Beyoncé at Croke Park was a tour de force at every level.
On a muggy evening on Dublin’s northside, the world’s most fascinating popstar spliced together feminist battle-hymns, cathartic confessionals, and breathtaking spectacle.
There were fireworks, a vast rotating video screen, and a paddling pool in which Bey and her dancers dallied during a sensational denouement.
Yet the biggest special effect was Beyoncé herself, a force of nature baring her heart before 70,000 or so strangers. Starting with the single from which the Formation tour takes its name, she plunged into her raw and angry Lemonade album, a rumination on her marriage to Jay Z that sent the internet into meltdown in April (speculation regarding mysterious other woman “Becky with the good hair” continues).
But could Lemonade really sustain a two-hour arena show? It was reasonable to have doubts. The 90% female crowd was plainly here for the hits (only at a Beyoncé gig could a bloke wander into the men’s toilet and find himself outnumbered 5-1 by the opposite gender).
Beyoncé, who had flown in straight from seeing Serena Williams winning at Wimbledon, had something else in mind: A night of gender politics and high art masquerading as throwaway entertainment.
In prioritising artistic expression over crowd-pleasing singalongs, she surely risked begging the audience’s indulgence — a lot to ask when standing tickets came in at over €100 per head.
But while Beyoncé didn’t really give the punters what they probably wanted — no ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)’ and a truncated ‘Crazy In Love’ — the concert was nonetheless a triumph.
As she conjured spectacle from thin air and super-charged the huge arena, Bey’s refusal to pander was revealed as a strength rather than a chink in her armour.
“Dublin, Ireland, I’ve played some of my favourite shows here,” she said in her molasses-rich Texas burr. “When people ask me where is the loudest crowd, I always tell them it’s the Irish.”
Croke Park, lest we forget, is where decent bands go to die. U2 have flopped here more than once.
The Script’s 2015 turn at the same venue was a 90-minute lay-over in pop purgatory.
There had, moreover, been speculation that Beyoncé wasn’t filling seats in the expected numbers, though in the event the attendance was more than healthy, with no repeat of the many empty areas that marred Rihanna’s date at the Aviva in June.
Bey effortlessly bent the big grey bowl to her will, from the moment she and her phalanx of dancers emerged amid dry ice to the closing performance of mega-ballad ‘Halo’.
She goose-stepped through a thunderous ‘Run The World (Girls)’, honoured Prince with a cover of ‘Purple Rain’, and splashed in the artificial pool for her Destiny Child hit ‘Survivor’.
Running throughout was a loose narrative thread, with Beyoncé starting as the wronged woman, in the end looking to the future with renewed hope (on the video screen, she and Jay Z kicked back in domestic bliss).
There was passion with the bombast too.
“If you are a woman, you are strong,” said Bey. “There is no such thing as a weak woman.” Amid the pyrotechnics, it was moments like this that cut the deepest.
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