Beyoncé and Jay-Z launched their second On the Run trek on Wednesday in Wales, and much like their first OTR tour, the new show finds the pair toying with the truth and mythology that surrounds their relationship. But several aspects of the tour indicate that the playing field isn’t quite level this time around. In a post-Lemonade, post-Beychella world, Beyoncé is undoubtedly the show’s true star.
The last few years have seen Beyoncé reign supreme: Her musical dominance has surpassed her more business-focused husband, and he’s been the first to admit that he was to blame for the marital strife addressed on their respective he said–she said albums, Lemonade and 4:44. So when it comes to sharing the stage once more, especially in the wake of Beyoncé’s legendary Coachella set, Queen Bey has found multiple ways to reaffirm that she’s the one in charge.
1. The tour merch sends a tongue-in-cheek message.
Alongside the OTR II–branded shirts, hoodies and hats is a pretty vast amount of Lemonade and Beychella merchandise. Most notably is a shirt that says “fuckery” upside-down in Helvetica font. On the back is the etymology of the term, defining all the possible uses from “nonsense” to “an unfair or morally wrong action.” It’s a bold and unusually silly statement coming from a couple that keeps a publicly buttoned-up presentation of their relationship. It offers a lighter and playfully shady approach to the pain Beyoncé experienced and candidly sings about on Lemonade.
— On The Run II (@OTRIITour) June 6, 2018
2. An elevator delivers the couple to the stage.
Speaking of the couple’s public presentation, the world was rightfully shocked when footage leaked from a Met Gala afterparty at the Standard in 2014. The silent black-and-white clip taken from a security camera showed Solange Knowles kicking and punching her brother-in-law as Beyoncé calmly looked on. It was certainly the most unpolished public moment in the couple’s history, and as a testament to their artistry, they have both coyly and directly referenced the fight in their music. They yet again made reference to the moment when Solange came to her sister’s defense following his infidelity – as Jay-Z has confirmed in recent interviews and his lyrics from the song “Kill Jay Z” – by descending onto the stadium stage hand-in-hand via an elevator-like contraption.
3. Beychella was certainly not forgotten.
Sure, Beyoncé’s mammoth, career-affirming Coachella set was designed especially for the festival, but elements made their way into the OTR II tour as a subtle reminder of her historic performance. Most notably, she transferred some of the empowering feminist messages she delivered at Beychella to make a statement about relationship dynamics. “Ladies, are we smart? Are we strong? Have we had enough?” she asked the crowd before performing the self-reliance manifesto from her debut album, “Me, Myself & I.” The line figured into a memorably hilarious moment during her Coachella set where she instructed the male dancers to “make me laugh” before an extended chant of “suck on my balls.” Here, it became a mantra for those wronged by their partners.
4. An army of women is hard to beat.
Beyoncé’s onstage crew has always run deep, and OTR II was no different than the first installment or any other one of her sprawling, detail-oriented productions. Jay-Z’s live shows feel more stripped down in comparison to his wife’s crew of dancers, backing vocalists and, sometimes, even a marching band. So onstage, it’s Jay-Z versus the talented team of performers who flank Beyoncé, creating a sharp distinction between their solo moments and pulling the overall direction more to her way of doing things.
5. The storyline makes it all clear.
One item of merch offers a helpful storyline that is followed throughout the set list. The back of a sweatshirt that bears the word “HIGHER” on the front has a list of phrases: “The Queen,” “The Gangster,” “The Crew,” “The Hood,” “The Intimacy” and so on. It outlines their cinematic romance, from playful young love between two stars coming from different backgrounds and even different public images. From there, moments like “The Love” and “The Yearning” are interrupted by “The Fight,” “The Nightmare” and “The Confession.” It’s a timeline of their love, heartbreak and resurrection, and it’s a storyline played out and played up on stage for the world to see. As we’ve seen from their most recent albums, this story is one through her lens, forcing a husband to look at himself through his wife’s eyes as she wonders if he’s worth forgiving. Ultimately, the decision as to whether they can move forward was hers to make – yet another reason why OTR II isn’t quite a meeting of equals. and one they are clearly both thankful for.
— T̶B̶H̶U̶ (@THEBEYHIVEUNITE) June 6, 2018