There’s a certain breed of celebrities who are beloved for being “only human.” Often, fans adore charmingly sloppy, fast-and-loose approaches to stardom; goofy, YOLO/whoops-well-whatever spontaneity in the public eye. Jennifer Lawrence, for example. Rob Gronkowski. Ke$ha. Prince Harry.
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is not one of these celebrities.
Instead, Beyoncé stands as a human testament to the ability to achieve perfection, whose “BeyHive” of fans has come to revere her for her poise and benevolence as an individual, her virtually unmatched capabilities as a singer and her unflappable precision as a performer.
And Monday, on the first of two nights at a sold-out Verizon Center, the 31-year-old delivered a well-rehearsed, well-executed, all-cylinders-firing spectacular that pretty much lived up to everything fans could have expected.
The “Mrs. Carter Show World Tour” is that rare arena concert tour that doesn’t need an occasion. Beyoncé’s most recent album, “4,” has sold 1.4 million copies in the United States and spawned a parade of successful singles — “Countdown,” “Love on Top,” “Run the World (Girls)” — but was released more than two years ago. The “Mrs. Carter Show” instead rides on the strength of Beyoncé’s recent personal awesomeness and achievements — a cute baby with husband Jay Z, an HBO autobiographical documentary and the highest of high-profile performances, at President Obama’s second inauguration and this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.
Beyoncé’s famous showmanship was on display from the D.C. concert’s start. A video Beyoncé — who would show up in various incarnations throughout the show, often with inspirational voice-overs about empowerment and womanhood, while the real Beyoncé was changing outfits — set the tone with a lavish but eerie Gagaesque, royalty-deconstructed montage. Masked dancers wearing hoop-skirt cages led the procession onto the Verizon Center stage, where real Beyoncé spent her first 10 seconds standing perfectly still under the lights. Then, with a whiplash-deliberate shoulder shimmy, she kicked off the explosive “Run the World (Girls).”
She would go on to change costumes nine times — a black-sequined baseball cap and oversize vest for a Michael Jackson-inspired “Get Me Bodied” here, a tiny, animal-print romper for a step rendition of “Grown Woman” there. No matter the clothes, she delivered her trademark stomps, hair flips and aerobics-class squats and lunges, heroically performed (as always) in heels.
Beyoncé also made her presence felt with her Olympian vocals. With her backup singers, affectionately known as the Mamas, she put a swinging Vegas-lounge-act twist on the harmonies of “Party,” then engaged in an electrifying call-and-response during “Why Don’t You Love Me,” a woman-scorned lament in the ’60s soul tradition. Later, she wailed along in perfect unison with her guitarist’s stratospherically high solo riff.
And Mrs. Carter found a few moments to graciously engage with the crowd. Six times in a row during the opening notes of “Get Me Bodied,” she repeated “Say hey, Miz Carter,” grinning like a young teacher endearing herself to her students on the first day of school. At strategic points throughout the show, she handed the microphone to fans — to little girls, each for a few seconds at a time, and once to a man in a white undershirt who botched the vocal riff in “Crazy in Love” so spectacularly that the ’Hive went wild.
But even when a little off-the-cuff warmth could have been nice, Beyoncé barreled on, insistently, as rehearsed. L’Oreal-ad-ready poses were offered when her big, naturally radiant smile would have more than sufficed, and in her closing performance of “Halo,” a front-row fan handed her a small canvas painting. She thanked the fan, accepted the gift, then looked around uneasily — until she spotted a stage manager and handed off the fan’s work of art. Then, she unfroze and continued singing.
Once she’d finished, Beyoncé stood still under the lights, hair blowing lightly in the perfectly angled, electric-fan-generated breeze. With her chin tilted upward, eyebrows up, ready for the close-up, she’d turned in a performance that was, for better or for worse, picture-perfect.
Fetters is a freelance writer.