I started drafting this after I’d attended the show in Inglewood, CA on 09/02/23 at SoFI Stadium, but between other responsibilities and time constraints, along with the developments detailed below, I hadn’t been able to get it to a “finished” state until today.
Beyoncé & Me, a Brief History
A member of the Beyhive I am not. For the majority of her career, I’d been ambivalent about the Destiny’s Child singer gone solo. In my high school days of the 2000’s, my tribalistic association of music with personal identity had me turning my nose up at music artists whose style didn’t require them to actually play live instruments. Pop and R&B were trite manufactured genres for competent singers without the actual musical talent to not need to rely on teams of songwriters to do their work for them. As I aged into and through my 20’s—and my sexuality as a gay male—my musical palette expanded. Real-world experience allowed me to start being able to better recognize the amount of time, energy, and labor that actually goes into things, doing away with that snobby simplistic delineation between “real” and “trash” music and assessing more on merit as best as I can gauge it without having any formal education in music theory myself.
And throughout the 2000s, I liked Beyoncé well enough. Her voice was undeniably great, but her output was wildly hit-or-miss for me. I liked 3 or 4 songs off B-Day; I yawned at all the alter-ego nonsense popular at the time including I Am Sasha Fierce & “Single Ladies”; 4 had me back to liking a few songs and entirely disinterested in the rest.
And then Beyoncé happened. I’d experienced “visual albums” before from Japanese musicians I followed long before 2013, but seeing it done domestically with such unrivaled production value was impressive. As for the music itself, it lyrically and sonically offered a balanced mix of rawness and refinement that felt different from her prior output. The comparatively tinny youthful voice got replaced with that of a grown woman’s delivering her most polished poetry yet, no longer bound by the rulebook of optimization for top radio airplay. It was as thrilling as it was mind-boggling that only a year after becoming a mother would find Beyoncé at her boldest, embracing sexuality and expletives with elegance. As much as I appreciated it, it still wasn’t something I actively listened to on my own. It was my best friend/roommate that was truly captivated by the spectacle, yet no matter how many times I got dragged along for the ride, I never got tired of it.
I didn’t become a fan of Beyoncé until 2016. That year when she unexpectedly dropped “Formation” on the Super Bowl Halftime show, I didn’t care enough to bother watching. It was in the coverage/outrage following the performance I learned that the highly curated and uncontroversial pop songstress had presented Black figures and history with music that eschewed mainstream accessibility in favor of message and meaning. This admiration would only grow when the music video for the song was released, reinforcing the unapologetic Blackness that had been served in the middle of America’s most-watched televised sporting event. It wasn’t the superficial girl-power feminism of “Single Ladies” or “Run the World (Girls)”, but the urban edginess of “***Flawless” dialed all the way up to Black power anthem. That was not the direction I would have expected her to go in immediately after earning all the accolades and prestige from her self-titled digital drop. To establish herself so forcefully as one of the best creator-performers in the world then pivot to ambassador for Black excellence was inspiring; she could have just as easily stayed apolitical and private, continuing to chase an AOTY Grammy by catering to broad mainstream and white audiences.
In the time since then, through Lemonade, Homecoming, and Black is King, I’ve admired the astonishing amount of merit behind those works on multiple levels, all the while aware that it’s not going to resonate as completely as it will for the intended recipients of the message. If we were able to step sideways into a parallel universe where Selena lived and had a 2018 Coachella headlining show giving her best performance to date and serving the finest representation of Mexican-American culture to the masses while being widely recognized as one of the greatest talents in the industry, my veins and arteries would be bursting with cultural pride. Not being Black myself, I recognize that it’s a level of personal resonance that lies outside my capability to experience…until Renaissance. In essence, her latest work is another love letter to the Black experience, this time around to its queer community. Yet, because Black queer culture so strongly informs the general LGBTQ+ culture—which itself champions acceptance and inclusivity—or that the New York ballroom scene & house music being paid homage to are history joint creations of both Black and Latino queer communities, I finally qualify to be a part of group that can really get that “this was meant for me & us” feeling.
We had tried getting tickets when they first went on sale, but never got an invite code from the Ticketmaster lottery registration to buy one. At some point, my roommate had logged into his workplace employee benefits portal looking for discounted prices on movie tickets, and noticed they were featuring tickets to Beyonce’s show. Being able to buy tickets at face value months after we’d given up on the possibility on attending the original more limited tour schedule was thrilling, and made this the first time I found myself eagerly counting down the days to a concert event since my early 20’s. However, that face value ticket cost translated to our seats being up in the bloodiest of the nosebleeds, literally the highest and final row in the venue. Visually, it wasn’t much of an issue, given the nature of stadium seating and the set design. Sonically, however, it left something to be desired. The venue isn’t completely closed, but it is covered by a large arching ceiling, which caused a considerable amount of reverb that made it near impossible to discern any talking, such as the calling of categories in the closing ballroom sequence.
Despite the issues with sound quality and being in the highest seats possible, it was still the best show I’ve ever been to. Renaissance is already an unimpeachably brilliant album musically, but the additional elements of the live show were just as awe inspiring to experience unawares, me not having bothered to keep up with the updates from each show along the tour and thus having no idea what to expect. Everything across the board so top notch it felt like I was watching the unreleased visual album performed as a stage production. I feel like I have to be the only Renaissance fan that has been so blown away by the music that I have no hunger for the music videos, which I’m glad were not released before the tour. Without all those videos for people to dissect, analyze, compare, and otherwise post online, all discussion on Renaissance has stayed focused on the music and the collective experience. And the fashion, of course.
It was the first time I’d taken myself out to go see Beyoncé live in concert, and I enjoyed it as much as I expected I was going to. The one part that got my hyped beyond expectations was the on-stage performance of Blu Ivy. I didn’t even bother listening to Beyoncé’s music back when that kid was born and was totally unconcerned with the surprise pregnancy announcement leading up to it. However, having that child that’s been kept out of the public eye as much as possible suddenly shared with the world as an 11year old pull off the job of performing in front of massive stadium audiences to the most stringent standards in the business felt special. So did being able to reciprocate the tremendous love Beyoncé has extended LGBTQ+ PoC and women with this latest work by adding to the cheering putting expressions of happiness and pride on both their faces. The lyrics and subject matter of Renaissance are adult in nature, but having Blu Ivy dancing on that track from The Lion King movie companion album was a nice way to include children as part of the grand LGBTQ+ PoC celebration we were all there to have, since many of us were kids who were not given the support and acceptance to express ourselves freely.
The week following the concert, I kept thinking about it: how much I enjoyed it, how much of a cultural statement it is, etc. the more I kept reflecting, the more I found myself curious about how much it would cost to experience it again. By week’s end, that curiosity turned into a fully fledged effort to price shop the remaining the stops in the tour to find out which would yield the best seats at the lowest total travel cost, leading to the decision to take a solo trip to catch the tour finale in Kansas City, MO. Even after I had identified the optimal show to attend, I had my reservations as I’m not a long-time super fan that would make that investment without a second thought. I had already gone to the concert, and would be better off saving the ~$1.5K I was staring at and hewig to my budgets & savings timelines. Despite my best efforts to talk myself into abandoning the idea as a passing fantasy, everyone around me—including people I didn’t expect to encourage spending so much money on a concert—told me that I should do it.
Looking at it under a larger lens and not just the Beyoncé concert, it started to feel more and more like something I needed to do. I’m as old as I am, and I haven’t really done much traveling, and never on my own. My limited travel history amounts to:
- A winter break spent in Mascota, Jalisco, deep in the heart of Mexico as a teenager
- Two week long trips to Tokyo back in the mid 2000’s that were phenomenal life-changing experiences
- Volunteering as a travel buddy for a friend visiting family for a weekend in the middle of Arizona
- San Francisco and Las Vegas with friends, a few times each
Along with the allure of being the final show in the tour, the Kansas City show had the unique feature of being somewhere I would otherwise have never expect to have a reason to visit, compared to Houston or New Orleans. All of this, and the disastrous state of the world—fires concurrently ravaging more places than ever, hurricanes battering and flooding both sides of the US, the tragic earthquake in Morocco—convinced me to take the approach that tomorrows aren’t guaranteed, and to chase after an experience that has already been so personally fulfilling for me and take it to the next level by turning it into a 4-day adventure of my own.