June 7, 2016, was kind to me. I was unexpectedly awarded a floor seat to Beyoncé’s Formation Tour at New York City’s Citi Field stadium. As I took my place just eight rows back from where Queen Bey would grace upwards of 40,000 people with her presence, I basked in the fact that – only five Beyoncé concerts later – this would be the closest experience I’d have yet. When the gigantic, white, cube-like figure parted to reveal Beyoncé’s “Formation” opening, my enthusiasm reached peak Black girl and I promptly began to curse Mrs. Carter out: “Go off, b***h!” “Yaaass, do that s**t!” “Slay that f***in’ stage!” In short, I was pleased.
Clad in her wide-brimmed hat and striking as ever, Beyoncé began a journey that would take viewers through images of Black power, sexual desire and womanhood. There were mash-ups of her Lemonade tracks with older favorites (I need “Sorry/Kitty Kat” and “Baby Boy/Hold Up” on wax immediately). Her signature, well-produced tour videos left scenes to be deciphered (A bare Beyoncé covering her breasts with a flower in her mouth, an enraged Beyoncé smashing fissures into a glass box, an entrapped Beyoncé being muzzled by a diamond mask, a veiled Beyoncé licking her gold-plated fronts). Her wardrobe boasted a plethora of bodysuits: black, white, gold and latex, oh my!
But something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on it. She seemed less energized, and she even missed a step. Was she sick? Was she fatigued? The question would run through my mind for the better part of the next day as I prepared to attend her second show at Citi Field. Yes, I went to both shows – judge me. And on the second night, I had to check myself. Who was I to ponder over Beyoncé being less than perfect, or dare I say, human?
June 8, 2016, was a lot less amicable. Yes, my access was dialed back to a set of shiny risers, but that was not the source of my misfortune; Mother Nature’s executive decision to give the city a wave of fall-like temperatures was my nemesis that evening. As I waited to get in formation for a second time, I shivered to DJ Khaled’s impressive Rolodex: French Montana’s “All the Way Up,” Fabolous’s “Breathe,” The LOX’s “All About the Benjamins,” Ty Dolla $ign’s “Blase,” Tinashe’s “2 On” and Swizz Beatz’s medley of Ruff Ryders hits. I wanted so desperately to give all I had to my twerking session, but my sweater did not permit. It was too damn cold. My teeth were chattering as I prided myself on my last-minute decision to buy a pair of jeans and change out of my shorts in the stadium bathroom. It was an act of survival, really.
And once again, Beyoncé in all her wide-brimmed hat glory strutted onto the stage. This time, I paid closer attention to cardio necessary for the African dance vibes for her sans-Drake rendition of “Mine.” I listened more closely to the fervor in her vocals for “Me, Myself and I.” I marveled at her backup singers, The Mamas, and worshipped at the throne of her guitarist Lauren Taneil. I considered the hours of work, preparation and thought that went into those videos. I chilled when she roared out Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones.” I remembered that she was wearing heels. I looked around at the packed stadium singing along to every word of her hits and deep cuts. I noticed the nods to the stage gods before her: Janet Jackson, James Brown and Michael Jackson. I watched her give me all she had before kicking up puddles of water in the night’s freezing temperatures. Who the f**k do I think I is?
She made a note that we’d first been introduced to her nearly 19 years ago, and my brain immediately began to try to make sense of the math. Had she really been around that long? Damn. As legends continue to be whisked away, I took a moment to appreciate that one was right before my eyes. That no one in our current musical landscape is laying it all down like Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter. That no one is delivering in the same way or pushing the envelope as far. That there is no one comparable.
Her husband was right: she is our generation’s “greatest living entertainer.” Don’t ever play yourself.
(Photo: Larry Busacca/PW/WireImage For Parkwood Entertainment)