Jay Z, Beyonce Put Love on Display in HBO ‘On The Run’ Special
Jay Z and Beyonce’s past few months have been an exercise in how to stay on brand. They’ve managed the miraculously brush off the elevator incident. But, soon after, the couple faced a bigger beast: Divorce rumors. Reports were saying Jay Z and Beyonce were going to split after the On The Run Tour was over. In other words, the HBO concert special was supposed to be the relationship’s death knell.
Everything that happened following the rumors seemed a bit too reflexive to some. There were the constant photo updates of the couple happily together on Beyonce’s Instagram, Jay Z giving her that kiss after her lauded MTV Video Music Awards performance and, among other events, the vow renewal in Paris — the final tour stop. If this concert was a death knell, it was supposed to be fit for stars: A final bright glow as Beyonce and Jay Z — two of the world’s greatest — indulged in being them before flaming out.
The final ‘On The Run’ tour stop couldn’t have been just that. How can somebody put this much effort simply for the sake of image? The public doesn’t know what the exact stakes were other than the rumors. But make no mistake: Those stakes were high. This wasn’t just rich people doing rich things. This was a huge cultural undertaking. People don’t just get two-and-a-half-hour concerts in hip-hop or R&B, nor do they get production standards like this. Jay Z and Beyonce looked like more than people during that concert. They were superstars tiptoeing between passion and perfection. The fans weren’t the only ones in awe either. At the end of the concert, Beyonce struggled from bursting into tears when she said she was her husband’s biggest fan. It was all rendered in crystal clear view.
This was a wonderfully humane moment after a concert that felt like a star-crossed epic, partially thanks to the abstract, black and white Bonnie & Clyde movie featuring the couple getting interspersed into the show. The set list would read like a show-stopping fusillade of hits in any other occasion. ‘’03 Bonnie & Clyde,’ ‘Upgrade U,’ ‘Crazy in Love,’ ‘Show Me What You Got’ and Jay Z’s verse from the ‘Diamond (Remix)?’ That’s a peak anywhere else. But no, this was just the opening. The hits kept coming, and the couple performed them with a consistent mix of verve and efficiency — for over 40 songs. It was a display of excellence that very few can even come within miles of. Nicki Minaj — who swung by in her matching multi-colored Versace dress to perform her “***Flawless” remix verse — happens to be one of those few.
It’s somewhat of a miracle Jay Z and Beyonce aren’t clouded by hubris and have a clear attachment to the audience. That proved to be particularly crucial for Hov. He knew what the deal was for this Paris crowd: He was welcomed, but they truly came for Beyonce. ‘Public Service Announcement’ was a climax during the Yankee Stadium stop of last year’s Legends of the Summer tour with Justin Timberlake. Here, it was greeted warmly like a lot of his other numbers — ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulder,’ ‘Big Pimpin’ “F—WithMeYouKnowIGotIt.’ But there were plenty of jams the fans appropriately turned up for. The familiar opening chords of ‘Hard Knock Life’ late in the show got immediate cheers. The Roc signs were up and the vocal chords worked overtime when ‘N—-s in Paris’ played.
Jay Z’s audience-pleasing charm was only complimentary to Beyonce, who turned nearly every one of her songs into set pieces from the start. An easy early highlight was her remix of ‘Ring The Alarm’ using the ‘Takeover’ beat as sonic shards of Justice’s ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ and Clipse’s ‘Grindin’ (Yes! That ‘Grindin’’) found its way into this moment. Queen Bey sat in a throne-like chair as the lighting switched to red — the place was ablaze.
You can write another article listing Beyonce’s highlights. The never-tired ‘Partition’ dance routine. The booty-filled, dancehall switch up of ‘Murda She Wrote’/’Baby Boy.’ Her singularity as she stood and sang ‘Haunted’ in her black lace dress. That instantly thirst-inspiring leather outfit she wore during ‘Drunk In Love.’ The undeniably impressive vocal performance of ‘Resentment’ in that wedding dress. Sixteen years ago on Oct. 11, HBO’s first broadcast of Janet Jackson’s legendary Madison Square Garden stop of The Velvet Rope tour. It was where she used the trick where she stands still — no singing or dancing — and simply takes in the audience noise and exaltation. Here, Beyonce stood tall as The Les Twins dancers (who were amazing in this concert) wordlessly hyped up the crowd. If there was any doubt to who’s the true successor, that vanished in this moment.
And maybe Beyonce and Jay Z have no true successors apparent today. There’s a chance there won’t be with the oversaturation of today’s market. But the final volley of ‘On The Run,’ ‘Young Forever’ and ‘ Halo’ made it clear that this concert in Paris — where they conceived Blue Ivy and got engaged — was momentous. It was unconcerned with the past, tabloid fodder and the future. But even if Jay Z and Beyonce’s show of love and admiration for each other at the end was a front, at least we were left believing that the future was going to be fine.