You could read a lot into the Jay-Z and Beyonce On The Run show. If, you’re like the man at JFK that sat next to me on the day the elevator story came out, who spoke in a concerned tone over the phone about the kerfuffle as if it had happened to real friends of his. You could read a lot into each look, each touch, each lyric sent out into the concert ether.
If, on the other hand, you’re just a fan who couldn’t care less about the gossip side of entertainment, you could just enjoy the show for what it is – two superstars bringing out the best of themselves, and the best in each other.
On Saturday night, the MetLife Stadium became Jay and Bey’s own personal picture-house, as On The Run spooled out onto the stage. The show opener, 03 Bonnie & Clyde, set the scene for their gun-toting, dirty-trick, drunk-in-love banditry, which played out over 2 and a half hours, and covered almost 40 hit tracks.
Mr and Mrs Carter are currently touring the US, but this date was a kind of homecoming for Brooklyn-bred Jay, who kept playing up the New York verses New Jersey portions of the audience, much to his delight.
Throughout the show, Bey provides the yin to Jay’s yang, as he does for her. The design of the show edits their songs deftly together – like having Bey sing Justin Timberlake’s refrain on Holy Grail, or splicing in a little Jackson 5 sample to help move Love on Top into Izzo. Or when Bey does this nifty little gun-and-horse dance into Jay’s Onto the Next One.
The juxtaposition also works for their life philosophies – when she’s telling you she woke up like this, he’s telling you to brush that which isn’t working for you off your shoulder. Their approach may differ but they know how to come out on top.
Bey still plays with the audience in the flirty way she does when she’s on her own – urging the crowd to sing along and giving a playful death-stare during Why Don’t You Love Me, taunting the audience into cheering louder. Jay, too, is all about business, letting his rhymes speak for themselves, bouncing his arms along to the beat, in whatever hat/beanie/hoodie he has matched along with the track.
But when they’re together, they bounce off each other, smoothing the edges a little – whether its Bey smiling and laughing next to Jay after a military-like precision dance sequence, or Jay, when she croons the Holy Grail bit, breaking stride to declare to the crowd, “Oh, she there for real.”
The part of the show that has made social media and tabloids ruminate on their marriage comes when Bey does Resentment, changing the lyrics to fit her and Jay’s relationship duration, followed by a fantastic cover of Lauryn Hill’s Ex Factor. When Jay picks up with Song Cry, it plays out like a response to her call. Especially when she says ‘forgiveness is the final act of love.’ But we’re reminded of the words that flash across the front of the stage at the opening of the show: This is Not Real.
Until, it is.
During the finale, when Bey comes out in a outfit that has a black and white American flag for a train, the images on the screen turn from the film noir scenes of bank robberies and getaway cars that have been playing as backdrop, to Blue Ivy and snippets of their wedding. Up until now, Bey and Jay have embraced characters, but at the end it all intersects with their real life, when they truly take off the masks they were wearing at the beginning of the show.
Or at least it looks like they do. Like I said, you could read more into it if you wanted to. For me, I enjoyed seeing, at Jay’s encouragement, the entire stadium hold up their phones and lighters, singing along to a mash-up – naturally – of Young Forever and Halo. It’s after that the words Die in Love and Life Forever blaze across the screen, as the credits figuratively begin to roll, and we’re left to marvel at this couple – Hollywood in every way.
HBO will be airing the concert in September. If you miss the actual tour, don’t miss seeing it televised.