Beyoncé, Jay Z, And "Flawless" Partnership: A Conversation Between Women
Four women discuss celebrity, perfection, and what a "real" relationship looks like.
Jessica Misener: I thought the show was perfect and flawlessly executed. But that's exactly what I expected, because Beyoncé's entire brand is telegraphed perfection and Jay Z's persona has (unintentionally?) become so slick and corporate. It was interesting too to attend the show at the same time that the (seemingly false) divorce rumors are swirling, because the "perfection" of the whole production reminded me that no matter what Bey and Jay feel for each other, their marriage is now just as much an extremely lucrative business partnership.
Aylin Zafar: I just can't bring myself to believe that either of them would cheat on each other, and I know that's probably naive of me. But I've bought into this image and this dream they're selling. I know the point of this show is to call out that they have ups and downs like everyone else. I DO think it's healthy to fight, and to work things out, and to compromise, and it's refreshing that they are trying to share these parts of their relationship (however obscurely) with us, but I'm not sure I could personally go as far as to believe that they'd be consciously spilling any kind of secrets about past infidelity.
Heben Nigatu: I don't really know or care much about their marriage rumors. I feel like last year's album is the most honest Beyoncé has been about her marriage, about being a mother, and about her life, so I just sort of take whatever is happening in the show on her own terms. She sings "Resentment" and "Why Don't You Love Me" with a force that makes me feel like they're coming from a very real place. I wish she had performed "Jealous." I'm here for Beyoncé airing all of that out, and it's when she did that I really felt like this tour was more about her take on their relationship instead of any pretensions of this being a dual show about their marriage or anything like that. I am here for her perfection, I am here for her vulnerabilities, I'm here for it all. I am a Jay Z fan but this show is all about Beyoncé.
Aylin: "Jealous" is maybe my favorite song from the album. And I don't think it matters whether it's about her and Jay Z, or about her and her long-term boyfriend she had as a teenager. Ultimately, she and her songwriters are writing for an audience — for people who can chant and sing-along in a stadium like the ones they are performing in now. It's not necessarily cathartic or fun to sing about being super in love all the time. And I think the show they've created for this tour wisely runs the gamut of emotions we experience in any relationship, and they've managed to turn their X amount of years of material into a narrative of a relationship — maybe it's about theirs, maybe it's not.
Joanna Borns: I remember when "Ring the Alarm" came out, thinking, "Wait. Is this about Jay Z? Trouble in paradise?" I know not every song has to be about a literal life experience, but some of them have to be, right? So now that they're a married couple on tour together and Beyoncé is performing multiple songs about being treated poorly in a relationship while Jay Z is right there, it's striking. But I think they are definitely doing that on purpose to create a dramatic performance.
Jessica: Working in media has made me extremely cynical about celebrity culture, because you get a glimpse of how celebs have full-time staffs devoted to engineering their personas so that you spend as much money as possible going to their movies and paying for their concerts. In my mind, Jay and Beyoncé have an open marriage. But who cares? They can convince us that they're still in love, using little moments like when Jay nuzzled her neck at the end of "Drunk in Love," and there will still be people buying into the fantasy. And it's not like people at that echelon of fame have married lives similar to us regular folks; they're not commuting home from work and cooking enchiladas together and talking about their days at the office. They're high-powered superstars who are often traveling the world at different times and who have each amassed their own millions. Maybe they don't NEED the kind of marriage we want to envision them having.
Heben: The elevator fight was such a rare moment of the Knowles family not being in control of their public persona. And people are drawn to a moment like that, because it's so rare. Like, a lot of the critiques of her HBO documentary were basically that it was too contrived and that we didn't get to see the "real" side of her. I guess I just don't care. I am an intensely private person, so if I were a celebrity I would want to be as in control of my image as possible. I don't really understand how people can demand "authenticity" from a celeb when it's all a performance. Beyoncé is a cyborg, not a goddess.
Aylin: I found the "This is not real life" and "This is real life" screen tags at the beginning and end of the show really striking. They were a good semi-warning to ground the show, like, "Hey, this looks perfect and flawless and amazing, but this is a *show*. It's rehearsed, we worked a long time on it, it's been expertly produced. Don't feel bad if your relationship doesn't look like this, because it's NOT REAL LIFE." And then, at the end, "This is real life." That moment of the lights coming up, you leaving with your friends, laughing and reminiscing about the show, grabbing pizza after a crowded train ride home — *that's* real life. Also, I feel like saying "This is not real life" in the beginning kind of deflects any over-analyzing people may do about the show, like, "This is a story. Just enjoy it as a story that we're telling you."
Jess: Can we also talk about the "Drunk in Love" performance? Like many people, I've always found the "eat the cake, Anna Mae" line in Jay Z's verse troubling — although his verse sucks for several reasons — and it was really jarring when Beyoncé urged the whole audience to chant that part along with him.
Joanna: I would love to sit Beyoncé and Jay Z down and ask, "Yo, what's your deal with that line?"
Aylin: You have to think that they're aware of the backlash. Just wonder what those behind-the-scenes conversations looked like. Maybe 10 years from now there will be a 20/20 special or something where they finally address it.
Heben: I still kind of just pretend that verse doesn't exist. Jay Z ruined an otherwise truly perfect song.
Aylin: I heard all the jokes about this really being just a Beyoncé show, but you really could feel a difference in energy when she and Jay were on stage together. People would sit down, take a breather when Jay was onstage solo, and immediately rise back up and start dancing when Bey came on.
Heben: Even if you like Jay Z, this show is not that great a Jay Z concert. He plays things like "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and "Big Pimpin'," which I'm sure he's as tired of performing as I am of hearing them. There was a moment where "Lucifer" started to play and I was thinking, "Oh snap, he's about to go off," but then it got mixed back into another song that I can't even remember. I found myself tweeting through his verses. The moments when they did banter or actually explore their chemistry on stage were true gems. And Jay did play to the audience really well! Perhaps even more than her. She talked more on the Mrs. Carter tour, and it was an element I kind of missed here, when she has to share the stage with someone else.
Joanna: I loved Beyoncé's choreography more than I love most things. And I was entertained by how her amazing dance moves contrasted with Jay Z just doing his thing, which consisted of walking around, standing, and, one time, sitting.
Heben: That "Partition" chair, tho. C'mon, son.
Joanna: Was that specifically an ergonomically designed sex chair?
Aylin: I don't care who you are. If you do that move in a real-life bedroom, there is no way that won't come off looking silly. Right? Like the sexiest real moments are rarely ones that are rehearsed/involved elaborate performance-like routines. I have to imagine that Bey and Jay's real sex life is still sexy, but more or less like regular civilian sex and not Crazy Horse Paris-themed sex.
Jessica: That part of the "Partition" video was so hot, but in that context it was a private show for her husband. It was a very different vibe watching her cavort around the couch in front of a stadium of people! I remember the audience got really quiet and we were all just transfixed on her body. Which is amazing and makes me want to stop eating these gummy bears. But I won't.
Joanna: I went into this fully expecting Beyoncé to be an inhuman celestial being. And she exceeded my expectation when she had the sheer stage presence to be able to stand there, perfectly still, with her arms crossed, just doing nothing and making side-eye for what seemed like forever, and have it be entertaining.
Jessica: Did anyone else find the Thelma & Louise-esque videos boring as hell? Maybe it's just because I couldn't see very well from our seats. I know they needed something to fill time between costume changes, but the films seemed largely inscrutable to me. Although I did love when Beyoncé says in one of them, "Why do I need your money? I'm rich."
Aylin: Some of the videos were better than others. I do think it's really interesting how they've followed and played up this whole Bonnie and Clyde thing throughout their whole relationship. "'03 Bonnie & Clyde" was when they really acknowledged their romantic relationship, and ever since then they've been cultivating this "partners in crime" narrative where they have little trust in the people and crazy world around them, but trust in this one person. The idea of having a secret, feeling like it's you against the world, and only the two of you understand it — those are all such strong associations we have and feel when we're in love, and they capture it really well. It's interesting that in their portrayal of being "on the run" and feeling captive — in their case, captive to fame, expectations, paparazzi — there's so much violence and danger.
Jessica: I think my favorite part was her cover of Lauryn Hill's "Ex-Factor." I love the original, and Bey sang it with such power and pathos. What were the highlights for you guys?
Aylin: When she was asking the audience for "more stank" during "Flawless." I wish there was more off-the-cuff interaction during the show, but that was a moment where I felt like I was a part of something special and like the stadium was this inclusive space of full-on girl power.
Joanna: One of the most powerful moments for me was the back-to-back block of "Flawless" and "Run the World (Girls)." The speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sampled in "Flawless" was included, and the definition of what a feminist is ("Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes") was blasted to an audience of thousands of people. That's not something I ever thought I would see in my life. Considering a handful of celebrities have made press lately for saying they aren't feminists, it felt really good. When Jay Z's "Big Pimpin'" was performed soon after, Jay changed all the instances of "bitch" and "ho" to "ma." Though he did say "bitch" in other songs.
Joanna: I also saw a lot more of Beyoncé's butt than I was expecting to see. I remember thinking "Wow, I am really almost seeing Beyoncé's entire butt."
Jessica: It was a moment we could all get BEHIND.
Heben: The visual album had a truly outstanding amount of ass shots and I was happy to see this tour did too.
Heben: This is the second time I've seen Beyoncé in concert but I still found myself crying from just the overwhelming effect of seeing her perform. I'm a happy crier (highly recommend it!) so 5 minutes into the show I already found myself welling up with the sheer joy at her existence. I love seeing her perfect her craft. I love hearing all the songs that have helped me get through so much. I love singing these words with thousands of other people. The whole thing was an overwhelming and emotional experience for me. I'm just glad she didn't sing "I Was Here" at the end or I would've completely lost it. A brief personal story, if you will: when I was unemployed/nannying/hustling, I used to play "Diva" every morning and "I Was Here" at the end of every single day. Every. Single. Day. Beyoncé is the light, the truth, and the way, y'all. Now I play "Flawless" every morning #thecomeup. Also, my second favorite moment has to be all the incredible Blue Ivy footage we got at the end of the show. Every time Beyoncé lets us see Blue Ivy's face, an angel gets her wings.
Jess: I've always been a mild to moderate Beyoncé fan. Like, on the scale from 1 to Matt Bellassai, I was at about a 3. But this concert really changed me. I don't think I'm going to be setting up any fan Tumblrs anytime soon, but this show was the apotheosis of Beyoncé's expertly marketed virtues of control, precision, and sexual empowerment, all things she masters on her own but perfects as the majority part of America's coolest royal couple. Her show is her song; Jay Z just gets one verse in it.