself, Beyoncé, dressed in silver PVC, stares into a crowd camera while screaming “Who the fuck do you think I am?!”, prompting roars of excitement throughout the stadium.
There have been doubts as to whether Hov can hold his weight next to Beyoncé, a performer of incredible vocal and physical agility. Jay-Z is a master of conversational rap delivery – a style which doesn’t always translate well in the live context – and his slightly clumsy appearance during Beyoncé’s incredible Coachella set was one of the few lulls. But Jay strolls across the huge stage and down platforms which reach the middle of the crowd with slick confidence. And when you’re able to toss out tunes as big as Dirt Off Your Shoulder and Big Pimpin’ early in set, the crowd can happily finish your bars off for you.
For the most part of the evening, the roofless stadium has let the light in, and it feels like a relief when the sky eventually goes dark for the final quarter, for which the duo have held back some of their greatest songs. Beyoncé and her team of dancers assemble on a second stage, slinging their hats the moment the Formation beat drops and fireworks shoot to the sky while the stage elevates high above the crowd. In between dropping old classics like Public Service Announcement and U Don’t Know, Jay brings the crowd to a standstill for The Story of OJ – a poignant song about the African-American struggle – while a solitary male dancer performs under the illumination of gold lighting, and the visuals of racist cartoons appear on the screens.
Considering the tour’s concept is primarily based around Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s love life – the visuals frequently depict the couple having tender family moments with Blue and the twins, or Jay looking lost and rugged during their fallouts – there aren’t many moments of spontaneous, unscripted passion between them. This is a meticulously-rehearsed show, and the performer’s embraces are part of the choreography.
But raw emotion ripples through the London Stadium when Beyoncé dedicates the show to those lost in the Grenfell fire, before her and Jay – both wearing green heart badges – perform closing ballad Young Forever under the glow of thousands of phone lights.
It’s a simple gesture, proving despite their impenetrable superstar status, Jay-Z and Beyoncé haven’t lost touch with the struggles and hopes of the everyday people who support them.