By Nekesa Mumbi Moody
NEW YORK — With 16 Grammys, millions of records sold, several defining hits and a superstar husband, Beyonce has nothing to prove.
But sometimes, even queens need to show what it means to be royalty. And on last Sunday night, Beyonce arrived at the Roseland Ballroom to give fans and critics alike a reminder that she remains the head diva in the music world. She made her case to a select group of fans one rump-shaking move at a time.
“This show is going to be a little different,” Beyonce told the standing-room crowd at the show’s outset. “I just want to have a good time.”
But she clearly had more on her agenda for Sunday’s concert, the first of a four-night run at the famed concert-dance hall. While she usually performs for audiences of around 20,000, Beyonce downsized at Roseland for a sold-out crowd of about 3,000 to promote her new album “4,” which has received critical acclaim and has been certified platinum since its June release, but has not dominated sales and radio charts as her previous three solo albums, all multiplatinum successes with multiple hits, did.
The album’s release came at a critical time for Beyonce, with the 29-year-old firing her father and longtime manager Matthew Knowles and taking control of her own career, amid the increasing chart pre-eminence of competing acts such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna. With the initial slower-than-usual start for her latest album, there’s been discussion about whether her career is heading in the right direction.
Sunday’s concert was Beyonce’s dazzling rebuttal to all that talk: She put her track record up for display along with her new material and a subtle but undeniable message that she is not to be doubted, or counted against. Dressed in a shimmering gold minidress, she gave fans a history lesson of how Beyonce became Beyonce, from her early days as the star of Destiny’s Child to her reign at the top of the charts with such hits as “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies.”
She kicked things off by reaching deep into the past to do a song by one of her idols — Michael Jackson’s “I Wanna Be Where You Are.” Like Jackson, Beyonce started singing as a child, and like Jackson, she became the undisputed star of her group. “I Wanna Be Where You Are” was a song Destiny’s Child once sang for a recording contract audition that ended unsuccessfully. Beyonce noted that the setback didn’t stop them — a recurring theme for her concert, and her career.
Throughout the first half of the show, Beyonce ran through the chart-topping hits that came from her pen such as “Independent Women,” and said they were often inspired by her critics. Before launching into “Survivor,” she told the crowd about all the jokes lobbed at Destiny’s Child and their ever-changing personnel.
“This song was the defining moment of our career,” she said, noting the constant criticism she received at the time. “It actually inspired me.” Later, she recalled how her record company wasn’t a fan of her solo debut, “Dangerously in Love.”
“They told me I did not have one hit song on my album,” she said of the album that contained such hits as the title track and “Baby Boy.”
“I guess they were kind of right: I had five,” she boasted, before launching into a smoldering, slow version of the album’s biggest hit, “Crazy in Love.”
Backed by her all-female band, Beyonce reaffirmed her role as a peerless entertainer with her full-throated, soulful soprano and killer dance moves, in her signature stilettos. While she spent the first half the concert running through her life story (including her romance with husband Jay-Z) and her achievements, the second half was devoted to the future, courtesy of “4.”
She said the album was about “being brave, managing myself … giving myself artistic freedom to make real music for you.” That freedom resulted in an album that showcased her romantic, torch-song persona with her bootylicious, dance-groove side. Though she didn’t sing every song on the album, she sang most of them, from the Kanye West-produced “Party” to the girl-wronged anthem “Best Thing I Never Had” to the infectious, marching-band inspired “End of Time.”
“I searched the world, and found myself,” she declared.
She ended the night with the song “I Was Here,” a celebration of having left a lasting legacy — a point she underscored at Roseland to perfection.