Everyone in the bathroom line wanted to talk about Jay.
The opening night of Beyoncé's "Formation" tour took place in Marlins Park, an erstwhile baseball stadium in Miami. The retractable roof had been pulled back, letting in what remained of the fading sunlight. Fans contended with the same lines as always: lines for beer, lines for giant buckets of popcorn, and lines of women trying to use the bathroom in a stadium designed for men.
"I'm thinkin' I might just go over there and take that men's room as ours," the woman behind me—Barbie Campbell, 46, of Tampa—said. Some of the other women clapped. It was only 8:15 p.m. DJ Khaled had already completed his 30-minute set, which featured cameos by Lil Wayne, Future, and other high-profile rappers. Now all there was to do was wait: for Beyoncé, and for the bathroom.
I asked around. Did everyone like Lemonade? Yes. What were everyone's favorite songs? "Freedom." "Sorry." "Daddy Issues." "All of 'em." What did we think her hair would look like this tour? The majority opinion was long and curly, a prediction that turned out to be right.
But after about five minutes, it became clear that the question on everyone's mind wasn't about Beyoncé at all. After an album full of cheating accusations, after that caustic reference to "Becky with the good hair," people are gonna talk.
Carolyn Thadal said she was desperate to know. "I'm checking all of her social media, like her Instagram, just to see what she's gonna say. But I think he did it."
Mia and Ivy Rodriguez, mother and teenage daughter, also thought he cheated. They wanted names. "He shouldn't get to hide," Ivy yelped, covering her mouth with her hand.
One woman, Claudia (who did not wish to share her last name), said she thought the whole album was actually about Bey's parents. A few women mmhmm'ed their agreement. Bailey Martin, 24, chimed in: "I think it's true, and honestly…" She paused. "For the first time in my life, I wanna hear what Jay has to say."
Next to me, Barbie sucked her teeth and shook her head. "No. No more of this," she said to the entire group, but mostly to me. "Tonight isn't about him. This ain't about Jay. It's about her."
The line quieted down. She was right.
On stage, a giant white box emanated the perfect light for selfies. Before Beyoncé came out, I wondered what would become of it when the show began. What was the box made of? Could it open?
"I think it's gonna fall down and she'll be in the middle," Claudia told me. But the general consensus of the people sitting around me was that the box would have to go. It took up too much space on the stage. But Beyoncé works miracles: The box never moved. Instead, it went dark.
Then, she finally appeared, on screens on the faces of the 30-foot monolith. On one side of the box, the "Formation" flower unfurled in Beyoncé's mouth. On another, she was bathed in red light. The women in front of me shrieked. Two men behind me gasped.
And then came a jolting, familiar beat. I looked down my row to where Carolyn sat. She was ripping the high heels off her feet. "I brought flats," she had told me earlier. "I want to dance when she plays 'Formation.'" We'd both assumed that Bey would work her way up to "Formation," the song that lends its title to her tour, the lead single off her sixth studio album and its most contentious track. But Beyoncé doesn't warm up. Beyoncé arrives.
"This is a special night for me that I am so grateful to share with y'all," she said after "Formation" ended. "This next song is a new one, so if you know the words, please help me out."
Of course the stadium knew the words to "Sorry." We screamed the lyrics back to her, and Beyoncé flashed a genuine smile, apparently caught off guard. She seemed surprised that her fans had already learned the words to the songs from an album released just five days earlier. Even Beyoncé is a little taken aback by the power of Beyoncé. She looked out at us with eyes that asked, "Can you believe it?" Who could?
Throughout the night, the screens on the box replayed moments from the visual album Lemonade, which debuted on HBO last Saturday. The images were scrambled up, out of their original order. What had originally read as a deeply personal narrative of love and anger and cheating and loss was distorted to the point that it was no longer about Beyoncé's relationship or her family. It was only about her, right then, in that moment onstage.
Neither the "Mrs. Carter Show" nor "On the Run"—Beyoncé's tour with her husband Jay Z—really made use of her last visual album, Beyoncé. But Lemonade was the backdrop of last night's performance, with on-screen Beyoncé delivering monologues on behalf of the real-life artist. The fans were never separated from Beyoncé, even when she was in the midst of a costume change: Her likeness was still there, twirling a strand of pearls menacingly on the screen, or vamping for the camera under a parade of moody visual effects.
This freed Beyoncé up to do what she does best: perform. She sang phenomenally, marrying the screaming of her fans with her always in-tune voice. Almost every song sounded better live than it did on her album, because she chose the arrangements wisely. She sang the deeper, slower "Crazy in Love" remix from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, for example, and danced during the original version.
I found my hand at the base of my neck, my palm pressing hard into the space on my chest where my heart must be. It's a position I've I assumed before, in a past life, in a church, overcome with profound belief. If Beyoncé had asked me to bow, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have fallen to my knees. In front of me, two girls raised their hands, open palms to the sky. Next to me, a woman put her arm around her girlfriend and cried.
This, of course, wasn't Beyoncé's first rodeo. "Formation" is Beyoncé's seventh tour, and for that reason, most of the production ran like a well-oiled machine. She never visibly missed a mark. Her voice never strayed from the right key, the right note, the right stop. But Beyoncé, though ***flawless, is not perfect. This was opening night, and no artist—no matter how talented or rich or practiced they may be—can iron out a kink they don't know exists yet.
During a mashup of "Standing on the Sun" and "Baby Boy," a man in a baseball cap appeared at stage right. He stood still for a minute, waiting. Jay Z must have been in attendance, I thought, and part of me wanted him to come out, to duet, to interact with his wife. But this wasn't him.
The man ran onto the stage with his head bowed. He crouched down behind the fifteen perfectly synchronized dancers and handed Beyoncé what I assume was a new left earpiece—she had been fidgeting with hers for the last few songs. The camera operators were either very lucky or incredibly skilled. On the screens, no trace of the man could be seen.
Most of Beyoncé's set passed by with only minor hiccups. Until the very end, the show was so smooth that it seemed like she'd been doing it for years.
What messed her up was the water.
As "Freedom" began, Beyoncé and her backup dancers filed down a catwalk to a shallow pool in the center of the stadium. The dancers splashed around rhythmically in the ankle-deep water, droplets landing on the crowd. When the song ended, Beyoncé was coated in a fine mist and beaming.
"This is for all the women, all the people," she started telling us over the opening notes of "Survivor," and then her eyes narrowed slightly. "It's gone," she said, tapping the microphone. She continued to speak as her voice faded out. The mic was dead, useless in her hands.
Someone must have whispered to her through her earpiece: Beyoncé walked to the edge of the stage and retrieved a new microphone. "Ha," she said into it. And then, ignoring her mark in the song, ignoring the lyrics she was supposed to sing, she continued to say what she had wanted to say before the song started—that this song is for anyone, everyone, who has gone through something terrible and survived.
This was her show, and she was gonna say what she wanted to say, broken mic or not.
When does a Beyoncé concert end?
It doesn't end when Beyoncé shoots fire high into the sky. It doesn't end when Beyoncé shoots confetti into the air. It doesn't end when Beyoncé tells every corner of the stadium "I love you." It doesn't end when the stage goes black, not for the first and not for the seventh time, either. A Beyoncé show ends when she says it does.
Standing alone in the water in the middle of the stadium, she sat down, and many fans took their seats along with her. By this point, more than two hours had passed.
"I wanna dedicate this song to my family, who have supported me through so much… I wanna dedicate this song to my beautiful husband. I love you so much." It was the first time she'd said anything about Jay Z. Her smile flashed onscreen, the opening notes to “Halo" played, and the crowd roared.
That was it for the drama. No explanation, no details. Beyoncé, most likely, will never say another word about Becky with the good hair, because it doesn't matter. She doesn't matter.
As we filtered down the exit ramps, the stadium buzzed. "She was great." This was history." "She was perfect." "Her hair." "Those moves." "I need to see this again."
No one mentioned the rumors. No one said a word about Jay. Because, after all, this wasn't about him.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.