Mad Beyoncé is the best Beyoncé. At least to me. Mad Beyoncé is the one that scoops up all of the other Beyoncés – the ballad belter, the dance phenom, the Destiny's Child, the daughter, wife, mom and capitalist – and forms them into a meaningful whole.
Mad Beyoncé is the artist, rather than the pop star. Previous incarnations were undoubtedly talented but overly sanitized for my taste, too unwilling to offend or let the bass line wobble. Mad Beyoncé is great because her messiness and vulnerability is on display, even if that mess is still pretty tightly controlled.
This is just my opinion, and it's not necessarily shared. Tens of thousands of greater Torontonians shelled out serious money for the Formation tour stop at the Rogers Centre last night, and many were obviously long-time fans. They had t-shirts from past concerts, and greeted each other with lyrics shouted in an anthemic style. They were buzzy Beyhive members well before a massive rotating cube of light spit their idol onto the stage, and they were there to party.
"If you know where you come from, say 'I slay,' " Beyoncé demanded, opening the show with the tour-naming hit. From that moment on, it was standing room only. She didn't make the crowd wait for songs from the new album, Lemonade, dropping Hold Up and Sorry right off the top – the reward was teen girls and grown men and even the security guards all imitating her moves.
While the video version of Lemonade touched on larger political themes, the show was all about the star. The darkness of the videos were echoed in the boudoir lighting and severe makeup, but seemed to reference only her (rumoured) heartbreak over Jay-Z's (rumoured) cheating: the Weeknd-y take on Crazy in Love was a killer reimagining. There were no sinking New Orleans police cars on the massive video screen, nor did Trayvon Martin's mom make an appearance. The young dancer from Formation was up there, briefly, but mostly the show was about Beyoncé and the audience.
The first set was about B and her legion of dancers (seriously, there were 20 women up there) pulling off their military-precise moves. After that, things got a little less mad for a bit: the gorgeous forgiveness ballad All Night was the signal that Beyoncé Scorned was taking a break.
The next bit was about movement therapy. There were lights and smoke and fireworks. Beyoncé changed leotards a few times. We, the audience, were encouraged to sing along to Flawless and Survivor, and to know that we were those things ourselves. That's cool, it was cathartic, and also fun. The only false note was Naughty Girl, when it was suggested that we turn and sing "to your man," when it should be very obvious that most of the run-the-world girls in the audience were there with their friends. If there was a man in the picture, he was probably at home babysitting.
There's a cliché about women's work versus men's, about Ginger Rogers doing everything that Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels. I thought about it as Beyoncé belted out what she called her favourite song of the night, 1+1, demanding perfection from her diaphragm while wearing a red latex bodysuit that was absolutely skin tight.
Going in, I half expected a local cameo on stage, maybe The Weeknd since he does sing on the album. But it was all women all night, not just the phalanx of dancers, but solos by the black female musicians on electric guitar and on drums. And that's as it should be at a Feminist Beyonce show – every other hour of every other day men get more than their share of airtime. Drake's Views is still outselling Lemonade, and that's just ridiculous. Not simply because Lemonade is a better album (it is, by far) but because Beyonce is far and away the full package in a way that no male artist has been for decades (related: the sea of phones swaying while Purple Rain played during a set change).
Which brings us to the show close, Freedom, which saw the return of Mad Beyoncé flanked by her formation of dancers, perfectly executing an exacting routine while singing with an open mic in a pond of water. It was about baptism, of course, about what it takes to feel fresh and hopeful and new. It was about being born again and again, knowing that you're powerless in the face of your own power.
Mad Beyoncé is magnificent because she knows that it's pointless to rein herself in. She's damned if she does and damned if she doesn't, so now that she owns the means of production, she may as well set everything on fire and be done with it.