People react as if entrance to Beyoncé and Jay Z's On the Run tour comes by “luck.” “You’re so lucky” to be so close to our Lords and Saviors Beyoncé and Jay Z. Selfies and Snapchats are taken on the train on the way to MetLife Stadium. The audience cries out when her fragrance commercial plays on the big screens an hour before show time. It’s something to brag about on Facebook, to inspire jealousy on Instagram. I’m here; you’re not, have fun tapping my pictures.
While it feels special to gain entry, the show itself seems removed, like it’s happening somewhere else on a separate stage, produced by Hollywood men in front of Hollywood cameras. It’s almost as if the whole thing had been filmed and edited ahead of time.
The show is so excruciatingly perfect that it comes off…well, like, whatever. Beyoncé possesses a strength that is otherworldly, and Jay’s at least in orbit. There’s no room for error which can be boring. It’s like getting the exact birthday present you asked for, but still having to act surprised for three hours. Or getting caught with a carton of cigarettes, and being forced to smoke them all. The fog is perfect. The lights are perfect. Their marriage is perfect, TMZ video notwithstanding.
They play every song. He kisses her neck in “Drunk in Love,” she giggles just so. She recreates her videos, pulling out the dress from “Haunted,” the poles from “Naughty Girl,” and the not-just-a-butt from “Crazy in Love,” “Partition,” and “Upgrade U.” She’s trained her eyes not to blink, staring straight ahead as if the whole thing is a photo shoot. There are no breaks for her face, it’s always working. In the rarest moment–when she hits Bobby Shmurda’s Shmoney dance in “***Flawless,” when Jay shouts it out in “Fuckwitmeyouknowigotit”–is that scripted or is that a glitch in the system?
It’s amazing and it’s frustrating. They’re there but they’re not. So close yet so far. No one goes to concerts just to see what they’ve already seen and hear the songs they can hear on YouTube. They go to feel a connection and come home with something that’s their own. But this isn’t a normal concert; The connections felt at this concert might be with other fans in the stadium but it's not with Beyoncé and Jay Z. That’s why a group of twelve girls wearing matching Beygency shirts paraded around; same with the boys in gold masks and imitation freak-um dresses. They want to show their allegiance, and be acknowledged in some way for the effort. But that doesn't happen. $185 gets you into the same room as Bey and Jay, but it’s a big room and they’re still roped off. (Closer than most were Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Spike Lee, and members of the Giants and Yankees, who all joined together to take selfies and dance on the D’Usse-branded VIP riser.)
The most interesting moment happens near the end when a highlight reel of home movies rolls, finally showing bits and pieces of their private lives: Jay Z co-piloting a private jet, Beyoncé getting the IV tattoo on her finger, Blue growing up before our eyes, learning to walk, sashaying in front of the mirror. It shows that they’re–if not in the same universe–at least on the same planet. Their circle’s gotten so small, the walls so high, that it’s morsels like these that feed a village. They watch these clips from afar, with the rest of us, their hands around each others waists.
Are they acting? Is this love? At the beginning of the night, the screen lights up with the message, “This is not real life.” At the end, the word "not" has been taken out. Credits roll, thanking the pyro techs and back-up dancers. He says, "Please give it up for Mrs. Carter." She says the same of him. If it’s a performance, it’s incredible, and just the same if it isn’t.
Jeff Rosenthal is half of the New York-based band of brothers It's the Real. He's on Twitter - @itsthereal.