The Week In Pop: At The On The Run Tour, Beyoncé Runs Circles Around Jay Z
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.
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!
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
— ESPYS 2014 (@ESPYS) July 17, 2014