In a rare moment of calm amid much dazzling fury, Beyonce offered gratitude.
“Thank you for your loyalty over the years,” she said, eliciting appreciative screams from the nearly full AT&T Stadium. “Thank you for allowing me to grow.”
The Houston native, about 10 days into her Formation World Tour, was pausing before singing Me, Myself and I, from her 2003 solo debut Dangerously in Love.
Then, as now — six albums and a lifetime later — Beyonce was articulating her struggles: “It took me some time/But now I am strong.”
The line between that sentiment and the ferocious “I’m-a keep running ‘cause a winner don’t quit on themselves,” found on the phenomenal anthem Freedom, from Beyonce’s latest album, is bright and clear.
Said album, Lemonade, is a powerful tour de force, and a record rich with subtext. The songs consider the perspective of a wife, mother, black woman, daughter; Beyonce’s existence viewed through a prism — which means they don’t quite fit snugly alongside more innocent fare like Countdown or even Diva.
Plunging into the pain and complexity of marriage, and emerging with deeply compelling songs, makes singing along with something like Destiny’s Child hit Survivor feel a little hollow.
The songs of Lemonade feel so much more authentic to where Beyonce is now that it becomes tough to reconcile them with where she’s been. (Still, Beyonce gladly lets the audience share in the catharsis: One mildly profane lyric in the reggae-tinged Hold Up was belted with gusto in the microphone by someone near the stage Monday, drawing an approving grin from the superstar.)
In the 13 years since exploding into pop’s stratosphere, Beyonce has refined her message — and suffered additional, often public bruises — to the point where even something as seemingly innocuous as a stadium pop spectacle packs a deceptive punch.
As the 34-year-old (who noted Monday she’d been “doing what she loved” for almost two decades — where does the time go?) has become a global pop culture force — “You know you that [expletive] when you cause all this conversation,” as she wryly puts it on Formation — she has also mastered the art of delivering high-wattage performance in a way that separates her from her contemporaries.
(Beyonce also knows when to tribute is due: One of Monday’s most moving moments came during a costume change, when Prince’s Purple Rain filled the stadium air, and the crowd, its cell phones filling the cavernous space with light, paid its respects with a full-throated sing-along. She also sang some of the late icon’s The Beautiful Ones.)
Try as any other modern pop act might, there really isn’t anyone else delivering what Beyonce can and does with such practiced ease.
The stage, anchored by an enormous, rotating, illuminated cube that seemed to almost scrape the underbelly of the EnormoTron above the AT&T Stadium field, packed pyro, confetti, aerialists, a small platoon of dancers and a live band (something of an afterthought tucked into the wings) onto its expanse.
The visual impact, particularly down on the floor, bordered on overwhelming, particularly when Beyonce began layering on special effects like rotating mirrors (during Partition), claustrophobic cabinets (during the beginning of Crazy in Love) or a water-filled runway (during the climactic Freedom).
In concert as in life, it is more or less useless to resist Beyonce — she will wear you down or win you over, one way or another.
Over more than two hours Monday, Beyonce gave the audience a glimpse at all sides of her personality — lover, fighter, wife, mother, activist, pop superstar and Texan — underscoring how she has persevered, gaining strength, and blossoming into one of pop music’s most formidable talents.