“Some of you first met me 19 years ago. I wanna say thank you for allowing me to grow, and for growing with me.”
In one emotional monologue at Wembley Stadium, Beyoncé explains what it’s like to be a fan of hers, and why she feels like more than just a pop star to most of us. We’ve grown with her in all her roles, from Destiny’s Child to Single Lady, from Mrs Carter to fawning new mother. And in a way, we’ve all grown with her too – we all remember the club nights where Crazy In Love is a highlight, the breakups soundtracked by Irreplaceable, the wall-to-wall banging sessions between Partition and Drunk In Love.
Beyoncé is, then, a lot of things to a lot of people. Which certainly shows at this stadium gig, one that niggles for its lack of over political or personal commentary on the heels of Lemonade. Similarly, despite the comment of growth at the beginning, there seems to be very little advancement in the staging or set-up since her knockout O2 gig in London a few years ago. But if the faux-narrative of Lemonade showed us anything, it’s that the Carters are savvy businesspeople. So tonight’s set is a crowd-pleaser and a rousing one at that, moving from highlight to highlight without any hesitation for breath.
After a mercifully short stint from DJ Magnum (who to his credit brings out Zara Larsson and Jess Glynne, who in turn needs to stop being styled by blind people), Queen Bey marches to the middle of the stage for the eponymous tour opener, Formation, dressed in that now-iconic funereal get-up. It’s the strongest start the night could hope for, as the first act courses to a thrilling end with a double-punch of Bow Down and Run The World.
For all our minor grievances, then, it’s still clear that no one can match Bey for sheer spectacle. Being able to precisely execute two hours of choreography while not missing a single note is a marvel to watch (even if we all need to move on from the military-stomp vibes); more to the point, her live experience isn’t just a rehash of studio sounds. There’s a cappella versions of Love On Top, audience back-and-forths, and wisps of old hits packaged in tight interludes.
There’s been a lot of talk of a dodgy setlist (let’s face it, by doing Runnin’ she’s given Naughty Boy the biggest audience he’ll ever have) and in a way those criticisms are right if perhaps for different reasons than ‘there’s no Single Ladies‘. In our review of Lemonade, we said that not all the songs resounded as long-term hits as much as the rest of her catalogue – that turns out to be true as material from BEYONCE still outshines everything from the new album (barring the surprise Don’t Hurt Yourself), which still does occasionally feel like a couple of quotable one-liners sandwiched in a few songs.
Still, as the night comes to a fine end via soulful renditions of 1+1 and Halo – not to mention the showstopping Freedom – it’s hard to give a fuck about those little niggles given the atmosphere Bey creates. This is slick, unrepentant performing, and an intricately curated show from a performer whose nearest comparison is hard to find. They don’t call her the Queen for nothing, and there’s no doubt she had an army of loyal subjects in London tonight. Who run the world, indeed.