“Please bring binoculars, just in case.”
That’s from the last email I had sent to my mom. It’s two weeks after Mother’s Day in 2016 and we’re about to see Beyoncé’s Formation Tour at the Roger’s Centre in Toronto.
My mom has never been to a stadium concert before. She’s a 62-year-old immigrant from Turkey who prefers classical music to pop songs. Now we were going to see Queen Bey from our nosebleed seats, singing, “middle fingers up, put them hands high,” lyrics my innocent ESL mom would never be able to decipher.
That February, the video for “Formation” came out, followed by her Super Bowl performance, which was trailed by a release of tour tickets and the launch of the Lemonade album in April. Having seen her last tour – On The Run in 2014 with her husband Jay Z – I knew in my heart that I’d have to see her live again. For two hours, she had cast a spell on the audience, never missing a beat, slaying us with her flawlessness. I left that show feeling like nothing else mattered in the world. Beyoncé had blessed me, and I had the glow to prove it.
“Formation” was huge. Lemonade was bigger; it was Beyoncé at her realest, rawest and most dramatic. On it, she confronted Jay Z about his cheating as the Beyhive questioned her marital status as Mrs. Carter and wondered who “Becky with the good hair” really was. If my mom had never been to a stadium show, this would be the one to take her to.
She didn’t need much convincing.
She was first sold on Beyoncé’s poise when Oprah interviewed her back in 2013. We watched it together, me fan-girling the entire time, reciting facts about her career throughout. “Oh, I like her, she’s very beautiful,” my mom said, visibly moved as we watched Oprah try to decode Beyoncé.
When I mentioned my plan to friends and co-workers, they were stoked that I’d be seeing Queen Bey with my mom. After 30 years in Canada, she still had an accent and was generally out of touch with pop culture, but instantly everyone thought of her as “the cool mom.”
It was a familiar feeling; she was always well-liked by my friends. In high school, she let me have parties, she grooved to Radiohead’s Kid A in the car, and she drove me to local shows. She is an artist and designer who made some of my clothes and thrift shopped with me.
But at the concert, I couldn’t help feeling a little uncool at times. After meeting at Union Station, we walked to the venue, swarmed by all walks of people – from teens in crop-tops and sneakers to the post-19 crowd (aka Ladies Who Have Gotten Into Formation) in their long mullet skirts and heels. My mom, with her astute eye and background in fashion design, commented on their flowing hair, summer cleavage, and butts of all sizes. I rolled my eyes and hustled onwards.
At the security gate, and after a free ice cream sample, she pulled out her water bottle to hydrate.
“You can’t bring that inside,” I said, an air of authority overcoming me. I’d done this concert thing many times before. “There’s security everywhere, and they’re gonna take your water bottle away.”
“Oh boy,” she replied, uninterested in the rules. “Wanna bet?”
She ignored my advice and flew through security, bottle tightly wrapped in a plastic bag sitting at the bottom of her small purse. Once we were in, we both took a victory sip.
We arrived at our 500-level seats and tested out our binoculars, which struggled at first to focus on the stage. Beyoncé, with her boastful live performance, was sure to look like an ant from our vantage point. At least there was a jumbotron.
The wait to see Yoncé was long, and my newbie mom was getting impatient. “I wonder what she’s doing back there,” she repeated, concerned the concert would go late, causing her to miss her train. Finally, the mysterious fog that enveloped the dark stage cleared. Beyoncé, nearly an hour late, suddenly commanded that the huge venue embrace her royal highness. The crowd erupted, the stage visuals broke with light and transmogrifying orchid visuals. My mom, and her waning energy, began to perk up.
As I mouthed the words “Formation,” its deep bass beating loudly in my chest, I could only imagine what my fragile mom must have been feeling; sensitive to noise, unable to relate, but excited nonetheless. She grabbed the binoculars, refocused a few times, but gave up quickly. She instead bopped around in her seat, softly flailing her arms to songs she had never heard before; like “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a song with lyrics that I’d be painfully self-conscious belting out at the top of my lungs if my mom could decipher them.
Who the fuck do you think I is?
You ain’t married to no average bitch boy
You can watch my fat ass twist boy
As I bounce to the next dick boy
Beyoncé – “Don’t Hurt Yourself” (f/ Jack White)
As Beyoncé moved through her set list, my mom was impressed by the sheer talent and the spectacle of it all; how Beyoncé transformed the space with her huge voice, immaculate choreography, and her outfits glittering with sexuality. But I could tell that my mom was getting tired, fixated on her train ride home and the next day’s early morning schedule.
When the show wrapped up – later than anticipated – she power walked through the crowd of thousands, a typical Virgo worrier (and warrior). Born two days (and several decades) apart, my mom has more in common with Beyoncé than one would think – I see similarities in their perfectionism, their hard work ethic, and their restless energy, strength and dedication.
Ultimately, she made it to the station in time. Intuitively, I knew she would.
That night, my mom experienced something brand new. At 62, she had finally ticked “stadium concert” off her bucket list. She was now part of a larger cultural moment, wilfully participating in the zeitgeist. Ultimately, her’s was an attitude I wished more people had – to be curious, exploratory, and never bored. I was proud that she had embraced the moment – more or less – in such an alien environment.
In the end, we didn’t need binoculars. We could see just fine.