Scheduling open-air concerts in mid-May in northern Europe is a triumph of hope over experience. I last spent time with Beyoncé – I’m sure she remembers it fondly and well – in 2016, in a football stadium in Sunderland on a damp, drizzly, early-summer English evening of the type that even strutting soul divas struggle to enliven. I don’t think it was merely the weather which left me underwhelmed by her brutalist attack, the sheer choreographed drill of the show, the lack of engagement, of spontaneity, of joy.
By then, Beyoncé was no longer seeking to be regarded as a mere pop star. She had recently taken on the unearthly qualities of an alien presence, entirely unrelatable, tilting for something far more culturally significant than a spot in the charts. She re-cast herself as cross-genre auteur, icon, uber-feminist, woman scorned and furious black rights’ campaigner. She did it with conviction. Plenty seemed persuaded.
Fast forward seven years and Beyoncé is both more totemic still and yet even less of a pop star than ever before. She doesn’t sell the most records, she has a dearth of tunes you can whistle on the bus, and she tours infrequently. Her most recent record, Renaissance, after which the tour is named, landed with the usual fawning fanfare but hasn’t really penetrated. It doesn’t seem to matter. She is simply Beyoncé, and that appears to be enough.
In Edinburgh, the weather was much the same as in Sunderland. Mild, damp, grizzly-grey. But something had changed. The mood felt more attuned to the Renaissance theme of celebratory transgression, its smorgasbord of black musical history powered by liberation, self-love and escape. There were nods to Rose Royce, Sade, Diana Ross, Kendrick Lamar, the Jackson 5, Megan Thee Stallion and Donna Summer.