Beyonce and Jay-Z: Power over Art, status over substance
I haven't written for a while, but I feel compelled after my Friday night experience at the over-hyped OTR 2 gig at the London Stadium.
The scene could not be set fairer. My wife and I are deep in the grips of a project that has changed our lives from teachers, to fledgling entrepreneurs. The baby is being looked after by one of the willing grannies, the gig is on my home turf, the London Stadium. What could go wrong?
I deliberately did not read anything about this show, I wanted the surprise. I was excited, as my wife was, a life long Jay-Z fan.
On the train journey to town, I recollect about my experience at Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West, at their peak. It was magic.
An hour and a half of each artist, wrapped inside the new album, laced with the older tunes in which they collaborated.
OTR 2 was nothing like this.
Perhaps my expectations were too high.
The corporate email landed twenty- four hours prior,The show would begin at 7pm, doors at 10.30pm. No problem.
However as it drew closer to eight and no sign of any activity, anxiety grew amongst the Beehive and the perma-tanned over-caked masses grew agitated.
A few brief chats with the East London security crew informed us that the warm up act had bailed (a wise choice) and that the gig was delayed.
Well OK, I mused, we still have some time at the end to play with to extend the gig and marvel at the Carter's extensive, prolific set.
At 8.30pm, the large screen buzzed into life and we see one of many, many montages of Bey and Jay looking mightily sultry and sexy on the big screen. In fact, I saw so many beach scenes, I wondered at one point whether this show was sponsored by Sandals, but no, after a few more elongated moments, the Carters descended from the air, hand in hand and onto the stage.
They stood proud, staring at the crowd who screamed in adoration, while I stood and wondered, 'how will they fit their back catalogues in before the curfew?'
Jay-Z was wearing an all white suit and sported an afro. Beyonce looked like Beyonce; over-dressed and ready to have it. She began singing Justin Timberlake's part on Holy Grail and we were off.
When the beat kicked in Jay-Z hopped away from the clamorous hand of his wife and made a vague attempt to be the King of Rap we remember him as. However it was contrived from the off. This was not a Jay-Z show, nor really was it a Beyonce show. I am still not entirely sure what it was, but hey, we are here so lets try and get in the groove, I thought.
Holy Grail is not one of Jay's best songs, I think all of his avid followers would agree, but it was a start.
From then on it was a bitty, stop start affair. The lack of substance in the joint songs was propped up by seemingly, endless video of the two in various provocative poses. The point where I realised that this was a poorly thought out, money-grabbing, corporate affair was about fifteen minutes and the appearance of the Kanye West song Clique. This lasted about 35 seconds as Jay-Z did his verse, but as relations have since dwindled with the likes of Kanye, Big Sean et al who appear on the track, it sounded hollow, contrived and irritatingly short. As soon as it had started and you got into the track, it was over.
But the truth of this awfully thought out show, was that it was Beyonce's night. If you are a Beyonce fan and wanted a Beyonce gig, it might have been OK. It was dominated by her tracks, her theatrical idealogy and her desire to prove to the world, two things. 1) Her and her husband are super happy/cool/sexy - delete the inapplicable. 2) That the Carters are very powerful, probably the most powerful couple alive.
Well that is great for them, however at what cost?
Jay-Z looked awkward and a little embarrassed
all night. This was certainly a far cry from the smiling, bopping figure we saw at his 4:44 shows. His 'all black everything' was dropped for a pure white gucci suit and Jay-Z bounded around the stage like a rich man, just wanting the show to be over.
Technically there were seventeen songs each. However, of Jay-Z's tracks, two were Kanye songs, three were collabs and the rest were usually cut short to ensure we watched lots of pointless footage of the Carters on the big screen.
99 Problems and Nigg*s in Paris went down a treat, however the latter was again overly short, due to the fact this is a duet with only one half performing! Not to mention, it isn't a Jay-Z song really.
Lets have this right, we were watching a Beyonce show, not a joint event. The concert had no flow, was staccato entirely in its structure and the whole concept didn't work. In the two hours of it, yes 35 songs were played but these were not full songs, some clocked in under a minute.
It was an expensive show, sold on the premise of seeing two full artist sets, yet we got about 2/3 of Beyonce and 1/4 of Jay. Half an hour video and ninety minutes of irritating, stop-start covers of their original tracks.
I felt angry by the end and I am glad to see I am not the only one. The fact that Kanye West is quietly changing the face of music, the structure and concept of the album, producing a record a week and collaborating with Nas, Kid Cudi etc. while this corporate, money-grabbing shit show grabs the headlines, is frustrating.
But even without the protege regularly outshining the master, the Carter's should take a look at themselves and what has become of them. Yes they are powerful, but this show sells their fans short and is nothing but style over substance.