Beyonce & JAY Z - On The Run Tour - New Jersey

At what point does going on co-headlining tours with his visionary friends and lovers cease to benefit Jay Z? Throughout much of 2011 and 2012, Jay shared the stage with Kanye West on the Watch The Throne Tour, a road show that leaned more toward Yeezy’s avant-garde fixations than Jay’s “I’m a business, man” combination of New York hip-hop traditionalism and top 40 crossover acumen. The two legendary rappers took turns going back and forth, occasionally joining each other on stage for one of their massive collaborations and triumphantly capping off every night with several runs through “Niggas In Paris.” It was unquestionably dope, but as with Watch The Throne the album, the aesthetic skewed toward the kilt-friendly half of the partnership. The Throne show wasn’t an audacious performance art spectacle on par with the Yeezus tour, nor was it a standard arena production like the one Jay took on the road to promote The Blueprint 3. Still, whether rapping atop a giant video cube or shrouded in lasers, Jay seemed to be living in Kanye’s world, even as the two self-proclaimed deities matched each other hit for hit.

Fast-forward two years to last Friday at shiny new Metlife Stadium, where Jay Z and Beyoncé’s On The Run Tour began a two-night stand in the New York/New Jersey market. Like Watch The Throne, this was a co-headlining tour in which the performers took turns and occasionally collaborated. As with that tour, neither performer suffered from any shortage of classic material. And like the Throne tour, the entire production felt fittingly humongous. From the elaborately stylized videos to the breathtaking dance routines, the show’s look and feel was even grander and artier, rife with high fashion, religious iconography, and heavily affected state-of-the-art footage of gothic architecture. As Spin’s Puja Patel pointed out, it felt like Kanye himself had designed the whole thing. (Remember the 35-minute “Runaway” film? It was like that but with less bird costumes.) If the intention was for this to feel bigger than life, they absolutely achieved it, if only for about half the show.

Jay seemed a little out of his element on the Watch The Throne Tour, but here he felt like a complete afterthought. Whereas he’s first and foremost a rapper — one of the greatest ever, lest we forget during his “your breateses are my breakfast” era — Beyoncé is an all-around entertainer, one who exhibited stunning control of her formidable powers Friday. Piercing vocal runs, rapturous choreographed gyrations, and even shifts in facial expression were all expertly deployed with an assurance that bordered on inhuman. She herself was as much of a show as the sensory overload that surged around her. All that fanfare suits Beyoncé, especially in light of her recent album’s epic scope and pan-genre inclinations. Most of that fanfare fell away when Jay was on stage. For all his accomplishments in the world of industry, on stage he is a rapper, and pageantry doesn’t really suit him. So while Bey was often flanked by a small army of incredible dancers and accomplished musicians, Jay was up there by himself, seeming small in a way Jay Z rarely seems small.

Bey’s numbers new (“Flawless,” “Haunted”) and old (“Baby Boy,” “Single Ladies”) overflowed with life and seemed to encompass a half-century of pop music from rock ’n’ roll to witch house. Meanwhile, Jay’s hits seemed desperately genre-bound. His string of exquisite rap songs (“Dirt Off Your Shoulder”! “Jigga My Nigga”! “Big Pimpin”! “Fuckwitmeyouknowigotit”!) were somehow lesser in this context. He was also hindered by his own identity: True though it may be, Jay’s gangster-turned-business-magnate persona requires a cool, calculating pose that doesn’t allow him to throw himself into the music with the abandon that Bey brings to every song. As such, his parts of the show felt like a sideshow act that emerged to entertain while the star of the show was resting up and changing costume.

These co-headlining arrangements present some obvious advantages for Jay. He gets to rest between songs; that could feasibly take some musicians out of the zone, but it probably feels like a welcome respite for a 44-year-old man. His tours are already bound to be a big deal, but paired with one of his fellow superstars in these pop-music Avengers scenarios he’s guaranteed to be involved in the biggest thing going. In this case, he gets to be on tour with his wife and, presumably, their daughter. Plus, co-headlining allows him to essentially eliminate filler from his setlist, though his catalog includes so many great singles that even a standard headlining setlist could arguably be filler-free. (On that note, I thought Jay and Kanye agreed to never perform the Watch The Throne material unless the other was present, so why is Jay doing “No Church In The Wild” and “Niggas In Paris” on this tour? And how did “Song Cry” make the cut?) So yeah, lots of upside for Jay. On the other hand, he’s one of the most famous, accomplished, acclaimed, influential musicians of his generation; is it really wise for him to put himself in a situation that amplifies his limitations and frames him as anything but a Big Fucking Deal? Does he really want to be Dwyane Wade?

I have a hard time believing this, but maybe Jay Z is perfectly content to be Dwyane Wade. Maybe he isn’t bothered that Beyoncé’s tour de force makes him and his storied discography seem puny. Maybe he’s happy to rake in the money and have fun traipsing the globe with his lady while she sings genius pop anthems about how much she loves making love to him. If so, good for him! I know I’d take any opportunity to see Beyoncé’s blockbuster production, too.

CHART WATCH

Iggy Azalea has been dethroned — and if you thought you hated Iggy, just wait till you hear what beat her. The seven-week reign of Azalea and Charli XCX’s “Fancy” is over thanks to MAGIC!’s “Rude,” the annoyingly infectious Canadian reggae-pop hit. Billboard wonders aloud, “Maybe this will finally impress the father in the song?” This suuuuuuuuuuuucks (a) because “Rude” is straight-up McDonald’s music and (b) because Ariana Grande and Azalea’s “Problem” is so good and deserved a moment on top this summer. “Rude” hitting #1 is only slightly more palatable than the last time a Canadian band has topped the American singles chart: Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” in December 2001. One other intriguing stat from Billboard’s report: Only two of the approximately 26,000 songs to ever chart on the Hot 100 have included the word “rude” in the title, and both went to #1. The other was Rihanna’s great “Rude Boy” in 2010.

The rise of “Rude” bumps “Fancy” to #2, followed by “Problem,” Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong,” Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me,” and Jason Derulo & Snoop Dogg’s “Wiggle” holding strong at #3, #4, #5, and #6 respectively. John Legend’s “All Of Me” is back up to #7, followed by Maroon 5′s “Maps” at #8 and Calvin Harris’ “Summer” at #9. Exciting news at #10: Disclosure & Sam Smith’s “Latch” has finally cracked the American top 10, two years after its release. This gives Disclosure their first American top 10 hit and gives Smith two top 10 hits simultaneously. “Latch” was my favorite song last year (at least on days when “The Wire” or “Bugatti” wasn’t my favorite song), so I am pretty stoked about this.

’Twas a pitiful week over on the album chart — so pitiful that Sia managed to debut at #1 by selling just 52,000 copies of 1000 Forms Of Fear. Billboard notes that this isn’t the lowest ever sales total for a #1 album, but it is the lowest since Zac Brown Band’s Uncaged topped the chart with 48,000 two years ago. Rounding out the top 5 are the Frozen soundtrack (#2, 46,000) which, delightfully, refuses to die, followed by Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour (#3, 42,000), Ed Sheeran’s x (#4, 35,000), and last week’s #1, Trey Songz’s Trigga (#5, 34,000). (Notably, last week Songz also topped the first installment of Billboard’s new Artist 100, which tracks an artist’s performance across all charts, largely thanks to Trigga’s #1 debut.)

The low sales week also helped Judas Priest score their highest ever debut. They enter at #6 with 33,000 for Redeemer Of Souls. It also means Now 50 climbs all the way up to #7 with just 22,000 in sales. Dirty Heads debut at #8 with 21,000 for Sound Of Change, buoyed by alternative radio hit “My Sweet Summer.” Two former chart-toppers, Miranda Lambert’s Platinum and Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, close out the top 10 with 20,000 and 18,000 respectively. Pretty morbid stats!

TRACK CITY

Iggy Azalea – “Black Widow” (Feat. Rita Ora)
At this rate I’m wondering if Iggy is ever going to carry a hit song all by herself. Here again she’s assisted by a fellow pop up-and-comer, in this case UK sensation Rita Ora. Give Azalea credit for covering her bases, at least; Ora’s big-budget chorus is about as far from the minimal ratchet sound of “Fancy” and the sassy-brass throwback action of “Problem” as it gets. If “Black Widow” becomes a hit on par with those songs she’ll have conquered the charts with three distinct sounds. This song isn’t nearly as memorable as those, though; if it succeeds, it will only be because it’s riding momentum from Azalea’s previous smashes.

Florida Georgia Line – “Dirt”
Two singles from 2012′s Here’s To The Good Times, “Cruise” and “This Is How We Roll” made bro-country duo Florida Georgia Line inescapable on country radio to this day. “Dirt,” the lead single from their follow-up album, forgoes the Deep South party vibe that has served them so well in favor of a power ballad about mortality. It probably won’t bury them, but it’s not a good look for them either. Bring back the brainless fun!

Estelle – “Conqueror”
This inspirational power ballad from the British pop singer that brought us “American Boy” has everything: an orchestra, electronic bleeps and bloops, and a crushing arena-rock chorus. It certainly affirms its own message about overcoming every obstacle in sight.

Austin Mahone – “Say My Name”
Austin Mahone signed to Cash Money last summer, which I completely forgot about, but this song serves as a reminder. “Say My Name” is not a Destiny’s Child cover, but it does sound almost like a Drake song, and not just because Drake interpolated Destiny Child’s “Say My Name” for “Girls Love Beyoncé.” Well, OK, Mahone’s track sounds slightly more like traditional R&B than it sounds like a Drake song — think Usher, Trey Songz, or Ginuwine, whose “Differences” this song interpolates — but that’s still a surprising direction considering I had basically written this dude off as a less interesting Bieber.

Sigma – “Changing” (Feat. Paloma Faith)
This post-”B.O.B” soul/pop/DnB hybrid sound is a lot better fit for Paloma Faith than Pharrell’s possibly-Franz-Ferdinand-biting retro production on “Can’t Rely On You.” I’ll take her in dance diva mode and out of the Joss Stone zone any day.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Ariana Grande’s Nickelodeon series Sam & Cat was already on a production hiatus as of April with rumors of behind-the-scenes drama, but now it’s officially canceled. (Here’s where we all make a joke about how Grande will have one less problem without that show mucking up her music career.) [The Hollywood Reporter]
  • Pharrell will curate the soundtrack for the NBA 2K15 video game. [Billboard]
  • The next Major Lazer album might feature Diplo’s ex-girlfriend Katy Perry, who hit the studio with the group earlier this year. [Idolator]
  • Linda Perry had unkind words about Beyoncé’s “songwriting.” [Vulture]
  • Blink-182 are working on a new album. [Instagram]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

Comments (35)
  1. I’m still confused as to why you didn’t even bother nominating Rude for your “Song of the Summer” Poll, especially when you clearly stated that it had nothing to do with a song’s actual quality.

  2. Is the album sales chart even a good metric to measure pop success anymore? Most people just don’t buy albums at all these days. I don’t think it’s fair to complain that album sales stats are so bad, and compare them to a time before the Internet, when people are consuming so much music through streaming platforms. Those album sales will mostly continue to plummet, and sales will be almost entirely be made of people who want a collectible or vinyl version. Lower album sales aren’t necessarily a sign that something is going wrong.

  3. I stopped reading the Chart Watch part after “Canadian reggae-pop” because I’ve run the numbers and there is mathematically no possible way that could be good.

    • Ummmmm….,,,perhaps you’ve already forgotten the modern masterpiece Informer by Canuck mastermind Snow?

      I expect more from you.

  4. The problem with “Problem” is that all of the action is in the verses and then you get the sort of flat, chanted chorus… it needed a bigger hook if it was going to go to #1.

    As to the new Iggy Azalea… YAWN. As a rapper, she bring so little to the table. And Rita Ora is just the dullest excuse for a pop starlet since, who even knows? I was going to say Fergie, but frankly I think that’s unfair to Fergie. And I hate fucking Fergie!

    • Personally, I think the song would be vastly improved if the creepy dude whispering “one less problem without ya” into your ear was completely dropped from the mix.

    • jloo  |   Posted on Jul 20th +1

      That’s my biggest problem with Iggy tbh. I mean “Problem” and “Fancy” are catchy as HELL but in the case of “Problem” that’s like 99% Ariana Grande and in the case of “Fancy” it’s at least 75% Charli XCX. I don’t actually dislike “Black Widow” per se but it’s troubling (for Ms. Azalea anyway) that despite her chart dominance she has yet to float a song by herself.

      For me it’s just like: Gwen Stefani called, she wants her everything back.

  5. kuz  |   Posted on Jul 17th +2

    I’ve been to a Jay-Z concert before and he’s a great showman. Very charming performer with a great sense of humor. It’s just that Beyonce is such a beast of a performer that you don’t stand much of a chance of upstaging her.

  6. you know I was just starting to get into “Fancy” (more because of Charlie XCX tbh) but this new Iggy song is really forgettable and plain

  7. 1. Oh yeah, when Zac Brown Band’s Uncaged hit the #2 Billboard album spot exactly two years ago with such a small number of sales, it beat one of the greatest achievements in contemporary music (#2): Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE. More like a BLACK day.

    2. Estelle’s new track sounds a lot like Bey’s “Pretty Hurts”.

  8. Jay Z ALWAYS does ‘Song Cry’. Been doing it at seemingly every show for a very long time.

    Yes, he can easily fill a 90 minute set with no filler. He already does shortened versions and medleys of some songs.

    No, I don’t think he cares one little bit how it makes him look to go out on the road with bigger than life personalities like Kanye and Beyonce. He’s Jay Z, he’s a bad mother fucker, and nobody can ever take that away from him. That confidence has always been part of what makes him so dope. He had swagger before it was swag.

    • Right. Jay has never been the loudest dude in the room. That’s not his approach.

      No matter how big Kanye’s personality is, it doesn’t change that Jay rhymes circles around him on every single Watch the Throne track. And as far as Beyonce is concerned, she’s a pop star… I don’t think Jay even thinks they’re in the art form.

      And this image of an exhausted 44-year-old man who needs to slouch in his armchair to catch his breath between 3-minute rap songs is just a little bit insulting, don’t you think? I get that you’re pushing an angle here, but come on now. I don’t see you writing that kind of thing about David Byrne.

  9. Mahone shutting ish down.

  10. Song Cry is one of my favorite Jay songs.

  11. Clearly, the correct career move for Florida Georgia Line would be a concept album called “The Next Day” (David Bowie homage? No. Coincidence? Yes. Because realistically Florida Georgia Line would have no knowledge of Bowie outside of “China Girl”). “The Next Day” would document the aftermath of the epic party scenarios they have so ably described in past hits. That flatbed Ford with a lift kit? Impounded. Third DUI. The hot number in the cutoff jeans? You gave her Chlamydia. She’s understandably upset. And possibly pregnant. How are you getting that abortion money? After all, you lost your job after coming in obviously drunk on several occasions after a few epic all-nighters. “Why bother trying to catch a couple of hours of sleep and going in hungover,” you said, thinking you could drink two or three bottles of Five Hour Energy and be able to power through. Wrong. You smelled like stale Bud Light Lime and Swisher Sweets and someone had surreptitiously scrawled “DICKHOLE” on the back of your v-neck t-shirt with a Sharpie. God damn. Do you go to rehab? “I don’t have a problem, I just like to blow off some steam every once in a while,” you keep telling yourself. But then Marc posts a picture on Facebook where you’re smoking meth in the back corner of Chip’s house and you don’t even remember going to Chip’s house. Fuck. If your ex-wife takes a screenshot of that she’ll probably present it as evidence and the court will award her full custody of Zoe. Shit’s getting serious.

    But yeah, bring Nelly back in for a track or two, obviously.

  12. I find it humorous that DeVille is trashing Magic! so hard. Yes, the song sucks, but so does most of the stuff covered in this column. It is what it is. Lavishing copious amounts of praise on Ariana Grande, Sia, and Paramore while trashing Magic! doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Seems like it is a veeeeery thin line between pop that’s genius and pop that’s McDonalds music.

    • I’m lovin’ you right now. That’s exactly how I feel. When I start hearing about the “genius” of people like Rihanna. I feel like Mugatu in Zoolander “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”. American pop is the equivalent of cotton candy. It’s utter garbage and that’s ok. I like cotton candy on occassion. But I don’t sit around talking about the subtle nuances of cotton candy like I’m eating foie gras. It’s f’ing cottong candy. It’s sugary and disgusting. But in small doses can be quite pleasurable.

      Stereogum seems to be eating too much cotton candy lately. Oddly enough, it’s making ME sick to my stomach.

      • I never understand why the only two positions anyone ever takes on pop music are: (1) it’s all sugary trash, acceptable only for idiots or children except as an occasional diversion, or (2) the “poptimist” view that pop music is the beating pulse of our culture and must be treated with deep reverence and interest.

        Pop music is not a monolith. They’re just songs — some are great, some are awful, some are timeless, some are forgettable. When people take a broad position one way or the other on “pop music”, I don’t see it as a cotton candy/foie gras conversation — it’s more like trying to have an argument about the merits of food *in general*.

        • I’ve heard that argument before. And to be perfectly honest it doesn’t hold water with me. Most “pop” that creates a stir on the charts in America is the musical equivalent of cotton candy. There’s an invasive vibe to all of it. A sense that the piece in question has been poked, prodded, and tweaked by corporate lackey types until it’s ready for the masses to digest. It’s lowest common denominator stuff. To my ears the last Pains of Being Pure at Heart album “Belong” was about as perfect as pop music can be. Scratch that….the first Cults album is pop PERFECTION. But that only becomes popular amongst indie types. Why is that? Cuz when folks I work with come into my office and here Cults playing they always love it and want to know what it is. Why doesn’t this kind of pop make it on the mainstream Billboard charts like that insipid crap Arianda Grande and her ilk are puking out? It’s because Cults took a crapload of older musical ideas and culled them together to make something strangely new and yet altogether familiar. Grande, and “artists” like her, do nothing of the sort. They are straight up trying to do what’s been done a million times before and put the tail on that donkey. And sell assloads of units.

          And that’s the difference between a fire and a firefly.

          • Surely there’s a difference between something like Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” and Jason Derulo/Snoop Dogg “Wiggle”, though, right? Both were certainly “tweaked by corporate lackeys.” Both are a product of the pop music industrial complex, but that Beyonce song is undeniably fucking brilliant and “Wiggle” is undeniably shitty. Maybe “Drunk in Love” is cotton candy, but it’s cotton candy that’s been deconstructed by a 5 star molecular gastronomy chef and turned into something that hardly resembles cotton candy in the end. Most pop you hear on the radio isn’t my favorite music by a long stretch (although “Latch” made my year end mix 2 years ago) but to pretend that it’s all created equal (equally shitty) is dismissive and myopic.

          • The majority of everything in every genre and every art form is bad. Most black metal bands are also doing what’s been done a million times before and pinning the tail on that donkey.

            The key difference is that black metal isn’t being played on the radio, so people in general are less apt to be annoyed by the fact that most of it is garbage. I find the best solution to this is to never, ever listen to the radio. It’s mostly advertisements for insurance, anyway.

          • @cheap_suit, to be fair, I think you’re mischaracterizing bloc’s argument a bit. I think he was implying that most pop artists and their production teams are trying to “pin the tail on the donkey” by manufacturing something that appeals to the broadest possible audience rather than creating something that is an expression of their humanity. I agree that most music in every genre sucks, but those black metal musicians you speak of are different from the pop music industrial complex in that at least they’re TRYING to create art, even if they end up with something that’s derivative and lame.

            My point is this: the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can try to create an intensely personal expression of art and end up failing miserably, and you can also try to create manufactured pop but end up with something that’s also brilliant and artistic. It’s possible for something to be both “pop music” and “artistic” just like it’s possible for something to be “artistic” and “shitty”.

        • Let’s get more specific: why does Magic!’s “Rude” suck, and Ariana Grande’s “Problem” rock?

          They are both catchy and vapid. I listened to them both a couple times before I thought, “I don’t ever need to hear this again.” Yet, “Rude” isn’t considered song of the summer either by critics or Stereogum readers, and “Problem” is getting hosannas from everywhere. Can someone break down the difference between the two?

          “Problem” has the additional burden of a dumb not-even-sung chorus and a cheesy Iggy Azalea rap. Yes, the chord progression in the verses is catchy like Owen Pallett said, but that’s it? Is that what everyone is going gaga over?

          Seriously, throw me a bone here.

          • Ariana Grande is a gifted singer and that song is finally one that does her voice justice, even if the song is throwaway bubblegum pop, and seeing how most pop music these days is hugely EDM influenced, it is kind of refreshing. “Rude” on the other hand is just… well, I’m hugely biased against generic “reggae” pop, so maybe I’m not the best person to answer this… but to me it just feels sort of tasteless and stupid in many ways, not incredibly fun albeit probably ultimately dispensable.

          • Stephen — the majority of black metal bands aren’t trying to appeal to the “broadest possible audience” but they are trying to appeal to THEIR audience. Black metal is a market with very specific expectations and artists are under a lot of pressure to meet them. In fact, I’d say black metal is a more restrictive, conservative marketplace than pop music by a mile. At least pop music sounds different than it did 20 years ago.

            Anyway, I think we’re maybe getting lost going down chutes and ladders here. I’m just saying that pop music can be as transcendent and wonderful as any other genre. If enormous (and weird) pop hits like “Somebody That I Used To Know”, “Single Ladies”, and “Hey Ya” are “pinning the tail on the donkey” then I’m on board. I didn’t mind suffering through a few hundred shitty, forgettable tunes to get to those, particularly since I’ve already forgotten them all.

            I think pop music is at its worst when it strives for “legitimacy”. Personally, I find serious dudes like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran completely fucking insufferable. Give me the unabashed goofiness of Katy Perry over those clowns any day of the week. Diff’rent strokes, I guess.

  13. Stephen Fish……thanks for the clarification. And you are pretty close to spot on. I guess it comes down to intentions for me. I absolutely can’t stand it when I know I’m watching, listening, etc to a piece of art that’s supposed to be a personal expression and I know I’m being funneled into a corral like sheep. Those black metal cats really believe in what they are doing. I find 95% of it to be derivative garbage but at least they are TRYING.

    When I look at the Billboard 100 (as I did this morning) it’s almost all absolute rubbish. Of course there are monster great pop songs. I’m not so aloof that i’m above it. But they are so few and far between as to almost be not worth mentioning. And here’s my most damning statement. The reason so few pop songs are actually really good is because the average American has very base artistic leanings. This is why rubbish like The Big Bang Theory is a runaway hit and Arrested Development was cancelled after 2 1/2 seasons. So things that challenge them in any way are not going to get it. And the svengali’s of the pop world know it and don’t let much of the good stuff past their “shit filter”. So when somebody like Lourde or Haim sneak through and click with the great American consciousness I’m always amazed.

    PS – your Drunk In Love theory above is awesome, hysterical, and spot on.

  14. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  15. Beyonce looks kind of silly in this outfit, no?

    • Matthew….you are taking a serious risk by badmouth THE ONE THAT SHALL NOT BE QUESTIONED.

      That being said…I completely concur. I think every single moment of her life is choreographed. It’s like her mother played “Vogue” to her 24-7 until she was 6 years old. NEVER STOP POISING.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2