July 15, 2009 / 3:29 AM / 10 years ago

Despite glitzy gimmicks, Beyonce connects with fans

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Beyonce recently topped Forbes’ list of the richest stars under 30, but she clearly is not hoarding the money: A ton of it must have been spent on her latest spectacle of a tour.

Beyonce performs during the 2008 American Music Awards in Los Angeles November 23, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Despite the title of her latest album, “I Am ... Sasha Fierce,” nothing was fierce at all. Warm and fuzzy? Sure. Over the top? You could’ve bet on that because it’s the nature of pop tours these days.

But what made her truly connect with fans wasn’t the gimmicks — confetti raining down during her horn-blasted, opening retro-soul strut of “Crazy in Love,” or high-tech movable stage parts and loads of costume changes: It was the music and the way it was delivered that counted the most as she interacted with her band and fans. Many so-called divas and such could learn something here. Are you listening, Madonna?

The two-hour-plus show offered Beyonce’s far-ranging styles, from pop and R&B to hip-hop, reggaeton, electronic and dance.

She also dipped into songs by others — though they were more tease than covers, linked to her own songs. She cooed through a bit of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby,” Sarah McLachlan’s winsome “Angel” and took a quick tear through part of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.”

She proved adept at each, and it’s a shame she didn’t just go for the complete numbers.

But “Ave Maria,” sung while dancers assembled a wedding dress on her, didn’t work at all.

When the crowd cheered, screamed and roared early on in the show, she stopped to beam with a genuine smile. This was a far cry from the Beyonce of some years whose ego appeared to walk ahead of her. But she’s grown up — musically and as a performer.

So while “flying” across the top of the arena in a harness to a small stage in the middle of the floor was a slice of Cirque du Tinkerbell, what followed contained much more emotion, as fans sang her hit “Irreplaceable” before she took over.

For the most heated material, she was Tina, the Next Generation, and some ballads found her in a Streisand mode, down to her phrasing. She’s become a much better vocalist, thanks in part to taking on such projects as playing Etta James in the film “Cadillac Records” and appearing in the film adaptation of Broadway’s “Dreamgirls,” both of which played a part in the night’s diversity.

The show certainly had its flaws, and some material was hammered out and shrill or served up through pretentious videos, like a sci-fi segment.

At one point, Beyonce spoke of believing in female empowerment, citing her all-woman band and backing singers. Even among her co-ed dancers, the men often were in costumes with their faces covered.

Such sisterhood shout-outs are well and good, especially for pumping up the self-esteem of her younger fans. Some might claim she’s on a feminist-agenda tack, but that’s nonsense. All those mini-dresses and even racier skimpy outfits were not just for the women in the audience.

Ultimately, it’s all about marketing and branding, from music to clothing lines, fragrances and more. Beyonce has long been a product. That’s the way it’s been since she emerged as the breakout star in Destiny’s Child a decade ago.

Now, some might argue that’s the nature of pop — and very often it is. But the best moments of the concert weren’t about glitz and flash: They were about making a connection. And if she pursues that path, it’s a direction that might bring greater artistry, with marketing secondary.

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