Almost a year ago I was working the last day of my office job and feverishly listening to the newly dropped RENAISSANCE, (taking Beyoncé’s line “I just quit my job” perhaps a little too seriously.) Working this job had been a transformative time in my life, crowded with the good and bad that implies. I was closing this 10-month stint with a trip to the newly renovated Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to see Lady Gaga perform her London show in the long-delayed Chromatica Ball tour.
All these events are ostensibly disconnected from watching the Renaissance tour at that same stadium last week, but it unwittingly taps into the magnetic power of pop music. People carry their history, their baggage, their weighty preconceptions into the space with them and then, as the music swells, they are invited to drop everything and flock to the dancefloor. Pop music sceptics are keen to point out the genre’s lack of depth, but when it is done well this lack of depth is precisely the point. It invites listeners to be unmitigated and purely responsive, moving in tandem and taking up space. And surely there is no one better at doing pop well than Beyoncé.
Opening with a slew of ballads may feel counterintuitive for an album so laser focused on dance and partying, but the run of ‘Dangerously in Love’ to ‘1+1’ to ‘I Care’ at the beginning of the show draws the audience in. Beyoncé is effectively acting as her own support act. Following the death of the legendary Tina Turner, she has also included a stripped back version of ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ early on in the setlist, reminding us that RENAISSANCE is about embedding the listener in the long, hard-earned history of artists who have fought for their community, for the right to commune.
RENAISSANCE is somewhat defined by a bizarre promotional cycle—or lack thereof. Beyoncé is known for her reserve and unwillingness to succumb to the press rollout most singers are forced into, but her total silence in the wake of RENAISSANCE’s drop still felt unprecedented. Fortunately, the tour feels self-aware enough to offer carefully rendered visuals while still poking fun at fan’s unquenchable desire for more. “You’ve asked for the visuals,” a narrator declares over the unmistakable strum of ‘Formation’’s opening beat, “You’ve called for the queen. But a queen moves at her own pace, bitch!” Were it not for the words illuminated on the screen it would be difficult to hear this preamble over the screams echoing across the stadium.
The RENAISSANCE portion of the show plays out in album order, appeasing fans (such as myself,) who feel that the transition between songs is as integral to the structure of the music as the songs themselves. The show moves at an unrelenting pace, coiling around ‘BREAK MY SOUL’ which has never held any particular draw for me until this show. Beyoncé melds together Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ and her lone single, moving around the runway that encircles the audience, using every dip and twirl to guide the audience in these newly unfamiliar beats.
The show closes with a hilariously extravagant rendition of ‘SUMMER RENAISSANCE’ that features Beyoncé riding a mirrored horse across the dazzled audience while shouting “Happy Pride!” Joyous in its silliness while still being totally serious, the RENAISSANCE tour closed on a gloriously campy note. “Did Beyoncé just fly across the audience on a disco horse shouting “Happy Pride”?” my flatmate asked. “Yeah! I think so!” I answer dazed, sweaty, happy, not quite ready to navigate the tube home. Five days later and that is still how I would respond, equally as elated and basking in the RENAISSANCE glow.