On Jay Z’s 2006 album Kingdom Come, the rapper offered up one of the most revealing snippets of his private relationship with Beyoncé — that is, until this May’s Elevatorgate. On “Lost One,” Hova raps, “I don’t think it’s meant to be, B/ But she loves her work more than she does me/ And honestly, at 23/ I would probably love my work more than I did she.” Jay would confirm Beyoncé as the song’s subject in his 2010 book Decoded, but it was clear even then — a year and a half before Knowles and Carter would become America’s Couple — who Jay was speaking of. This is worth remembering after a summer filled with rumors of infidelity, divorce, and pregnancy.
It’s also worth remembering when watching HBO’s new concert film Beyoncé Jay Z: On the Run. More than a victory lap for their “Drunk In Love” vow renewals, the film — which documents the Paris culmination of The Carters’ On The Run summer tour mere weeks ago — is an affirmation of what Jay claims on “Lost One”: Bey loves her work more than she loves him. It shows in how she flawlessly runs circles around him. Had On The Run — shockingly their first tour together — been set up like Drake and Lil Wayne’s current “versus” tour, Beyoncé would have beat Jay Z every time.
In many ways, Beyoncé has become “too big to fail.” She’s in a whole different arena than Jay, one in which over-the-top perfection is demanded (in part because she herself sets the standard, but also because professional standards for female superstars do not necessarily align with those of their male counterparts). With nearly a dozen costume changes and even more newly choreographed routines, Bey’s portion of their alternating collaborative set is a testament to endurance and showmanship. By nature, Jay’s whole thing is less flashy; it’s not about three back-up singers and six back-up dancers and a 12-piece rock band, all in glittery costumes. If anything, his rapping alone to pre-recorded beats, often without Bey as a hype man (girl’s gotta change clothes… and go), requires more cult of personality than his wife’s undeniable talent. But even there, Beyoncé outdoes Jay, specifically as the Jonas Akerlund-directed concert film heads into its second half.
Beyoncé has made headlines throughout the On The Run Tour for covering Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor,” as well as for dusting off her B’Day deluxe edition ballad “Resentment”, with amended lyrics hinting further at those nasty cheating rumors. In this section of the show, it feels as though she and Jay are talking to each other with their song choices and particularly on Bey’s part, her visible emotion. “Ex Factor” gets mashed up into “If I Were a Boy,” and the rendition is even more charged than Bey’s “If I Were a Boy”/”You Oughta Know” combo on her 2010 live album, I Am… World Tour. Biting Jay’s style in a loose leather get-up and matching baseball cap, Bey flairs up her voice in that rough-edged way of hers, exhibiting palpable rage.
What immediately follows is a Kill Bill-esque wedding scene from the Bonnie and Clyde film Jay and Bey created for the On the Run Tour, in which Beyoncé shoots guns and speeds off into the vast nothingness on a motorcycle with Jay. With its apologetic lyrics about pushing a good girl into a lifetime of bad behavior, Blueprint track “Song Cry” made it feel as though Jay was making amends for something, in as subtle a way as one can on an arena tour.
The aforementioned “Resentment” follows, with Bey wearing a bridal pantsuit and veil. Knowles has done her fair share of formal acting, but the seething rage visible on her face when she sings about having to look the other woman in her eyes is either her greatest theatrical role to date or — gasp — genuine relatability from pop’s pinnacle of perfection. But Bey being Bey, she needs only a moment find solace in her crowd and brush her shoulders off, even as she grimaces, “That bitch will never be half of me.” A moment later, she beams, “Love is an act of endless forgiveness.” They’re trolling us spectacularly, or they’re doing the unthinkable in celebrity marital drama: coming clean.
But the truth is, it doesn’t really matter what the truth is. There are enough moments begging for an “aww,” specifically the two and half-hour film’s final ten minutes, that the rumors should now be put to rest (if they weren’t already after the VMAs). That’s clearly what they want us to think: Jay declares, “This is real life” while he and Bey serenade each other with his “Part II (On the Run),” “Young Forever,” and her “Halo.” At times they stand back arm in arm, simply reveling in their wedding and Blue Ivy home movies playing out for the crowd. For a couple that has mostly controlled their public narrative with a deft hand, I could see how it would be thrilling to let people into their love just a little. They kiss, and it feels like a fairytale all over again. “I’m your biggest fan,” she tells him, tears in her eyes, and we all know the truth: Jay’s lucky to have her.