He was alone on the stage, having just finished a medley of "Family Feud" and "Upgrade U" with his superstar wife and tourmate Beyoncé, followed by a solo, crowd-revving version of "Niggas in Paris." Next on the setlist: "Beach Is Better," off 2013's Magna Carta Holy Grail. But a few lines in, with the massive screens behind the
A lesser man might have ignored the flub and pressed on, hoping no one in the packed Hard Rock Stadium had noticed. A lesser man might have gotten angry and stormed off stage, or taken his frustration out on his fellow performers.
Instead, Jay-Z stopped the music and a sheepish laugh escaping his lips. "I fucked that up," he admitted. Then he apologized, asked the band to restart the track, and made it right.
Over the past couple of years, Jay-Z has had plenty of opportunities to practice apologizing. Beyoncé's epic 2016 album, Lemonade, laid his shit bare. It exposed her pain, rage, confusion, and self-doubt after she discovered he'd been cheating. The album was a critical smash and lauded by fans as the best project of her career; days after it dropped, Yonce took it on tour, performing songs about Jay-Z's shitty behavior to thousands of people across the country. The Beyhive declared Hova canceled.
Last year, Jay-Z responded with an album of his own: 4:44, an introspective and humble collection of songs that includes sincere and comprehensive apologies to Beyoncé. Then, last June, came Everything Is Love, a joint album by the Carters that asserted their reconciliation. The On the Run II tour is in service of that album.
If there was one thing Jay-Z wanted to show his audience last night, it's that he's not a lesser man. Of the two legends on the OTR II bill, only one had something to prove. Beyoncé is untouchable; she's perfect in the eyes of her fans, a precise and dedicated performer who's elevated pop music to art. And just a few months ago, she gave perhaps her greatest performance at Coachella, an ode to HBCUs and black Greek culture that included a Destiny's Child reunion. Her fans didn't crowd into Hard Rock Stadium to see if she'd be great; they assembled like faithful followers of the church of Beyoncé, waiting to be blessed.
Beyoncé didn't disappoint them. Through medley after medley, she belted out pitch-perfect renditions of her biggest hits, often while simultaneously performing fully choreographed dance numbers and whipping her long hair around, both for effect and to get it out of her face. On a raised stage that glided through the crowd, she joined her backup dancers in the military-style moves that accompany "Foundation" and strutted to "Run the World (Girls)." She broke out the "Single Ladies" dance moves early in the night, without launching into the song itself. And during the sensual "Drunk in Love," she demanded the crowd sing the chorus at top volume, egging on the response with: "Louder!"
Jay-Z is an equally compelling, if not quite as spectacular, performer; he had the audience's hands in the air during smash hits like "Big Pimpin," "Dirt Off Your Shoulder," and "On to the Next One." Just the opening strains of these songs sent fans shouting for joy, and the rapper stoked that fire with sing-alongs of his own, and with the time-honored tradition of dropping the name of the host city into his lyrics.
But On the Run II isn't just a tour; it's a public display of atonement, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Becky With the Good Hair got her first mention about an hour into the show, at the end of "Sorry," a nonchalant kiss-off directed at Jay from Lemonade. The song began the reckoning section of the show. It was followed by an emotional rendition of "Ring the Alarm" sung as Bey and Jay sat in back-to-back thrones, and the sneering, vicious "Don't Hurt Yourself." The latter was staged with extra fire, both from a growling Beyoncé and from some spectacular flame throwing and pyrotechnics.
Then, across from her husband, Beyoncé sat down and launched into a soulful "Resentment," a track that was released in 2006 but nevertheless has obvious relevance to the pair's marital struggles: "I'll always remember feeling like I was no good/Like I couldn't do it for you like your mistress could/And it's all because you lied." Bey lingered over the phrases and notes of the song, drawing out her grief in long, vocally acrobatic runs that marked rare quiet moments in the stadium. By the time she was finished, women were calling out to her with sounds of support and understanding.
A few songs later, all was forgiven. The couple joyfully rocked out to "Crazy in Love," before presenting happy behind-the-scenes videos of their family, including an apparent vow renewal attended by the couple's infant twins Sir and Rumi, over a romantic mashup of "Young Forever" and "Perfect Duet." "Apeshit," the finale, is a fuck-the-haters celebration of their combined power, and it had the crowd on its feet.
On the Run II ended with the same united front of superstar marriage that Bey and Jay present in real life: all support, style, and, above all, deeply felt love. Amazing, isn't it, what a good apology can accomplish? Here's hoping the lesser men in the crowd were taking notes.