Beyoncé’s Star Outshines Jay-Z at NRG Stadium

Bey and Jay onstage at NRG
Bey and Jay onstage at NRG Photo by Raven Varona/Courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment
The Carters, OTR II
NRG Stadium
September 15, 2018

OTR II was billed as a co-headlining tour, a promotion of Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s latest musical endeavor. It was, after all, the duo’s first tour together since the release of Lemonade and 4:44, which chronicled HOV’s infidelity and Queen B’s righteous indignation.

It was advertised as a tour supporting EVERYTHING IS LOVE, the collaborative album released earlier this year that saw them reuniting and celebrating. Celebrating their riches, their families and their enduring commitment to each other and their union, warts and all.

By all accounts, Yoncé has forgiven her husband for his transgressions. She has decided to move past it, with Mr. Carter at her side. Fans at NRG Stadium, on the other hand, remained divided.

Saturday’s sold-out crowd clearly leaned toward Team Bey. From the onset of the show, it was Beyoncé whose music (and presence) really had everyone going. While her star grew brighter as the evening progressed, Jay’s seemed to fade.

The set began with “Holy Grail,” the first single from 2013’s Magna Carta Holy Grail. Since Justin Timberlake couldn’t make the show, Beyoncé stepped in to perform the choruses, and fans immediately went, well, apeshit.

Shortly after, the duo performed “’03 Bonnie and Clyde,” the first song they ever recorded together. The late 20- and early 30-somethings in attendance were immediately transported back to a simpler time, both in their own lives and in the star couple’s relationship.

Beyoncé took the reins next and tore through “Drunk In Love” and “Diva,” which struck a fire in the bellies of the ladies in the crowd. Afterward, she disappeared backstage for one of her many wardrobe changes while her husband rattled off verses from “Clique,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “On To The Next One” and “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt.”

Jay’s songs were generally well received, but his music suffers from the kind of misogyny that’s all too common in hip-hop. Now, I’m no prude, but it felt odd listening to a guy who copped to cheating on Beyoncé say, “I thug ‘em, fuck ‘em, love ‘em, leave ‘em ‘cause I don't fuckin' need ‘em” while his wife was changing outfits backstage.

And though fans didn’t boo or refrain from rapping along to any of his verses, they did express disapproval of his actions during the video interludes, which artistically depicted the ups, downs and in-betweens of the Carters’ relationship.

The show was also supplemented by a bevy of dancers and musicians, from a brass band to contortionists and everything in between. Oh, and fire. There was a lot of that.

For all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding them both, Beyoncé was the clear favorite Saturday night. She was the hometown hero, the former girl next door. On top of home field advantage, Bey’s performances were more exciting, and her delivery was better. She sang, danced and rapped; HOV was one for three.

Jay also missed his opportunity to bring Bun B onstage during “Big Pimpin’”. (And Mr. Freeman was in attendance, according to an Instagram post.) To his credit, he made up for it by faithfully reciting the late Pimp C’s verse word for word.

But even his best moments felt like throwbacks. Beyoncé, meanwhile, felt as relevant as ever. Her older cuts aged better, and her newer tracks boasted a grit and determination fans haven’t heard from Jay in years.

Compared to Lemonade and 4:44, EVERYTHING IS LOVE felt a bit shallow. But I can't deny that it possesses quite a few fun tracks, namely the lead single "APESHIT," which closed out Saturday's show. And while I personally have trouble celebrating a man whose actions almost tore his family apart, I suppose his wife's decision to give him a second chance is commendable. Hopefully this go-round, he stays true to his vows.

Here's to OTR III.

Holy Grail
Part II (On The Run)
’03 Bonnie & Clyde
Drunk In Love
Dirt Off Your Shoulder
On To The Next One
Feeling Myself
Naughty Girl
Big Pimpin’
Run This Town
Baby Boy
Mi Gente
99 Problems
Ring The Alarm
Don’t Hurt Yourself
I Care
Song Cry
Family Feud
Upgrade U
Niggas In Paris
Beach Is Better
Run The World (Girls)
Public Service Announcement
The Story Of O.J.
Déjà vu
Show Me What You Got
Crazy IN Love
U Don’t Know
Young Forever
Perfect (Ed Sheeran cover)
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Matt is a regular contributor to the Houston Press’ music section. He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in print journalism and global business. Matt first began writing for the Press as an intern, having accidentally sent his resume to the publication's music editor instead of the news chief. After half a decade of attending concerts and interviewing musicians, he has credited this fortuitous mistake to divine intervention.
Contact: Matthew Keever