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Jay-Z headlining the Global Citizen Festival was always going to be a major drawcard. So too, the prospect of seeing No Doubt together again on stage, joined for a track by Sting. Adding Carrie Underwood, The Roots and Tiesto to the mix made Saturday’s line-up appealing enough to take on the Global Poverty Project’s initiatives to win tickets to their concert in Central Park. Beyond, of course, the aim itself of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

It made sense that Jay would have started his set with Empire State of Mind – as he did, after opening with a mash of Gil Scott-Heron’s NY You’re Bringing Me Down,  Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind, and Sinatra’s New York, New York.  But I didn’t expect just how magnificent the sound of 60 000 people singing along, hands up in the air, would be – an anthem for the Big Apple, performed live in the heart of the city that birthed its creator. A moment too big for even the fanciest of phone cameras to capture. So too, was Sting roping in No Doubt for Message in a Bottle, his voice harmonizing with Gwen Stefani’s, as that familiar bass-line reverberated through the trees, and the sliver of golden moon grew brighter against the backdrop of the NYC skyline. Ridiculously perfect.

I’d always hoped to see No Doubt perform live. Even before their wedded union, Gwen and hubby Gavin Rossdale, with his band Bush, together helped get me through many moments of teenage angst. I remember watching videos of Stefani jumping around the stage, sweat glistening from her perfectly-sculpted abs. Twenty years later, she wasn’t rolling around on the stage but the band still energetically spun through their back catalogue, from opener Hella Good to prize possession Don’t Speak and the ska-fuelled Hey Baby. Stephen Bradley on trumpet and keys helped keep that vibe lifted, literally jumping up and down all through the set.

When Jay took over the reigns, the hood of a Global Citizen Festival sweatshirt framing his face, he bounded through his hits, one after the other, Izzo (H.O.V.A), Big Pimpin’, I Just Wanna Love U, Tom Ford, in between thanking the crowd for coming out for “a beautiful cause.”

“If you believe in this movement, make some noiiiise,” he urged.

And the crowd obliged.

Jay’s was the only set that wasn’t interspersed with messages from Global Poverty Project ambassadors, Elmo or Hugh Jackman (oh, how we love Hugh) explaining the various problems exacerbating world poverty right now and what is being done to help, or the challenges being issued to world leaders and, in many cases, the positive responses issued to these. In between The Roots, fun. and Carrie Underwood, who all performed to fans who’d filled the park, were snippets of info and stats to go along with that. It helped the medicine, so to speak, go down a lot easier than the first year a concert was held when so many of the messages were dragged down by being too long and overwhelming.

Jay was impressing just fine, but then he pulled out the Bey card, and his wife came out to perform Holy Grail, singing, as she did on their On The Run tour together, the part of Justin Timberlake. If Central Park had a roof, it would have been blown off, such was the excitement at Beyonce’s arrival on stage. Together, they ended the show, once again, how they ended their tour, with Young Forever and images of their life together playing onscreen behind them. It was another one of those ridiculously perfect moments, when those 60 000 voices sang the Alphaville chorus, cellphones – and one or two lone lighters – illuminating the night sky.

Like, I said, ridiculously perfect.

What’s not perfect, as we know, is the state of the world right now. Many of the problems the Global Citizen Festival highlighted seem insurmountable, like the fact that 2.5 billion people in the world still don’t have access to proper toilets. But Saturday’s concert and the actions its presenters – from actress Olivia Wilde to Madiba’s grandson Ndaba Mandela – asked its audience to perform, made those problems feel a little less so. It’s like, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “Our world needs solar power and wind power, but I believe in an even stronger source of energy – people power.” After this year’s Global Citizen Festival, I’m a believer too.

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.

 

     

    The BET Awards are long. Almost four hours so. That’s two movies – or one, if you’re watching Transformers 4.

    But a lot happens in that time – young performers get a snippet of time to showcase their fresh skills (witness for 17-year-old Gabi Wilson), a noted Humanitarian is honoured, and a dozen awards are, of course, handed out. And a handful of solid performances are turned in too – highlighting the spectrum of the channel’s ethos.

    From Nicki Minaj’s Alice in Wonderland theme to Chris Brown’s kitsch cool backdrop for Loyal, the setup of Sunday night’s show was vibrant and the energy high. The collaborations – John Legend playing piano for Jhene Aiko and Travis Barker drumming for Brown’s dance moves – and the throwbacks, courtesy Troop, Color Me Badd and Silk, as well as Lionel Richie, who was given Lifetime Achievement Award, were fun. The tribute to the late Ruby Dee and Maya Angelou, done by the impeccable Phylicia Rashad, was everything most in memoriams aren’t – moving and sincere. Chris Rock made for a very entertaining host, with jokes about the Black World Cup and Brown’s new – plea – deal, that showed off just how on point his witticisms still are.

    My only gripe is that the Best International Act, Africa and UK, are not shown, or at least mentioned during the live show. But many of the awards aren’t – including the sports and movie awards. Although, Lupita Nyong’o’s category of Best Actress was announced, even though she wasn’t there to collect it. Nonetheless, as a South African, it’s been fantastic to watch Mafikizolo shine and represent my country, with their distinctive rhythm and style, during the BET Experience weekend.

    Mafikizolo's Theo Kgosinkwe and Nhlanhla Nciza during the BET Experience

    Mafikizolo’s Theo Kgosinkwe and Nhlanhla Nciza during the BET Experience

    The winners, then:

    Best International Act: Africa

    Davido (Nigeria)

    Best International Act: UK

    Krept & Konan

    Best Female R&B/Pop Artist

    Beyoncé

    Best Male R&B/Pop Artist

    Pharrell Williams

    Best Group

    Young Money

    Best Collaboration

    Beyoncé f/ JAY Z – Drunk In Love

    Best Male Hip Hop Artist

    Drake

    Best Female Hip Hop Artist

    Nicki Minaj

    Video of the Year

    Pharrell Williams – Happy

    Video Director of the Year

    Hype Williams

    Best New Artist

    August Alsina

    Best Gospel Artist

    Tamela Mann

    Best Actress

    Lupita Nyong’o

    Best Actor

    Chiwetel Ejiofor

    YoungStars Award

    KeKe Palmer

    Best Movie

    12 Years a Slave

    Subway Sportswoman of the Year

    Serena Williams

    Subway Sportsman of the Year

    Kevin Durant

    Coca-Cola Viewers’ Choice Award

    August Alsina f/ Trinidad Jame$ – I Luv This

    Centric Award

    Jhené Aiko – The Worst

    FANdemonium Award

    Beyoncé

    [Pics: BET International]

    While the Queen has been visiting the set of Game of Thrones in Belfast, we’ve been taking a moment to pause and reflect…

    * It’s a truly sad day for family, friends and fans of Eli Wallach. The 98-year-old actor has been part of movie history for 60 years, acting in so many classic roles. Despite that, the NYT notes, he had never been nominated for an Oscar, although he did receive an honorary one just before his 95th birthday. But his legacy far surpasses the value of any statue.

    * It’s been five years since Michael Jackson died at his Los Angeles home. For fans in South Africa, the news came in the middle of the night, after a euphoric soccer game that had set the stage for the World Cup the following year. With his music still on the charts, the drawn-out court case over Conrad Murray’s responsibility in his death, and the resurgence of high-pitched male vocals, many agree it doesn’t feel like he’s gone.

    * First Lady Michelle Obama is due to give the keynote address for the Grammy Museum‘s first ever Jane Ortner Education Award luncheon next month. It’s an initiative that recognizes teachers who make outstanding use of music in their classrooms, and encourages them to share their lesson plans. Mrs O, who has been involved in a host of music benefits, will speak, while Janelle Monae will perform.

    * Jay-Z and Beyonce kick off their On The Run tour together in Miami on Wednesday night. The 19-date run is on track to make at least $100 million dollars, according to Billboard, and it could end up being the most successful tour of the year. That wouldn’t surprise anyone, right?

    * With the tagline, “War never ends quietly”, comes the trailer for Brad Pitt’s next movie Fury, in which he leads a tank unit in battle against Germans during World War 2. It also stars Logan Lerman who was the lead in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and he appears to be a wallflower no more in this role. It’s directed by David Ayer who wrote Training Day and made End of Watch, so expect it to be a little more than the usual world war fare.

    avengers-age-ultron

    * The big news coming out of San Diego Comic Con this past weekend (actually late on a Saturday night) is that the next Avengers movie will be called Age of Ultron. Oh – and of course the news that Batman and Superman will team up in the next Warner Bros movie. Christian Bale is not onboard, but Henry Cavill is.

    * Royal Baby Watch has gone into overdrive – as Princess Catherine has gone into labour. Boy? Girl? Some don’t care, but many are glued to this pop culture event that gives Britain a third heir in line to the throne.

    * After declaring the second verse in New Slaves as the best of all time and scuffling with paparazzi, Kanye West this weekend revealed the interactive video for Black Skinhead – the one that was leaked in its unfinished state a few weeks ago.

    * Two big concerts – at two major baseball fields – took place this past weekend. Pearl Jam played a dream show (despite the downpour) and debuted new music in Chicago at Wrigley Field, while Jay-Z, sorry Jay Z, and Justin Timberlake performed at Yankee Stadium. Jay and his wife Beyonce also joined in a Trayvon Martin rally in NYC on Saturday.

    * Have mercy! Jesse & the Rippers reunited on Jimmy Fallon on Friday night. Full House fans rejoice!