When the curtain closes on the first leg of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On the Run tour this week, it will have ended in success befitting of pop music’s royal couple.
The summer tour -- the couple’s first joint outing -- will have grossed more than $100 million in ticket sales and played to nearly 1 million fans at 19 stadiums across North America, according to promoter Live Nation.
And next month the spectacle will anchor an HBO special, which has been planned to be pulled from the tour’s only international shows in Paris.
But if you follow gossip rags and Internet chatter, the tour could also serve as something less cheerful -- the end of a marriage for Mr. and Mrs. Carter.
As the tour has continued to play for packed crowds (it stopped for two nights at the Rose Bowl last weekend and closes in San Fransisco on Wednesday night), the rumor mill has churned at a vicious pace about the health of their personal and business relationships, despite no confirmation or statements from either camp that any of these romantic struggles are real.
Still, everyday there’s been a new headline. Here's a few from last week: “Beyoncé and Jay Z's imploding marriage,” “Beyoncé: I Can’t Live With A Cheater,” “Beyoncé is secretly shopping for a new apartment without Jay-Z.”
Stories tell of separate hotels, mounting tension and marriage counselors. Some of the latest gossip has Beyoncé meeting with financial advisors as well as accusations of infidelity from both. An alleged mistress has even begun promoting her own music career with a video disguised as an open letter to Beyoncé.
These salacious stories of marital strife appear next to mostly favorable reviews for the more than 40-song production that’s packed with a pop diva’s fierce precision, her husband’s cool swagger and lots of onstage affection.
Whatever is going on in their marriage isn’t our business, but it’s become our obsession. Why? Because we don’t actually know what’s going in their marriage, and that's difficult to remember in an age when Twitter and Instagram has turned almost everyone into celebrity reporters.
Beyoncé and Jay Z regularly collaborate on music and are spotted everywhere from red carpets to lush vacation destinations around the world. The two are frequently seen doting on 2 year-old daughter Blue Ivy, whether in New York City or lounging backstage at Coachella.
But despite that visibility, they’ve spent the bulk of their more than 12-year relationship being notoriously private. The early years of their relationship were closely guarded, and both their 2008 marriage and Blue’s birth in 2012 were so hush-hush that the only morsels of information the public received came courtesy of the couple – you know, like in real life.
Instead they’ve chosen to give the public access through the music.
From their first collaboration, 2002’s "'03 Bonnie & Clyde" to last year’s woozy explicit sex jam “Drunk in Love,” and everything in between, the narrative has been completely in their hands. And they’ve kept us wanting more.
But in May they lost that control after a grainy, silent black-and-white clip was leaked to TMZ that showed the pop diva’s sister, Solange, hitting and screaming at Jay inside an elevator as Beyonce looked on without intervening.
The clip, both shocking and embarrassing, opened the proverbial floodgates for gossip-mongers (and detractors) with speculation running rampant over the catalyst for the dust-up. Despite releasing a statement assuring the public that the trio “worked through it” and "moved forward as a united family,” the public hasn’t. A couple as image-savvy as Beyoncé and Jay Z certainly know that.
How they present themselves onstage has never slipped out of their control. And amid all the speculation following their every move, maybe the two stars are playing into our obsession?
Scandal isn't necessary to sell a Jay Z and Beyoncé tour, but the couple are wise enough to realize audiences aren't just tuning in to see them breeze through their catalog of hits. Every hint of onstage body language has been analyzed, as has every kiss.
Beyoncé welling up with tears and altering the lyrics to breakup ballad “Resentment” -- an obscure fan favorite originally sung by Victoria Beckham (Yes, Posh Spice) – must mean something, right?
A performance of Lauryn Hill’s bitter torch song “Ex-Factor” with Jay Z following up with his somber "Song Cry" has to be emblematic of something more, doesn't it? Even though Beyoncé has performed both songs in similar fashion over the years, many writers and watchers have eagerly run with these ideas.
As they have run with the couple's decision to pack the show with personal footage mixed with Bonnie and Clyde-themed montages.
Beyoncé even decided to toy with our fascination by revisiting that infamous scuffle with her sister when she dropped a Nicki Minaj-assisted remix to her feminist anthem “Flawless” last week.
“Of course sometimes . . . go down / When it’s a billion dollars on an elevator,” she raps.
It all has to mean something, right?
Maybe, maybe not. Either way, we are talking about the show and the music, and that’s exactly what the couple no doubt has hoped for.
As the saying goes, where there's smoke, there's fire. But it's entirely possible the Carters are two steps ahead with the matches. It's what Bonnie and Clyde would have done.