Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s ‘On the Run’ tour was broadcast on HBO on Sept 20, a concert film by these two outstanding artists on their Paris tour of the show Sept 12 and 13. The film was directed by Swedish video artist Jonas Åkerlund who also did the music video “Telephone” featuring Beyoncé and Lady Gaga. The HBO creation surpasses the reviews of shows from some other cities of the “On the Run” tour, especially San Francisco, and the celebrity couple had the chance to work out some of the kinks and improve their onstage camaraderie in Paris.
The show in itself raises some provocative questions, not just for Paris. How is the show ‘feminist’, a claim that is shown flashing across the scene during one of Beyoncé’s songs in syncronization with Jay- Z’s later use of the goddess symbol? Gender contrasts between the two artists are obvious. Jay-Z is a successful concert promoter, Grammy award winning artist and record producer. For the show he is dressed in leather, sweatshirts, and tennis shoes. His garb affects his relaxed comfort zone while rapping “Paris what do you know about a man from Brooklyn?” and acknowleging his host city: “how are you Paris France?”
Beyoncé, clearly one of the best female vocalists and showwomen today with an outstanding number of music awards is usually clad in some tight jumpsuit, bikini length, with fishnet stockings. “Queen Bey”, as she is called, is known for her sensual and erotic onstage posture and often engaged in robotic movements with lots of blonde blowdry hair flying. In between this hypertension, Jay-Z cooly hip hops with his knit hat and streetware. The definition of feminism is defined in the show’s ‘powerpoint’ as equality between the sexes, but one can’t help thinking that Beyoncé’s antithetical adherence to the stereotypical female from the annals of history is nowhere close to equal with Jay Z’s rapper posture. The Paris crowd roars when the term feminism is brought up and for them this seems to mean Queen Bey incarnate and the female image she has successfully transmitted worldwide. She can stand on her own.
Apart from the artists, Jonas Åkerlund is a brilliant video artist from Sweden who has worked with Madonna and Lady Gaga. Some of his favorite tropes are symbols involving the wild wild west, cactus and greasy diners, and creative uses of US stars and stripes. His films are homages to American film genres and are scripted with cliches. Parts of his imagery in “On the Run” can be found in “Telephone”. The most obvious is woman as predatory and seductive goddess. In “Telephone”, two female serial killers take revenge on men and at the close of the film, Beyoncé and Gaga are dressed as modern day witches holding hands next to their getaway wagon. (Gaga has since expressed regrets about the music video).
In “On the Run,” Åkerlund uses clips from Josephine Baker’s banana dances at the Folies Bergère in 1920’s Paris and recreates the jazz scene of the time. African American jazz artists found refuge in Paris and Baker’s career on hold in the US became triumphant in Paris. This is not the same situation for Beyoncé and Jay-Z who are already well known in Paris. Each number of their show is perfectly framed and contained with brilliant performances and an array of visually psychedelic imagery. For one of their numbers, Beyoncé and Jay-Z are shown in a 1920’s Parisian nightclub, and later become modern day criminals with mug shots…on the run.
“On the Run” means that the two artists are like a kind of Bonnie and Clyde on the run, another cinematic mashup by Åkerlund. Beyoncé holds a gun and the screen flashes “This is Not a Gun”. Oh no? She gets shot with one on an altar in her white wedding dress. ‘Bang Bang’ has been the teaser for this Paris show for one month, among many many other attention grabbers of this nonstop hip hop, hair flying, gun toting, gyrating, goddess worshipping concert film. In the end, Beyoncé is paraded hand in hand with Jay- Z across the stage in her long black and white stars and stripe gown with obligatory bikini length swimwear, and the two performers esteem each other while pictures of their youth and their young baby are screened to a cellphone lit up “Stade de France” audience chanting “Forever Young”.