Ever look across a crowded room and see a beautiful couple gazing into one another’s eyes as they chant the refrain of C-Murder’s “Down for My N’s” and think, “Wow, those two must really be in love”?
That was the vibe on Friday night at Maryland’s FedEx Field, where Beyoncé and Jay-Z were plowing through the hits — including a duet of C-Murder’s vintage New Orleans rap anthem, delivered with gusto, as if pop’s mightiest power couple were recycling a Louisiana blood oath into the coolest marriage vows of all time.
It almost felt voyeuristic. But when it comes to the dynamics of star-worship, the punk maestro Kim Gordon probably said it best: “People pay money to see others believe in themselves.” On Friday, a big crowd had paid big money to see if two superstars still believe in their marriage. Beyoncé had famously blasted her husband for his infidelity on her 2016 masterstroke, “Lemonade,” and in 2017, Jay responded with an act of contrition titled “4:44.” Now they’re touring in the wake of “Everything is Love,” a new joint album penned under their family name, the Carters.
The album sets 25 months of successful couples therapy to rhythm and melody, but strangely, they performed only one song from it on Friday — a jouncing rendition of “Apesh-t” that closed the show. But you might not have noticed until the lights came up.
That’s because this concert was designed to daze more than dazzle, from the towering video screens, to the eruptive subwoofers, to the platoon of dancers and backing musicians who got busy on a multitiered stage that looked like the set from “Hollywood Squares” gone Incredible Hulk. Even the night’s sharpest political gestures — Beyoncé raising a fist, Jay-Z sporting Kevlar — felt subtle amid all the flash and boom.
Beyoncé’s voice, though? Somehow, it sounded bigger than ever, especially during “I Care,” a ballad that allowed her to ventilate her heart in a sonorous roar, then sing along to a shredding guitar solo in perfect falsetto curlicues. We live in exceedingly hyperbolic times, but in that astonishing moment, could anyone deny that she was the most powerful vocalist alive?
And while it took a few years, those superpowers seem to have finally knocked Jay-Z out of character — maybe for the better. He has always rapped as if he were standing on top of the planet, but during “Family Feud” and “ ’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” he was simply spitting out locomotive verbiage for his wife to dance to. And it’s amazing to see an alpha-rapper move into that kind of supporting role with so much grace, musicality and good humor. Before launching into this triumphal “Public Service Announcement,” he cleared his throat with a winking, “Ahem.”
Even better were the concert’s interstitial left-turns, which felt like karaoke night with the Carters — little nods to the music of Nirvana and Michael Jackson and Juvenile and Fela Kuti and, of course, that life-affirming C-Murder bit.
Because, sure, it was cute seeing two starry strangers profess their love in song, but it was far more satisfying to hear two cultural icons renew their vows with music itself. Should anyone object to that, speak now or forever hold your peace.