Photos by Bryan Bedder, Theo Wargo, Larry Busacca, and Brad Barket via Getty Images for TIDAL
I’m not a TIDAL user. I downloaded the service once to listen to an exclusive album, but when I realized you had to first sign up for a free trial, I decided to just wait until the record went live elsewhere. Still, I can appreciate what the company’s trying to do for artists and its attempts to build a more IRL community than any other streaming service. Case in point: Their second annual TIDAL X benefit concert, held this past Saturday night at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, contributed to that idea — though, it was also somewhat emblematic of the company’s flaws.
Ostensibly, the show was a star-studded event to support The Robin Hood Foundation’s education initiatives. I actually ended up in an Uber to the venue with the principal of one of the schools that the nonprofit supports, and he told me what a windfall events like this are for them. While it’s great to know there was an actual benefit to this benefit concert, the message was a bit lost during the show itself.
Over the course of four and a half hours, there were a total of five mentions of anything education related, with three of those being video packages. The one time an actual teacher took the stage somehow warped into a product placement for Dodge, but at least the teacher was gifted with a new Dodge Charger. Sprinkled throughout were mentions of other causes like getting out the vote (“And don’t vote for the white man!” Robin Thicke exclaimed) and ending discrimination, presented via the op-ed video Jay Z made for The New York Times.
But most of all, the entire thing felt like a giant advertisement for TIDAL — which, to be fair, it kind of was. I’d bet a majority of the folks in the crowd were’t users of the service (an eavesdropping poll concluded none of the people around me were). One of the video packages that played between sets consisted of fans who’d won or purchased entry through TIDAL saying how great TIDAL is, each ending their excited speech with, “Thank you, TIDAL!” Even the artists continually gave shout-outs to the company for putting on the show, only occasionally and vaguely referring to “the good cause” that was supposedly the base for the whole thing.
The purported message of the night was simply lost in the clutter. And it’s not like there wasn’t plenty of downtime during stage resets where a video could have played or a speaker could have taken center stage to talk up the charity organization. It was a considerably long show, with plenty of filler acts spread out with de-energizing gaps of time between them. Much like the streaming service itself, it seemed like the TIDAL X show came in with a good idea and stumbled its way through the execution.
On the other hand, TIDAL is really about putting the music and artists first, and in that sense, there was plenty of success last night. Despite the dragged-out pacing in the middle of the evening, this was like watching a mini-festival stuffed with top-tier performers. Not everyone got their due, and the complete lack of surprise collaborations or guests was disappointing, especially considering Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé were returning after teaming up for “Feeling Myself” at last year’s show. (And where was Hov?)
But any four-hour concert with a dozen odd performers is going to have its ups and downs. At least here the highs were exceptionally high. Click ahead for a recap of the evening’s 10 best sets.
Bronx native Prince Royce had the unfortunate honor of following up Beyoncé’s first set (more on that later), but his energetic Latin pop held the spot down well. Although his display of Dominican romance as he tossed out flowers during “Back It Up” was fun, it was his Spanish cover of “Stand By Me” that ended up serving as the highlight of his set.
Taking the stage after Robin Thicke, Blood Orange really showed ‘im how it’s done. Despite the sparse crowd, Dev Hynes still put on a solid show. Sure, he probably would’ve thrown more energy into the songs if there was a bigger crowd with better vibes, but his spinning moves during “Sandra’s Smile” still showed up almost every dancer of the night (yes, even Beyoncé).
Of course, I knew the unavoidable hit “Cake by the Ocean” prior to Saturday evening, but I had no idea Joe Jonas fronted DNCE (am I bad at my job? Maybe). Once that shock wore off, and I got over how dumb the band’s name is, the show was pretty hard not to enjoy. The band members are more show than skill in performance (JinJoo Lee’s guitar solo on the cover of Prince’s “Kiss” was head-scratching, and smock-wearing bassists Cole Whittle was more about somersaulting antics than playing), but Jonas at least least took that show into the crowd, sprinting all the way up to the box seats. There was more of a performance during DNCE’s set than anywhere else in the night, and they deserve credit for that — especially since they were the only guitar-based band of the entire evening.
It was immediately clear from the screams at the mere sound of her voice during the opening video package that the entire audience was there for Beyoncé. Unfortunately, late-comers missed most of her stage time, as she first came out after just four other acts. This did a number on the show’s pacing, and was a bummer for those who reasonably expected her to come on much later.
Even more of a let down, Bey only performed three songs in total, and none that showcased her dance prowess, making it a disappointing show. The closest thing we got to a dance number was when she twirled behind a trailing hologram of herself, though that was more interpretive than the kind of show-stopping stuff for which she’s known. The moving shelf set during “Haunted” was cool, but she was locked in prone position for the entire time. Perhaps that’s more interesting in the context of her larger productions, but here it was a bit too static.
Of course — of course — she sounded unreal, and even without much movement, her presence demands awe. However, when she came out at the end of the night with her full band, performing “All Night” and delivering a speech about loving each other and voting before turning to leave, you could feel the air leave the crowd. “That’s it?” someone asked behind me. I’m not trying to say Beyoncé owed anyone anything — her performance was beautiful — but that doesn’t diminish everyone’s feelings of dissatisfaction.
You’d think Nicki Minaj was the headliner and not Beyoncé with the amount of set time she was given. She ran through verses of no fewer than 14 tracks, including “Monster”, “Down in the DM”, “Truffle Butter”, “Beez in the Trap”, and “Moment 4 Life”. She really didn’t do a ton on stage, even tossing huge portions of songs to the crowd as she beamed with joy. Yet somehow her intensity and swagger — coupled with the fact that she was the only act to bring out a guest (Fetty Wap for “Trap Queen”) — elevated her to a highlight performance. She also threw the best political shade of the night as she espoused the value of strong women. “Cause Barack needed a Michelle, bitch,” she declared. “And Bill needed a motherfucking Hillary, bitch. You better pray to God you don’t get stuck with a motherfucking Melania.” Burn.
Ms. Lauryn Hill
Beyoncé is clearly on a different plane than anyone else out there, and she’s going to go down as a true legend. But as of right this moment, she doesn’t yet carry the weight of someone like Ms. Lauryn Hill. Not only did opening with a song like “I Find it Hard to Say” — a song she “wrote about police brutality like 10 years ago,” but which is still strikingly poignant — show her cultural importance, but going into “Ex-Factor” allowed her to demonstrate just how much poise and command she has on stage. Always the perfectionist, she was constantly signaling for levels to be adjusted or conducting her band. It all paid off with a jaw-dropping rendition of “Lost Ones”, Hill’s vocal speed and control on full display. Other performers of the evening will get there, but Hill done been there and set up shop already.
Like Beyoncé immediately after her, Alicia Keys was curiously handed a short time slot. She absolutely did the most with it, though, knocking “Girl on Fire” out of the arena and hitting the single best note of the night on “Hallelujah”. But, how do you not give her time to play “Empire State of Mind” in Brooklyn? Maybe they were running up on a curfew and had to cut the final few sets short, I can’t say. But Keys deserved way more time — and someone please smack her DJ for overusing the damn airhorn. (You’re gonna blare it right as she takes a dramatic break on the final belting line of “Hallelujah”? Really?) Funny side note: Before playing “Hallelujah”, Keys joked that “Nobody played the piano tonight,” so she was going to fill that role. It’s okay, Alicia, we’d all forgotten Kevin Garrett played three-and-a-half hours earlier by that point, too.
Politics were peppered throughout the night, but nobody did a better job at presenting it than Common. There were no speeches from the rapper/actor, but he let his poetic side shine with a mostly acapella rendition of “Black America Again”. It was a fitting choice, not only because Stevie Wonder wasn’t on hand to provide musical support, but because it let the song’s powerful words truly connect with the crowd. They cheered at every hot-button mention, and jammed out as he made his way through “The Corner” and the always great “Go”. The way he delivered “Black America Again” should make fans extremely intrigued to hear what’s coming on the new album of the same name.
Before T.I. (apparently formally going by TIP at the moment) took the stage, it had actually slipped my mind that I was in a 18,000-capacity stadium. There were a lot of middling acts prior to that, but good ol’ TIP set the stage for the rest of the evening with his hard-hitting performance. The crowd shot to their feet once he turned around and started spitting “Warzone”, and pretty much lost their collective shit when he went into “Bring Em Out”. The one-dude-with-a-microphone performers who played earlier should hope they were paying attention, because Atlanta’s finest showed how to bring fire even when you’re alone on stage. He certainly had an advantage with his selection of hits (which also included “Live Your Life”), but if the young guns on the bill want to ever reach T.I.’s level, they’re going to need to learn to play to the audience as well as he did last night.
Emlie Sandé may have broken through in her home country of England, but she has yet to see the same level of pop success over here. Fun fact, though: Her given name is actually Adele, and like the other big-voiced Brit that shares her name, Sandé will soon have her day. At least that’s the impression I got after watching her perform just three songs on Saturday evening.
The British R&B songstress was the complete package: powerful voice, a confident control of the stage, and a healthy catalog. First song “Next to Me” was her most vital track, a suiting opener that instantly attracted the audience for her second offering, “Garden”. But it was the talent she showcased on her soulful and feverish closer, “Hurt”, that really won over the night.
If the other Adele had released the song, perhaps it would have already broken the top 10 in the States. As it stands, it’s the kind of comeback single that sets Sandé up to really make a name for herself with this new album. And if she can back it up with performances as impressive as the one she brought to TIDAL X, it’ll definitely be a name worth knowing.