“You know you That Bitch when you cause all this conversation.”
Every generation has an icon that pisses off the previous generation. Our parents had Prince and Michael Jackson. Their parents had Elvis. We have Beyoncé.
Last October, I had the privilege of attending the Formation World Tour. The fact alone that I bought tickets after the “deplorable” Super Bowl performance brought me strife from family members and others of my local community. There might have even been a moment, with a tongue loosened by a little local craft brew, where I called an entire table of people—including my father—out for racism related to said concert. It wasn’t pretty…but our trivia team still came in third place that night. I also haven’t been back to trivia since. Oops.
I still remember the first time I heard Beyoncé sing. I was seven or eight, sitting in the back of the bus with two of my closest friends, LaVielle and LaReece, and we were listening to Destiny’s Child, specifically “Say My Name,” on the way to church camp. I was already an ardent Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys fan—NSYNC, Britney, and Christina were just around the corner—and this continued my love for pop super groups.
I think the difference with Destiny’s Child is that it became pretty apparent early on that there was one member who stood above the rest—much like Justin Timberlake. Not because the others weren’t talented or gorgeous, but because of simple presence. Kelly, Michelle, and the fourth girl we don’t speak of, were amazing, but they weren’t Beyoncé. But we didn’t know even who she was to become yet.
Well, “Crazy In Love” happened—widely considered the greatest pop song of the new millennium and in the conversation for greatest pop song ever—and then we caught a glimpse. It took ten years and three more albums until she became the greatest living artist with her self-titled in 2013. Bold claim, but it’s my blog and my hill to die on.
Let me just stop right here and say this: if you don’t like Beyoncé, that is okay. If you don’t like her stage persona, I get it. If you don’t like her music, I get that even though it’s a smidge baffling—but I have those artists, too. But if you don’t like her because of what she stands for: anti-police brutality, feminism, equal pay for women, using her global voice for positive change…just kindly don’t say anything.
The self-titled album was an absolute game changer, though the album IV a few years before it hinted at greatness to come. Some of her greatest songs are on IV, but in the transition from IV to Beyoncé, she transcended pop icon with singles to complete albums that revolutionized modern music. She began to dabble in visual mediums to accompany her music, dropping Beyoncé at midnight with every song having an accompanying music video.
“Changed the game with that digital drop, know where you were when that digital popped. I stopped the world. Male or female, it makes no difference, I stopped the world.” Now, if you’re an older reader of mine, you’re probably like, “Yeah, no.” But my generation? I was walking out of The Hobbit’s midnight premiere and twitter was going nuts. So, yeah, I remember.
And then Lemonade happened. There are enough think-pieces on that masterpiece by more capable women than me to talk about it. It was a deeply intimate, revealing album. It was not an album for me. But I was changed because I interacted with that art—yes, even the incredibly weird visual movie she dropped. I never thought I’d see Serena Williams drop it low while Beyonce sat on Serena’s iconic throne from the cover of Sports Illustrated, but it was at once empowering and dazzling. The two most powerful black women in the world, singing and dancing along to “I ain’t sorry.” They are here. They have a voice—and a tennis racket—and there are very few people who can’t help but pay attention when they’re on the stage.
Don’t believe me? How much hate did Beyoncé get after her CMA performance with the Dixie Chicks or her absolutely stunning performance at the Grammy’s? Six months pregnant, singing songs about recovering love and forgiveness with those very babies’ father, and referencing iconography that reaches to the very beginning of art history. It was beautiful and truly transcendent as art, and it was monstrously ridiculed by older generations and Trump supporters. It was innumerable and constant. But they were still watching. Similarly, if Serena Williams is in a final, more people watch it. That’s a fact.
I’m almost 800 words in and I haven’t even gotten to the concert, yet. Help me.
There are 55,000 of us in the stadium, or thereabouts. There’s a four-sided, rotating video screen called The Monolith in the center of the stage. The sun has already set, DJ Khaled has done his opening “set” or whatever that weird blip on the stage was, and the cool October night has set in. The bottle of champagne we drank in the parking lot has worn off. And then The Monolith begins pulsing and rotating. Red. White. Slow motion shot of Beyoncé. Red. White. Beyoncé’s hair. Repeat.
The place begins to hum with excitement. For five minutes, it does this. And then the “Formation” beeping noise begins. Her voice rings throughout the stadium, ours echoing: “Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation.” Repeating four, five, six times. And then she rises, her dancers converging.
“If you came to slay, say ‘I slay.’ If you slay today and every day, say ‘I slay.’ Say, ‘I slay.’ If you are proud of who you are and where you come from, say ‘I slay.’ Y’all help me sing this song.”
If you lived in the United States in 2016, you know how awful it was. Vitriolic from the start to the finish, amidst the worst election of my short life between the worst two candidates I’ve seen presented to America. Millennials were “the problem.” Black people standing up for their very lives were “the problem.” And, naturally, at a Beyoncé concert, the attendees were definitely a Venn diagram of those two issues that was decently close to a circle.
Now, I have been to over 50 metal concerts, with a roiling sea of emotional scream-alongs and circle pits, and I have seen nothing like the cathartic release of that opening verse of “Formation.” The crowd was practically seething, but as the song built, release was nearly instant. Spontaneous dancing broke out across the stadium. Our icon, our Whitney, was here and we could sing and dance and for once, not be the problem. We were slaying the hand we’ve been dealt, and damn it, we were going to sing and dance.
The next song was “Sorry,” and our generation proudly exclaimed to the stars over the stadium, “I ain’t sorry.” I ain’t sorry for who you raised me to be and how that has changed how I view the world. I ain’t ashamed. I’m going to sing and dance and keep being me. “Middle fingers up, hold them hands high, wave them in his face, tell him ‘boy, bye.’” We sang, doing the movements from the music video.
For two hours, we were captivated. As you can expect, it was a spectacle. There were fireworks. There were acrobats. There were visual interludes. There were costume changes. There were monster dance sequences. One of the stages flooded and became a dance pool. Anything is possible in Beyoncé’s world, and for a moment, we were living in it with her.
It was a phenomenal celebration of modern pop, R&B, and rap music. There were speeches urging us to embrace the power of forgiveness. The power of enabling and ennobling ourselves. There were dance sequences. There were rage songs, there were love songs, there were party anthems, there were songs for any occasion. People often criticize her for having to put on a spectacle, usually as a dig at her vocal talent. But the spectacle has been a part of pop music since Elvis and later on Michael Jackson. It’s a tired critique, and easily proven false.
Every song kept the crowd alive. Some of her biggest hits made the stadium shake in its foundation we danced so hard. I wish you could experience “Diva” or “Countdown” or “Yoncé” live. Just to feel the pure energy.
But the best moments? The moments I return to? Those were the moments when Beyoncé peeled back the persona. Singing the criminally underrated “Mine.” Belting her EDM anthem “Runnin’” a cappella: “If I lose myself, I lose it all.” Leading the entire crowd in an a cappella sing-a-long of “Love On Top.” Sitting on her knees, belting a tribute to Prince as the stadium glowed in the light of The Monolith going purple.
The moment that crowned any other moment, though; the one that I watch on YouTube almost daily, is simply her, sitting on the stage, no dancers, belting “1+1” and displaying the vocal prowess so many of my generation spend far too much time defending to people who hate her and try to pretend it’s because she “can’t sing.”
Maybe it’s living in a post-Lemonade world, but hearing the lyrics to “1+1” is such an insight into the tragic, beautiful, redemptive, love-filled world of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Imagine singing the greatest love song in your arsenal night after night after releasing an album about your husband’s infidelity. Impossible. And yet, for a generation that is seeing a decline in extra-marital affairs from our parents’ generation, it speaks to us. Forgiveness is possible. Grace is possible. In a dark, dark world, love still can win.
And for that, I am grateful. In Beyoncé’s world, we did wake up like this. And it was a blast.