By now, everyone has found out about the internet’s worst kept secret: Beyoncé would return to the stage for the grand opening of the ultra luxurious resort, Atlantis The Royal Dubai. What fans didn’t know was what to expect from the global superstar for not just her first performance in front of a live audience in almost five years, but also her first since releasing her groundbreaking album Renaissance last summer.
Since the superstar has yet to release accompanying visuals for her landmark project, the performance was being touted as a first glimpse of what’s to come for the rest of the era, which Bey herself explained would be a three-part feat. But like some fans feared, Beyoncé did not perform a single song off of Renaissance Saturday evening, instead opting for a ballad heavy setlist that included tracks like “Flaws and All,” “Halo,” “Spirit” and more. She opened the show with her famous cover of Etta James‘s “At Last” — a cheeky nod to her long-awaited return to live performing that had the intimate audience of just over a thousand attendees, including the likes of Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Chloe and Halle Bailey, Kendall Jenner and more, instantly enamored.
Harper’s BAZAAR was in attendance for the special occasion and witnessed firsthand how Bey’s latest appearance differed from performances past; most noticeably there being no high energy choreography from the superstar herself. The night was solely about Beyoncé’s voice and it’s commanding presence and power. Her opening outfit being a blooming yellow dress with fluttering wings mimicking the sun was clearly an intentional choice — much like the sun, the world revolves around Bey, and the dozens of high profile editors, influencers, and global personalities who hopped across the Atlantic to witness the evening, proved that very sentiment.
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While there was no musical presence of Renaissance during the show, the album’s influence was still apparent in the avant-garde stage setup for the night. A reimagined version of Raphael’s “The School of Athens” (featuring visibly Black painted characters instead of white) was the official backdrop for the singer while her backup dancers switched between sequined suits and Victorian inspired petticoats. Drummers wore gold baroque face-masks and the women of the Lebanese dance group The Mayyas made multiple appearances throughout the evening (including alongside Beyoncé for a quick rendition of her 2006 collab with Shakira, “Beautiful Liar” — a pleasant throwback! The intricate setup included lush waterfalls and a 48-women strong orchestra that reinforced the unbelievable reality of the night; this was easily the most intimate show Beyoncé had performed in decades, and the magic of the moment wasn’t lost on anyone (even the 1% who made up the invite-only audience). The singer performing for the first time live with her eldest daughter Blue Ivy Carter or belting a shortened rendition of “Ave Maria” with her voice echoing over the Arabian Sea aren’t moments one soon forgets.
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While the news of Bey’s Dubai-exclusive performance surprised some fans, the collaborative team up makes sense. As Dubai has established itself as a leading influence in the luxury market, a grand opening celebration with a superstar synonymous with world-class excellence does seem like the only viable option for an opening of this scale. The resort has been under construction for the last eight years and features opulent offerings such as an in-house Valentino boutique, a mini art gallery (including a rare Pablo Picasso work) and multiple restaurants helmed by global chefs like Jose Andres, Nobu Matsuhisa, and more. Beyoncé was also inspired to partner with leading women entrepreneurs in the region and teamed up with IAM entertainment to bring the the unforgettable spectacle to life. If Dubai was the first glimpse of what’s to come from the icon, then fans are truly in for a ride. It’s clear that Beyoncé has never been more confident in herself, her work, and the musical and artistic legacy she’s continuing to build.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.
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