How does one of the world’s biggest pop music superstars play second fiddle, in real time on a concert stage, to the world’s biggest pop music superstar?
Graciously, energetically and with a sense of atonement for past misdeeds.
How does the music world’s most famous husband-and-wife team tell what is billed as an intimate love story — their own — in front of tens of thousands of cheering, dancing people in a stadium?
The answers were made more intriguing by the fact that each of this uber-power couple’s most recent he said/she said solo albums — her “Lemonade” and his “4:44” — address, in varying degrees, the damage done by his admitted infidelity.
Ditto their 2018 joint make-up album, “Everything is Love.” It accounted for three of the 40-plus songs performed Thursday, including the celebratory “Apesh--t,” which brought the nearly 2½ hour concert to a rousing conclusion at 12:02 a.m. Friday.
The fact that too many of those selections — including “ ’03 Bonnie & Clyde,” “Diva,” “Sorry,” “99 Problems,” “Family Feud,” “Beach is Better,” “Baby Boy” and “Freedom” — were dispensed with in a minute or two, each explained how it was possible to cram in more than three-dozen songs.
Those truncated versions did the music — and the estimated audience of 38,000 — a disservice. So did the recurring video interludes, which lasted longer than many of the songs themselves and were designed to accommodate the frequent costume changes by the night’s two stars.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z fared much better when their songs had time to breathe and build dynamic tension. That was the case with the spectacular “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” which opened the concert with a visceral punch.
When the two shared the stage, as they did off and on Thursday, including for the show-concluding “Young Forever” and “Apesh--t,” their star power lit up the stadium.
The multi-generational audience enthusiastically sang and rapped along for much of the evening. If this was the telling of an intimate love story — of a husband and wife with three young children who have overcome their matrimonial challenges — it was writ extra-large in such an over-sized setting.
Of course, intimacy is a relative term, as is love, at a concert of such physical magnitude. Beyoncé and Jay-Z had a supporting cast of 19 dancers, a comparably sized band and enough pyrotechnic bursts to put a Kiss concert to shame. The production was so massive that it required closing credits, which ran on the four-story high LED screen that loomed over the stage.
The Mission Valley venue they performed in was still known as Qualcomm Stadium when Beyoncé brought her “Formation” tour there in 2016. At the time, her marriage to Jay-Z appeared to be threatened by his well-publicized extramarital affair, which he addressed at his concert here last December at SDSU’s Viejas Arena.
Under either name, the stadium at times was almost dwarfed by the charismatic couple’s meticulously produced joint concert here.
The main stage stretched out hundreds of feet from end to end. So did the two runway stages — one for her, one for him — that jutted out from the main stage. Each was equipped with parallel moving catwalks. The main stage and Beyoncé’s runway each contained enough strategically placed large electric fans to ensure her seemingly choreographed mane of hair always had the perfect windblown look.
The visually spectacular evening had so many eye-popping moments, often in such rapid succession, that it could have been designed for a national seminar on fleeting attention spans in the age of Snapchat and Instagram.
That nothing was left to chance is par for the course for such an enormous tour, which has grossed $150.7 million with the first 29 of its 48 shows. If some of the singing and instrumentation sounded as if it was pre-recorded or at least electronically enhanced, well, that’s also par for the course.
The emphasis on spectacle sometimes took precedence over the music, which soared at its best and dragged in its lesser inspired moments.
Highlights included Beyoncé’s high-voltage singing on “Drunk in Love,” “Run the World (Girls)” and “Formation,” although her charged dance moves earned even louder cheers, especially her most suggestive gyrations.
Beyoncé’s most inspired singing of the night came on the seething “Resentment,” which she performed to understated guitar accompaniment, remaining still, without dancing. As a result, the emphasis was on her expressive voice and lyrics, not the bigger-than-life, Vegas-on-steroids segments that predominated Thursday.
Jay-Z, meanwhile, was a force of nature — if not quite as big a force as his glamorous, no-nonsense wife — on such songs as “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “Big Pimpin’,” “The Story of O.J.” and “Show Me What You Got.” Where his wife’s every move was choreographed to the nth degree, he projected a far more casual (if no less professional) air.
No doubt, Jay-Z is well aware that his wife has sold out stadiums on her solo tours, while his own solo tours find him performing in arenas. Put simply, Beyoncé reigns supreme in this super-power couple and that balance seems unlikely to shift.
Her “On the Run II” victory lap here with Jay-Z Thursday was a triumph of tenacity — and a telling display of just how lucrative it can be to monetize the well-publicized marital discord of the world’s most famous husband-and-wife team.
Make no mistake. This image-conscious couple has long guarded their privacy. Accordingly, the San Diego fans cheered each time a photo or video shot of their at-home family life was shown for a second or two. Sharing their personal lives — or at least creating the illusion of sharing — made their audience feel like they were being given a secret glimpse behind the curtain.
But a real glimpse was far from the case at such a carefully staged concert by such a famously careful and media-savvy couple, who painstakingly control every facet of their image, infidelity included..
In a world of pop culture run amok with millions of new images daily — most, sadly, with very little meaning and a very fleeting shelf life — even the mere suggestion of actual intimacy and sharing can seem meaningful. Almost no one knows that, or does it better, than Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
JAY-Z & Beyoncé “On the Run II” tour San Diego set list, Sept. 27, 2018
“Magna Carta Holy Grail”
“Part II (On the Run)”
“ '03 Bonnie & Clyde”
(Beach video interlude)
“Drunk in Love”
“Dirt Off Your Shoulder”
“On to the Next One”
“Big Pimpin' “
(Jamaica video Interlude)
“Run This Town”
(Bar fight video Interlude)
“Ring the Alarm”
“Don't Hurt Yourself”
(Running video Interlude)
“Nig--z in Paris”
“Beach Is Better”
“Run the World (Girls)”
“Public Service Announcement
(Ballet dance interlude)
“The Story of O.J.”
“Show Me What You Got”
“Crazy in Love”
“U Don't Know”
(Baptism video interlude)