Wish U Were Here is a feature in which a correspondent sends us an email postcard from somewhere in the world, answering Who? What? When? Where? How? And Why? In this edition, 032c’s BIANCA HEUSER visits BEYONCÉ’s Formation World Tour at Milan’s San Siro Stadium.
After her legendary performance at the 2014 VMAs, Beyoncé’s husband Jay-Z stated the obvious when called her the greatest living entertainer. It is a fact only cemented further by the 32-year old’s Formation World Tour. Nothing short of a rapture, Beyoncé’s two hour long show exceeded even the highest of expectations. During her performance of “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” the monolithic screen on stage read “God Is God, I Am Not.” The fact that this need be clarified speaks volumes on who we gathered to witness here today.
This show has everything from jaw dropping visuals projected on aforementioned screen backdrop which turns and opens up to reveal dancers performing on ropes way high up in the air, to fireworks, flamethrowers, confetti rain – all synchronized to more than 40 of Beyoncé’s greatest hits.
In a time that sees the Western world embraced by the clammy tentacles of fascism on the rise, Beyoncé is a glaringly bright light at the end of a very, very long, very, very dark tunnel. If you do not think of her work as political, you must not have been paying attention. From Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women” over “Me, Myself and I” right up to “Formation,” it is of extraordinary consistency: Beyoncé, for lack of a better word, empowers girls and women all across the globe to do and demand better for themselves. It is her thing. Representation sure as hell does not equal safety, but having the most powerful pop star in the world be a Black woman who continuously addresses race and gender issues in her music is a powerful, positive force.
On her latest album, Beyoncé talks social inequality more explicitly than ever – because now that her reach is wider than ever, she can utilize it most effectively for these causes. Lemonade impressively shows that the personal and political are one and the same, most palpably so for those marginalized by the patriarchy and white supremacy. Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley wrote about the album in Time Magazine: “Beyoncé’s expression of the goddess-like wrath of a black woman betrayed is not about her—Lemonade is art, not autobiography, and continues the protest tradition of women blues artists. In black women’s music, trifling men have long been metonyms for a patriarchy that never affords black women the love and life they deserve.”
The futurist architecture of Milan’s vast San Siro stadium made a beautiful backdrop for what must be one of the most significant cultural events of our lifetime. The main stage led off to a runway that reached far into the stadium’s field. This had an amazingly democratizing effect on the experience: pretty much any spot was a great spot to view the show from. The mostly female and gay male audience helped make every push towards the Houston-born musician and her dancers feel more like a communal yearning and less like individualistic aggression.
My favorite of Beyoncé’s countless commendable attributes is that whatever the subject she tackles, she approaches it from a place of love. She is singularly constructive. Even in anger, her concern lies with retribution only briefly before she moves on to in-depth analysis in order to overcome it and grow. Lemonade as a whole is a manifestation of this process. The grown woman taking the stage this time around is Beyoncé who has felt grief and learned forgiveness, and is here to help us process our own pain.
Before “Halo” closes each of the Formation World Tour‘s concerts, “Freedom” and “Survivor” become Beyoncé’s final call for her audience to unify – get in formation – and support one another. “If you have survived racism, if you have survived sexism” Beyoncé says, “I want you to sing this with me.” We are all in this together. It is an almost spiritual moment, brilliantly mirrored by her simultaneous walking on water. Remember when she said she was not God? That does not stop her from baptizing the first few audience rows with water splashing from hers and her dancers’ feet.
Beyoncé helps me love myself, and I know I am not the only one to feel that way. Her concept of perfection includes flaws, and is thus profoundly human. Weaknesses and vulnerabilities carry within them an immense potential for growth, strength and, importantly, play. This is powerful knowledge, and integral to her practice. But don’t take my word for it – if she is still coming to a city near you, treat yourself to a beycation.