Does a Beyonce/Jay-Z concert hold much appeal to you?

Even before I watched the couple’s HBO concert event, On The Run, I would’ve said “no.” It’s not that I’m not a fan; hell, I’ve bought (as in paid money for) every new studio album either one of them has released (except the first Destiny’s Child album.) Everything from Reasonable Doubt to Beyonce, including Best of Both Worlds 1 and 2, Jay-Z Unplugged AND that horrible Linkin Park mash-up record, and both versions of B’Day. Being a fan of an artist does not always equal “I’m gonna spend fifty bucks or more to see them perform live,” though. Even when I did encounter Jay on the concert stage, during the Watch The Throne tour it was as an afterthought, like “oh, I get to see Kanye…and Jay will be there too!”

I didn’t even intend to tune in to On The Run. I happened to be visiting a friend, we happened to be surfing through viewing options on a tired Sunday night. We saw the Bey/Jay concert, looked at one another, shrugged our shoulders and said, almost in unison: “Why not?”

We should’ve probably looked for something else to watch.

Before I get a little deeper into my disappointment, here are some facts: for nearly three hours, Mr. & Mrs. Carter performed a slew of their hits, encompassing nearly two decades of smashes. Sometimes they performed together, sometimes they performed separately. Jay occasionally served as Beyonce’s hype man. Bey belted out hooks on Jay-Z tunes originally sung by the likes of Justin Timberlake. The show is filled with hits.

What it’s not filled with is soul, or authenticity, or anything that makes me enjoy a live performance. The whole thing (filled as it was with camera tricks and silly vignettes co-starring the likes of Don Cheadle and Scandal‘s Guillermo Diaz) reeked of glitz, Hollywood spectacle and artifice. As I said to my friend mid-viewing “I bet you they’re playing Vegas in 10 years…make that 5.” If that’s what they want, good for them. I guess. I want more from my shows, though. And usually I want more from my music, as well. Particularly as pertains to Jay-Z. Overrated as he is, there’s an aura of intelligence mixed with menace and cool that’s pervasive in his best work. On the Paris stage this show was filmed at, Jay came across as completely soulless, corporate product…so far removed from “Hard Knock Life” or “Can’t Knock The Hustle” or “99 Problems” that he at times seemed a glittery bodysuit and an arsenal of dance steps away from being MC Hammer. Jay’s always wanted to be a “brand,” and during this show, he seemed like more of a brand (and less of an artist) than ever. As someone who considers Jay to be among the upper tier of emcees, this was highly disappointing.

Maybe he would’ve worn a glitter bodysuit if his wife hadn’t used them all up. Let’s state the obvious: Beyonce is a talented vocalist and a professionally sound entertainer, but there’s an robotic element to her stage presence that I find kind of disconcerting. It’s the same detachment present on many of her records, which are perfectly performed but have very little emotional heft. It’s like someone created a Create-A-Diva program and she popped out at the end of it. When she’s trying to be vulnerable, it comes off inauthentically. When she’s trying to be sexy, it comes off inauthentically. There’s not much interaction with the audience (although I guess that’s to be expected when you’re playing a ginormous arena) and while I try not to bring subtext into my musical enjoyment, it was hard to watch the diva writhe on a stripper’s pole and perform routines with 90% of her ass hanging out (seriously, she showed more of her tush than Janet did of her titty at the Super Bowl) as endless “Beyonce Is A Feminist Icon” think-pieces jogged laps in my brain.

Notice I haven’t said much about the actual music? Well, that’s because there isn’t a whole lot to say. Almost every song was truncated, most of the singing was to pre-recorded tracks, and even the night’s most “newsworthy” moment-a performance of the “Flawless” remix with an in-the-flesh Nicki Minaj whose lyrics served as nothing more than virtual confirmation that the whole elevator-skirmish-with-Solange thing was probably a publicity stunt reminiscent of the MJ/Lisa Marie smooch at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. For this, people are paying $75 or $100? Give ME the money, I’ll find a million better things to do with it.

Speaking of The King Of Pop, On The Run had more than a whiff of Michael Jackson’s glitzy telecast spectacles from the Dangerous and HIStory tours, only without three things that made even Michael’s most cringe-inducing moments watchable: killer material, dazzling showmanship and a flair for the profoundly strange¹. Plus, at some point, you could always count on Michael to hit a note or a dance move that shocked you into remembering that there was a flesh and blood person inside the glittery suit. For all the Stepford-ness that the Carters projected to Paris during On The Run, the show might as well have been performed by the hologram that simulated MJ earlier this year at the Billboard Music Awards. ²

¹-Also, you can’t beat MJ’s shows for pseudo-militaristic imagery and filmed fan hysteria. I didn’t see any footage of random European chicks passing out during On The Run.

²-Was that awkward? I couldn’t think of another way to end it.

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