Beyoncé live in London – so good she has to open for herself

The greatest pop star of our time even provides her own support as she opens her London residency, with Blue Ivy as her only guest in Renaissance's epic 6-parter

I’ve not been in the stadium for long before I realise that I should have worn sequins. In every direction, people are sporting sequined jackets, dresses, skirts, cowboy boots and, in at least one case, chaps. Even Kris Jenner got the memo, arriving in a spangly silver jacket to take her seat at the front of the Alien Superstar riser (aka the very visible and kinda weird VIP platform complete with Love is Blind-esque gold champagne flutes). It’s the perfect setting for the London opening of ‘Renaissance’, a show that drips with decadence and never shies away from extravagant spectacle, whether its Beyoncé emerging out of a giant clam shell in a glittery gold Loewe body suit or her flying above the crowd on a holographic mannequin horse to the backdrop of exploding silver confetti cannons.

The show itself is broken into 6 distinct acts that journey through both Renaissance – which is played in order in its entirety and interspersed with songs from across Beyoncé’s  career – and the fusion of Afrofuturism, southern opulence, Black Joy, haute couture and political commentary that has come to define post-Lemonade Beyoncé. Yet, much of this is missing from Part 1 – metatheatrically titled ‘The Opening Act’ – which sees the singer appear as her own support act and belt out relatively deep cut R&B power ballads from her back catalogue, including show opener ‘Dangerously in Love 2’, in a move that may or may not be genius depending on your willingness to go with her. (It’s genius.) This is the Beyoncé of yesteryear, who sings soulfully of endless love while sprawled across a silver grand piano and earnestly thanks the assembled audience for being “the reason I’m living my dream.” Following a tribute to the late Tina Turner in the form of a slowed-down rendition of ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, Beyoncé leaves the stage for the first of many costume changes and is re-born as part-cyborb part-Egyptian goddess to start the main event, opening Act 2 (‘Renaissance’) with ‘I’M THAT GIRL’.

Photography by Mason Poole

From here it is wall-to-wall dance tunes and house bangers, all accompanied by a to-be-expected tight band, flawless dancers (led by frequent collaborators Les Twin) and virtuosic choreography – this is a Beyoncé show, the Man City of pop; unquestionably, freakishly excellent. Always. Particular highlights include ‘CUFF IT’ (which opens Act 3 ‘Motherboard’), ‘MOVE’ and ‘Formation’, the opening twangs of which bring people sprinting back from an ill-timed loo break. The whole show is carefully curated to keep people on their feet and to “release [their] wiggle!”. The only dip back into ballad territory comes with ‘Love on Top’, but this is followed up by a version of ‘Crazy in Love’ that contains samples from ‘Work It Out’, ‘Green Light’ and ‘Freedom’. References to ballroom culture are unsurprisingly a recurrent theme of the show, culminating in a runway battle featuring duck walks, hand performance and various spins and dips.

The different acts are separated by a visually beautiful video essay that breaks down the boundaries between past and future, machines and humanity, and truth, fiction and the imagination, all of which are played out on a screen that spans the width of the stage. Footage of Beyoncé in home videos, music videos and awards shows is cut against images of her as a human-robot hybrid, while allusions to classical art, including Beyoncé made up as a glitching version of Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus, sees her pick up where Black is King and ‘APESHIT’ left off. At times, the messaging is a little too on the nose, most notably in visual interlude that introduces the final act (‘Mind Control’), which starts with a quotation from Jim Morrison and warns of the danger of media domination, manipulated images and the importance of individual resistance. While this is all true, it’s hard to take from one of the most carefully curated media personalities.

Photography by Andrew White

The importance placed on futuristic technology bleeds out onto the stage itself, where Beyoncé dances alongside robotic arms and ultraviolet technology that sees her dress transform into a stained glass window at the beginning of ‘CHURCH GIRL’ and arrive on a shiny tank for ‘My Power’ [top photo] that has an air of Sir Kill-a-Lot about it (if you know, you know). This track also introduces the only guest onto stage, Beyoncé’s oldest daughter Blue Ivy, who joins the dancers for an impressive routine that slips into samples from Uncle Waffles’s ‘Tanzania’ and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright’. Yes, while your Insta feed is filled with Taylor Swift bringing on a whole array of surprise guests, Beyoncé doesn’t need any of that. Not even an opener who isn’t herself.

So when the show ends with someone, from somewhere, booming through the speakers: “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the iconic mother of the House of Renaissance” it’s something we’ve all known from the moment Beyoncé stepped on the stage no less than 3 hours ago.

Main photo by Kevin-Mazur