The pitch-black, football field-sized LED screen cracked open at the middle and slowly spread apart. Two figures, two of the most famous human beings on the planet, dressed from head to toe in all white descended from the top of the screen to the floor on an elevator, just like angels presaging the rapture. With their hands clasped tightly around one another’s, they advanced from the rear to the lip of the stage; unspeaking, unwavering. 60,000 people stood on their feet, screaming and stomping and even tearing up at their mere sight of them, ready to receive whatever good news they might bring. Then she drew the microphone to her lips.
“You’d take the clothes off my back and I’d let you,” Beyonce cooed, reprising the opening line of the song “Holy Grail,” originally sung on record by Justin Timberlake. “You’d steal the food right out my mouth and I’d watch you eat it / And I still don’t know why… why I love you so much.” As she sang, her paramour, her business partner, the father of her children — Rumi, Sir, and Blue Ivy – the man who won her heart when she was only 19, then years later shattered it in a million pieces with an act of seemingly unforgivable indiscretion, one of the greatest rappers of all time, Jay-Z stood holding that hand, gazing around at the dark void where thousands of curious faces looked down upon them both.
The key of the song changed, and he turned to face her. “I just can’t crack your code,” she admitted in the next stanza. He turned to look out at us. “You ready?” he shouted. Then all together, “Sippin’ from you cup ‘til it runneth over / Holy Grail!” An explosion of fireworks ripped into the sky as Beyonce ran her fingers through her hair, looked out and glowered. Welcome to On The Run II.
The first On The Run tour, which kicked off four years ago back in 2014, was a concert the likes of which had never really been seen before. In the wake of a leaked video which showed Beyonce’s sister Solange attacking Jay in an elevator after a Met Gala afterparty, the couple hit the road for a 19-date swing through some of the largest and most prestigious sports arenas in North America. I caught their show at Safeco Field in Seattle and ended up dedicating an entire chapter to their capstone appearance in Paris for my book Lighters In The Sky: The Greatest Concert Of All-Time. It was an incredible show filled with ornate vignettes, dancers, fireworks; everything you could want from a combined live performance staged by two of the most important and popular artists of the 21st century. Nevertheless, the drama that played out in front of the masses each and every night paled in comparison to the real-life turmoil going on behind the scenes.
We, as spectators, back in 2014, assumed that Beyonce, must have been going through it, but the real depth of her anger, betrayal and sadness didn’t fully reveal itself until two years later when she dropped her earth-shattering sixth solo album Lemonade. That’s when we learned all about “Becky with the good hair.” When we heard her say in exasperated tones, “What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you.” When she proudly declared, “You ain’t married to no average b*tch boy.” That last sentiment might just be the understatement of the century.
To his credit, Jay made amends, both in real life and on record. His 2017 album 4:44 is close to one of the best Jay-Z album — nothing can unseat The Blueprint in my mind — but it certainly remains his most revealing. Over ten tracks, Jay cops to everything – “You almost went Eric Benét / Let the baddest girl in the world get away” – and essentially begs for forgiveness. “I apologize,” he raps in the opening track. “I suck at love, I think I need a do-over,” before contemplating the seemingly inconceivable. “What if you over my sh*t?”
Of course, it never came to that. Beyonce did get over Jay-Z’s sh*t and they remained together, as friends, lovers, parents, and partners, which is pretty great, because the world is a more interesting place when they’re both conquering it together. In 2018 they even rolled out a joint album Everything Is Love, seemingly completing a gripping, emotional, narrative circle that began with Lemonade. And what better way to celebrate the end of this up-and-down era than a proper tour? The kind that would make their first tour feel like a community theater production.