There aren’t many artists who can sell tickets for a world tour before releasing the corresponding album, but Beyoncé Knowles-Carter isn’t just any artist. As she said herself in 2008’s Diva: “since fifteen in my stilettos, been struttin’ in this game.”
As Wembley Stadium slowly filled at the fourth show of her much-hyped UK tour thus far, smoke began to unfurl from the base of the central screen, causing frenzied screaming – the type only the Beyhive could generate. As the screen rotated and flashed red, a succession of images appeared: from a half-naked Beyoncé, to the eye of a storm, to a bird in mid-flight. The sequence set a precedent for what was to follow – this was a theatrical performance.
Next, the reverberating, instantly recognisable beginning of Formation blared over the speakers. In that now famous wide-brimmed fedora, Beyoncé and her dance troupe stepped out and immediately broke into an intense, seamless routine. Palpable aggression was left hanging in the air.
A word that cropped up repeatedly in many reviews after Lemonade dropped was feminism, and this push for female empowerment fittingly permeated the show. During Run the World, B encouraged the women in the audience to raise their balled fists in defiance, and after this segment, Beyoncé’s signature humility surfaced. “Thank you for supporting me so long – I love you so much,” she earnestly told the mostly female audience.
Despite this glimpse of a down-to-earth artist, there was never any doubt that Beyoncé performs with ultimate attitude: she gangsta walked out on stage with a cape thrown over her shoulders to sing feisty track Don’t Hurt Yourself, only pausing to include excerpts of fan videos hailing her as a “bad bitch.”
It was in the closing moments of the show that Beyoncé really exhibited her vocal prowess. Under a spotlight on her knees, she sung an altered version of 1+1 which had a girl in the row behind whisper: “I’m trying not to cry.” After an intermittent Prince tribute which saw the screen turn to his shade of majestic purple, B performed her standout anthem Crazy in Love.
The finale was cathartic. The middle stage filled with water as Bey and her dancers performed a stomp routine to Freedom – with Beyoncé soaked through, it was almost like watching a baptism. Considering redemption and purification are such integral themes in Lemonade, the spectacle seemed fitting.
To finish, she urged the audience to sing to “someone you love” as she broke off into Halo, disappearing off stage with a Union Jack flag in hand, thrown to her from the sidelines. All in all, Beyoncé’s outstanding performance can be summarised with Big Freedia’s sampled words in Formation: “I did not come to play with you hoes. I came to slay bitch.”