Beyoncé, leading the pack with 11 nominations, did indeed perform at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, after intense rumors earlier this week that she would grace the stage with her glorious presence. With a medley of highlights from Lemonade, including “Sorry” and “Hold Up,” Queen Bey gave a typically confident—if slightly subdued—performance that offered an array of striking visuals.
In keeping with her current theme of slipping in frequent references to the Black Lives Matter movement, she concluded the first song of the night, Lemonade opener “Pray You Catch Me,” with dancers adorned in white, angelic outfits falling to the ground to a sound that resembled gunshots, before she herself was enveloped in an embrace by a black performer wearing a black hoodie. Combined with the song’s very blatant lyrics about infidelity, the imagery felt a bit incongruous; but then, Lemonade as a whole walks a fine line between these two themes, of Beyoncé’s individualism versus the collective experience of black women in America.
Beyoncé ended her performance with an equally explicit statement of purpose, one that reverberated with her iconic performance in front of the word “Feminist” at the 2014 VMAs. Following “Formation,” her dancers concluded the performance by dropping to the floor in the shape of the female gender symbol. It wasn’t Beyoncé’s most high-energy routine, but it was still more than enough to make every other performer wish they were still stuck in traffic.