They call it the Monolith.
The centerpiece of Beyonce's Formation Tour is a 60-foot-tall rotating cube with LED screens on all sides. In its service to the audience, the Monolith gives us Beyonce on all its sides, it projects her expressive face: the smiles as she thanks the audience, the something-stinks face when she nails a move, all the emotions she is broadcasting to us, queens, she calls us.
When I first enter the Superdome, disoriented by the crowds, and find my way to my seat, I survey the stage. I can hear DJ Khaled and see him on a small screen hanging to the left of the Monolith. I can’t believe that I am calling that screen small, but it is less than quarter of the size of the Monolith. It takes me minutes to locate Khaled on the physical stage, so tiny is his DJ booth on the far side.
I hear Khaled’s hit “All I Do is Win” at 8:21, and my foolish heart thinks that maybe Beyonce will be onstage by 8;30. For an hour, I think about how badly I want Beyonce to be onstage. I distract myself by looking at the audience. I am in section 109, the whole floor splayed out before me, and I watch the floor, giant heads of hair and sparkly leotards, I think any of these queens could be Beyonce. What is it that makes her different than us, I think, some version of my head cycling through Joan Osborne’s song wondering what if God was one of us? I am idle in these wonderings, I do not find Beyonce to be a god, but I am interested by the idea, I am interested in the fact she projects on a screen “GOD IS GOD I AM NOT” every time she sings the lyric “Love God Herself.”
I wait for Beyonce and I look at all the yellow-jacket security people around the stage. I look at the two onstage “Beyhive” seating areas, and I wonder why it is that some of us pronounce “Bey” as if it’s supposed to rhyme with “Jay.” Maybe that’s part of loving someone who doesn’t truly make themselves available to you. You flub, make up nicknames they shake their heads at.
I say to my friend, “I’ve never felt so greedy in my life.” How dare I feel like Beyonce should come to the stage, now, just for me and my friend? How dare I feel like I could summon her. What should my $112.50 get me? What portion of her am I renting for the evening?
I watch commercials for Ivy Park.
I drink nothing. I get up to go to the bathroom once at 8:38, when I am certain that I can make it back if by some miracle she gets onstage at 8:45. I’m starting to feel like she’s toying with us. But I am mindful that seats are still filling. She is supposed to be here for all of us. I tell myself to be less greedy, be more patient. I sit with my hands folded over my lap. I am the most fun person at this concert.
At 8:49, a man comes out to check the stage, and people stand up and cheer.
I watch what seems to be a camera, strung up on cables all over the Superdome. I watch it fly, like a rigging for a stage Peter Pan. But I figure if Beyonce actually flew, I’d know about it.
Finally, at 9:15, the lights go out. Screams. We stand.
The Monolith turns color, pulses red and white, rotates on its stand. For a second, I think Beyonce is controlling everyone’s phones in the Superdome, as I watch screens a row in front of me and two rows in front of me and on the floor and in places I can’t comprehend where exactly they are but I know they are near, all of these screens turn red. I think, how is she doing this? And I look at the red Monolith. She does not have to directly control our phones. She knows we are pointing them at her, at where we think she will be.
She is still unseen. Images of her flash on the Monolith so briefly that you can’t get a sense of what you are seeing. Hyped like a movie monster you can’t see yet. Finally, the back of her head fills the 60-foot screen, and she turns. You see her face, her presumably naked body behind a chair. Here she is, giving herself to us. Where is she?
The first chords of “Formation” thrum throughout the crowd. People in wide brimmed hats are onstage. Where, where, where is Beyonce? A familiar figure appears in a wide-brimmed hat, in an outfit so fabulous you are both shocked and not: Big Freedia is here to introduce the Queen. Where is she? Where is she?
Once Beyonce gets onstage, it’s just another night on the Formation tour. I write down the set list even though I know it’s the same every night. I do not write down Beyonce’s banter, about how she’s happy to be in New Orleans, about how we matter to her, about how grateful she is that we accept her.
The woman in the row in front of me films the entire concert, each song its own clip. She dances as she films, bounces and sways built into the digital memory. I watch her phone and think that I am glad I am so present for this event, that I am not lost in my own phone. I happily keep my eyes glued to the Monolith.