Over the weekend I got the chance to see the one and only Beyonce perform in Chicago. Oh and Jay-Z was there, too. But what started as a chance to tick an item off my bucket list turned into a full-blown gender theory extravaganza.
If you’ve been living under a Beyonce-less rock for the past several years, Bey and Jay have been through some shit. Despite their best efforts to be private, rumors about their relationship have swirled and they have confirmed such events as Jay-Z’s affair, Beyonce’s miscarriage, and an altercation between Jay and Beyonce’s sister, Solange.
All of this has been made all the more interesting by the fact that Beyonce and Jay-Z are known for portraying their personal lives through their music. Between Beyonce’s Lemonade album and Jay-Z’s 4:44, we’ve been given some facts about what’s happened between the couple, but the two have mostly just opened a Pandora’s box of questions – most notably “Who is Becky with the Good Hair?”
So, when the Soldier Field stadium concert turned personal (showing footage of the two with their children, renewing their vows, etc.) I wasn’t surprised. This tour seemed as good a time as any to show Beyonce and Jay-Z’s unity as a couple and to prove they’ve moved past their turbulent past. And hey, good for them! They’ve been married for 10 years and have three small children, I’m glad they’ve worked through their shit.
What bothered me is the super heteronormative way they showed the strength of their marriage: Beyonce playing the demure wifey while Jay portrayed the unavailable tough guy. Beyonce stayed on stage for some of Jay-Z’s songs to stand a little behind him and mouth the words, a couple of her songs consisted of her looking lovingly into Jay-Z’s eyes while he looked kind of annoyed, Jay-Z had several opportunities to perform full-length songs while Beyonce’s were often cut off and mashed up. In the video portion of the performance, Beyonce was chased in the headlights of an oncoming car while Jay-Z was punching guys in backroom bars.
Let me be clear: I have no qualms with Beyonce and Jay-Z being happy in their relationship and using this tour to show everyone “This is Real Love” – a message that was projected throughout the concert. That’s great! But it felt like they chose to portray their relationship as “real” by fitting into the recognizable roles of heteropatriarchy.
Not only is this reliance on patriarchal gender roles generally a bummer, it also runs counterintuitive to Beyonce’s feminist brand: Who Run the World (Girls), ***Flawless, and Formation have become anthems and mainstream touchstones of feminism. Even the moments of feminism she did inject into this tour felt half-hearted: they were short snippets of the songs instead of cacophonous dance numbers like we’ve seen in the past. She had fewer dancers, less choreography, and Jay-Z was noticeably absent from any song claiming feminist roots.
It definitely felt like Beyonce had to dull her shine and water down her message to fit into the role of the supportive wife and the happy mother. Now, I didn’t go to the original On the Run tour, so perhaps this gendered wedded bliss is a reference back to that, but even if it is, Beyonce has come into her own as a performer since 2014 and the tour should reflect that, right? Her famous Black Panther Super Bowl performance, her ethereal Grammy’s number, and Bey-chella have all happened in the last 4 years. Beyonce is obviously the superior performer, so it was strange to see her take a backseat, especially when Jay-Z isn’t particularly known for his show stopping stadium numbers.
All this to say: as much as I was awed by the talent of both Beyonce and Jay-Z, I was disappointed at the way these dynamic and unique performers fell into such predictable gendered roles. I had hoped after watching the Apeshit video that we would see a power couple on stage, two equals who know their strengths and aren’t afraid to let the other shine. But we got googly eyed Beyonce and macho grouch Jay-Z, instead. Maybe third times the charm?
For more of my thoughts on pop culture, check out: Is Slow Instagram becoming a thing?, my guesses as to who the next Bachelor will be, and 5 books you should add to your summer reading list.