Even without Taylor Swift’s Ticketmaster-melting Eras Tour nipping at her heels, it wouldn’t do for a star as compulsively ambitious as Beyoncé to merely protect her status as the greatest pop show on Earth. Not when her first solo headline tour since 2016 could instead push 21st-century live entertainment another lavish leap forward.
Titled after the Texan’s disco glitter bomb post-pandemic party album of the same name, Renaissance is a monster blockbuster concert experience on a different plane. Fifty-seven stadium dates globally, starting in Stockholm, are projected to gross as much as £1.9 billion (€2.1 billion) by the time the tour ends in New Orleans late September. Dripping with sci-fi disco decadence, sex, body positivity and feminine black pride, the near three-hour spectacular plays out in front, behind and, at times, inside a football-pitch-wide high-definition video screen designed to assault the senses at dizzying scale.
The BeyHive, as Beyoncé’s fans collectively style themselves, are buzzing pre-show as they flood into the venue from around the world for their first chance proper to see their queen live since 2018’s On the Run II co-headliner with Mr B, Jay-Z. Dressed head to toe in official tour merch, including a cap and hoodie both emblazoned with the word “THIQUE”, Mykwain Gainey has been to 20 Beyoncé shows over the past two decades and has spent nearly £2,000 to fly here from New York. “To see her transcend, and become what she has become, especially as a black woman, is exciting,” he enthuses.
Brazilian Yhes Bezerra wears a spangly cowboy hat like the one sported by Beyoncé in the tour poster, except theirs is homemade; sticking on the thousands of tiny mirror panels took nine hours. They were determined to come to the opening night to avoid social media spoilers about what to expect. “I want everything to be a surprise,” Bezerra smiles.
Beyoncé appears first in a video cut scene, laid out luxuriously across the giant screen semi-naked in dimensions big enough to be visible from space. And yet, once she emerges in the flesh – all sequins, shoulder pads and that megawatt smile, drinking in the crowd’s screams – she begins disarmingly with a slew of her rawest soul songs. By the second, Flaws and All, she already appears to be fighting back tears, whether of release or gratitude or both. It’s an opening that seems designed to strip away artifice, if only to provide some sharp contrast for the heavily technologically augmented spectacle about to follow.
Harking back to early house and techno and the ecstatic utopia of the dancefloor, a segment dedicated to the Renaissance album ensues with Beyoncé done up something akin to the Maschinenmensch in Metropolis. She grinds with a dozen backing dancers to the jittery reggaeton of her boss b**ch mission statement I’m That Girl, then dances with some actual robots (a pair of mechanical arms) during Cosy. Were all that not semi-hallucinogenic enough, Alien Superstar interpolates narcissistic anthem I’m Too Sexy by 90s dance-pop twosome Right Said Fred.
With many of the setlist’s whopping 36 songs abridged, the tempo is relentless. Blink and you’ll miss dancers popping out of the stage like champagne corks, or Beyoncé’s powerhouse band getting wheeled into occasional view on a tall stepped riser (shades of Beychella), such as during Chic-style feelgood funk workout Cuff It. “Y’all having a good time, Stockholm?” our host inquires, wiping an imperceptible bead of sweat from her brow. “Me too.”
Black Parade finds Beyoncé cruising the stage atop what looks like a kind of lunar rover. Somewhat comically, it exits up the gusset of a pair of massive splayed legs. Later she sings Plastic Off the Sofa stretched out in a clamshell. Come Crazy in Love, the show finally gets the enormous disco ball it seems to have long craved, dangled from the rafters for only a bit longer than the time it takes for the crew to get it up there and back down.
Bass-quaking, envelope-pushing black power anthem Formation is a powerful political statement in any setting. Performed in a kind of virtual cathedral, horny southern rap and gospel cocktail Church Girl (sample lyric: “drop it like a thottie, drop it like a thottie”) might just be intended to provoke. But by Beyoncé’s own standards, it’s hard not to read Renaissance as a show much lighter on overt socio-political messaging than it is sheer, unfettered, mildly chaotic indulgence. And who could blame her?
In a final, unsubtle, retro-futuristic fanfare, Bey summons Bianca Jagger’s iconic Studio 54 moment by gliding through the air on a glitter-encrusted white horse while Summer Renaissance – which samples Donna Summer’s I Feel Love – blares. The disco history references may or may not be landing with the mostly young BeyHive, but that’s not really the point. By rewiring dance music past in a sensory overload of truly stunning ambition and stamina, Beyoncé is writing some history of her own.
The Renaissance World Tour continues until September 27th, see https://tour.beyonce.com/ for dates