I was at the Wolstein Center on the campus of Cleveland State University last night to see the much-heralded free “get out the vote” concert for Hillary Clinton featuring Jay-Z and special guest (everyone knew who it was ahead of time) Beyoncé. I had a marvelous time, it was really excellent to see America’s favorite pop stars (pretty much) alongside the soon-to-be-first female president (deep breath) on the same stage. I hadn’t actually gotten the memo that Hillary would be there as well, so it was a wonderful surprise to see her. Wisely, Hillary kept her appearance brief and let the audience enjoy its gift of excellent, free music.
A few thoughts:
1. Big arena rap shows are an awful lot of fun.. I don’t have a big point to make here, just that rap audiences put rock audiences to shame. It may have been an unusual situation because the doors opened around 5 p.m. and nobody actually performed until about 9 p.m. DJ Steph Floss was tasked with keeping the audience engaged for virtually all of that time, and he did so by playing countless rap songs by the likes of Drake and J-Kwon and Lil Wayne and so forth. The engagement of the audience during this whole stretch was impressive. Whole sections were vibrating due to the motion of people dancing, and there were frequent impromptu singalongs when Floss would cut out the volume, and so on. These people were into it. Rock audiences seldom give opening bands, often consisting of several human beings playing actual instruments, the time of day, much less pre-recorded music. This audience treated the pre-recorded music the way a rock audience would treat the Strokes. In general, the role of the audience singing along to almost everything enhanced the show.
2. Donald Trump and his organization could never have organized an event that was anything like this. During his remarks in Pennsylvania the same night, Trump essayed a jab at the Wolstein event, saying that he draws huge crowds and doesn’t need “J-Lo and Jay-Z” to do it. And that’s true enough. Just ask Scott Baio. But Trump’s line sparked another thought, for which it helped to be present in the arena last night.
It is simply this: Trump and his organization have shown no ability to mount a show like this. Hillary Clinton can and did do it. The show featured several high-profile rappers in a boda-fide arena show with a great many specialized voting-specific graphics that were specific to the event. Having been at the Wolstein from about 6 p.m. to about 10:30 p.m., I can attest that the event was very well run.
One of the biggest worries about Trump isn’t so much his terrible racism/xenophobia or the effects his awful policies would have but just his sheer incompetence and inability to execute long-range plans. This insight about the arena show addresses that concern. In a way I’m really complimenting Hillary here, she has high standards that were utterly reflected in every aspect of this event. Trump has shown in this campaign that he cannot manage a large organization (preferring a small one), and his “ground game” and internal polling operations are widely believed to be laughable. Trump may make fun of the Dems’ coziness with creative superstars, but Trump wouldn’t be able to leverage such relationships even if he did have them.
Amusingly, I don’t think the word Trump was mentioned a single time from the stage. It was a kind of game, they’d say “her opponent” or whatever and move on to something else.
3. Beyoncé is the one person in America you want behind you if you are a Democrat. Simply put, Bey is amazing. It’s not exactly an original thought. Before she went on, Jay-Z had occupied the stage for many songs, and had demonstrated why he is considered a rapper of unusual flow, presence, and intelligence. He was very, very good. Chance the Rapper, Big Sean, and J. Cole all had extended turns while Jay-Z rested up, and they all were deserving of the roars of appreciation they received from the audience.
Beyoncé made all of them, including Jay-Z, look like amateurs. She chose to start her six-pack of songs with “Formation,” which is probably the most stirring song in her catalog as well as my favorite of hers. She came out wearing a spiffy polka-dotted pantsuit (har) and her famous brimmed hat and—well, it was one of the most thunderously riveting performances I have ever seen in my life, certainly on that scale. “Formation” weds the kind of deep “signifying” Madonna used to be so very good at with the earthiness of, say, Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy—in effect, she’s Janet Jackson with the thematic richness of someone like Paul Thomas Anderson. Anyway, the notion of Beyoncé absolutely killing that song including fully choreographed dancing, as the dominant female superstar of our time in front of a mostly black audience in a sadly segregated Rust Belt city with a black president in office stumping for the nation’s first female president (we hope, we think)..... well. As my colleague Ron Kretsch likes to say, I was feeling all the feels.
Photo: Instagram of stefanjbecket
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
A Speculative List of Jay-Z’s 99 Problems
Jay-Z and Cornel West in discussion: apparently not fit for MTV