“Ok ladies now let’s get in formation”. Beyoncé doesn’t waste any time. Her ‘Formation World Tour’ is nothing short of a call-to-arms and from the opening number she’s gathering her troops, her performance dominated by guttural vocals, militaristic choreography and a series of uniforms rather than costumes. The only comparison is Michael Jackson as she pauses to look out over her crowd of supporters, a single look enough to incite gasps and screams. There’s no denying she’s the biggest popstar on the planet.
In today’s post-Brexit political landscape, it’s refreshing to see a leader with such passion and fiery determination. The titles alone of the opening few tracks illustrate her relationship with her fans: Formation, Irreplaceable, Flawless, Run The World (Girls). At one point she even sits on a throne, such is her confidence to stand before her followers and stir a not-so-quiet revolution – a revolution for equality, her hair braided throughout to emphasise her blackness and much of the show a celebration of black culture alongside tribal outfits, traditional dance moves and even a tribal call in Grown Woman.
It’s the subtext of ‘Lemonade’, then, that’s the focus here. Her latest album, from which many of the songs are taken, may have followed the destruction and rebuilding of marriage, but its visuals told another story of race, politics, and female empowerment. On tour, this ‘visual album’ translates to a huge oversized screen that dominates the stage, rotating and presenting flashes of provocative imagery alongside spoken poetry with cinematic flare. It’s clear that Freedom is the climax of a show that reclaims black culture, performed in a pool of water as seen recently at the BET awards.
And on the theme of power, Beyoncé’s performance is mesmerising throughout, whether showing fierceness and strength through her dancing, snarling her way through the likes of Don’t Hurt Yourself, or gradually working her way through the key changes of Love On Top sung a capella with impeccable vocals.
It’s not all cold, hard aggression though. “The best revenge is your papers,” she sings at the end of Formation holding her hands up in a cash motion, yet whilst you can’t deny she must be swimming in the stuff, she remains humble. She smiles. She’s “so honoured and grateful” as she thanks her fans for their support. And she’s more than happy to show softness and fun, singing older songs like 1+1, Party, End of Time and throwbacks to her days with Destiny’s Child. All the sides of her character are revealed, with the centre of the set essentially the sex section as she sings Yoncé, Drunk In Love, Rocket and Partition. There’s even room for a Prince tribute as Purple Rain is played (and the heavens literally opened for the duration).
It’s not quite a flawless show. There are some dips: the Naughty Boy-penned Running fails to live up to the rest of the set; All Night sags a little; and the derivative Daddy Issues feels out of place. In general the most recent songs don’t quite have the same impact as her big hits without the accompanying film – ‘Lemonade’ is more of a conceptual statement than a series of catchy singles.
But then Beyoncé isn’t just here for a bit of a jolly sing-song. She’s here for change. She’s here to fight. She’s here to showcase her power. Some of her singles may be absent, but when she does sing the big hits she undoubtedly delivers. It all ends typically enough with an emotional performance of Halo, less a love ballad and more a song for a hopeful future.
More than that, Beyoncé transcends the typical pop concert. This tour is a clear statement to get in formation. Don’t be a Becky.