On The Run Again, With More Baggage

Mar 14, 2018
Originally published on March 14, 2018 4:16 pm

"This is your final warning / You know I give you life / If you try this s*** again / You gon' lose your wife." — Beyoncé, "Don't Hurt Yourself."

"Look, I apologize, often womanize / Took for my child to be born / See through a woman's eyes / Took for these natural twins to believe in miracles." — Jay-Z, "4:44"

Earlier today, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, hip-hop's most powerful couple, began selling pre-orders for tickets to their second family road show — On The Run II, a 36-date summer stadium tour. Though they've opted to keep the same typography and smokey, partners-in-crime aesthetic for promotion of this re-up to their 2014 edition, nothing in the world — the real one or the ones they've constructed — indicates a simple repeat of the song and dance they brought fans four years ago.

First, the real world. Two years ago, Bey featured the mothers of slain black men and boys in her Lemonade short film. Just days before the 2016 presidential election, both lent their onstage support to Hillary Clinton during a rally in Cleveland, Ohio. Last fall, Jay addressed racist black stereotypes in his song "The Story of O.J." from 4:44 — and like Beyoncé , in the song's striking video (one of several). He also has a docu-series due out addressing the life and death of Trayvon Martin. All of these expressions have seemed to expand as the political fissures in this country and beyond have. As Jay-Z told Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times in an interview last November: "The great thing about Donald Trump being president is now we're forced to have the dialogue. Now we're having the conversation on the large scale; he's provided the platform for us to have the conversation." This country-hopping tour is a chance to further the dialogue and push their agendas on a stadium scale.

Second, just as the world that they've wrapped around has shifted, the pair have peeled back a parallel, more personal, fracture. Once an emblem of success and nearly-unattainable perfection, their relationship has very publicly become a more nuanced, realistic and relatable construction. Four years ago, when rumors of Jay's infidelity were still a low industry murmur, video surfaced of Solange kicking Jay-Z in an elevator leaving the Met Gala, an altercation that pierced the veil of perfection they had carefully constructed, complicating in a way that they couldn't, for once, control. Since then, Jay and Bey have (of course) seized the plot in their work, embracing its imperfections and interweaving their art more than ever before. On Beyoncé's Lemonade and Jay's subsequent 4:44, both addressed each other through themes — overt call-outs, really — of Jay's infidelity, Bey's forgiveness, broken trust, and domestic struggle. The albums both lean on the other for contextual support and stand on their own conceptual strength.

Their tour in 2014 opened with "'03 Bonnie & Clyde" — their first official collaboration — and its production and set list were more focused on accenting and hyping the other up as they jumped around their respective discographies that it was about a cohesive storyline. On the Run II is a chance to earnestly play out the narrative that those in the audience could actually see themselves in. It offers Beyoncé a megaphone to speak her peace as her apologetic perpetrator stands by her side. Less aspiration, more confrontation. It makes you wonder how many at these shows will be living the same narrative.

If their dramatic storyline isn't used as stage direction, or their political agendas aren't addressed, the message of this tour will be a lost opportunity. But other than apartment buildings in DUMBO, neither are known for having many of those. Whatever happens, isn't getting back to business, together, the biggest stunt of all?

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.