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Philadelphia, I Have a Crush on You

Philadelphia is a city that would make me stray from my part-time lover, New York City. There was something about the people, the public artwork, the history, and the energy that made me feel right at home.

I first visited the 5th largest city in the United States as a prospective student for a graduate school. As soon as I got off the bus, I was intrigued. One, the buildings weren’t overwhelming in size as they were in New York City. Two, a quick ride around the city told me that public artwork was huge there.

According to one city bus tour guide, Philadelphia requires that all office buildings dedicate a percentage of their space to public art. The reason for the beautiful murals adorning the walls is simple: crime alternatives. In previous years, youth caught tagging buildings were given a choice of entering an art program and creating murals or paying a fine, serving time, etc. By the looks of Philadelphia, it’s easy to see what people decided to do.

I stayed at the lovely and conveniently located Alexander Inn. When not on the grad school campus, I was in easy walking distance of the historic Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. It’s funny to see national park rangers in full, forest green uniform in the middle of urban locales, but that area is considered a national park.

Before leaving the city, I highly suggest going to the National Constitution Center. Mere steps from the Liberty Bell, the exhibit I saw there about Prohibition was the best historical exhibit I had ever seen. As a teacher, I always look to see how kid and adult-friendly exhibits are. This one had me mesmerized at the museum educator and curator’s talents.

When my bus pulled out of Philadelphia, I vowed to return for an extended vacation. The place is too steeped in history not to. Where else could I see people protesting potential US Postal Service cuts at no other than one of the first post offices in the nation? Warm people, art, and history. That’s all I need to return again and again.

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On the Run: Beyoncé and Jay-Z Concert in Philadelphia

One amazing individual, aka a best friend, surprised me with a ticket to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s On the Run concert in Philadelphia.

Some time later, we’re on a bus from New York City to Philly to see the empire that Jay and Bey built. After going to that concert, there’s no denying it. It’s an empire.

Now, I’m not going to even bother discussing Jay-Z because I don’t listen to rap music and can’t make any semblance of informed commentary about him (outside of my general perception of modern day hip-hop: that it was elevated by denigrating black women and our bodies).

Beyoncé, on the other hand, I have mixed feelings towards. I respect her as an entertainer and  a businesswoman but, yet again, I have reservations concerning her sometimes hyper-sexuality (as I’ve stated before in regards to another artist, the hyper-sexualized black woman is nothing new) and echoes of colorism that she may not generate (read: infamous 4 cover shoot) but is definitely powerful enough to terminate in regards to her own image.

All of that being said, I can’t even pretend as if that wasn’t the most fun I’d had at a concert since my very first one (*NSYNC, No Strings Attached–and don’t even play, you loved them too) when I was in middle school.

Played at Philly’s Citizens Bank Park, these two human beings packed a baseball stadium full of folks. Many people donned shirts from the tour Beyoncé just finished. Many more were parading around in dangerously short shorts, heels, and happiness. I mean, people screamed with excitement at a perfume commercial featuring Beyoncé (“That’s Bey! That’s Bey!”) only to have to settle down upon realizing the star(s) had not arrived just yet.

With no opening act, the couple stormed the stage 70 minutes after the official concert time with ’03 Bonnie and Clyde which then turned into Upgrade You.

The mood reminded me of a feel-good time when out dancing. People were dancing hard, singing along to every line, and just enjoying themselves. I can’t lie, I could barely sing along to anything since I still haven’t heard Beyoncé’s latest album in its fullness, and I damn sure have only heard one complete Jay-Z album, but that didn’t stop me from smiling and dancing.

Yet here’s the contradiction that is Beyoncé (and all humans are contradictory when I’m being honest): she puts on full display my favorite author’s words about the importance of feminism, but then follows that up with the song Bow Down Bitches. I had JUST turned to my friend and said, “She better not,” but she did.

Women were cheering in my section as the definition of feminism was broadcast in bold, capital letters. Then she’s going to follow it with Bow Down Bitches? I don’t know if that’s ironic, honest, or just an example of cognitive dissonance.

Beyoncé walks the line many modern women walk: to be seen as an independent, fully capable adult without it always having to be in relation to a man while also reminding larger society if they get too uncomfortable with the beauty that is a person fully coming into her own that they can fall back on traditional gendered scripts (i.e., competition between women; being domestic; showing public love of one’s male companion, etc…) just when the audience needs it.

At one point, my friend turned to me and said “She seems more like Jay-Z’s accessory,” which I had to agree with. She’s a POWERFUL performer, ain’t no use even tryin’ to deny that, but Jay-Z is able to get on stage with nothing but a red light and the crowd (or at least my section) goes wild.

She’s Bonnie to his Clyde (which was a theme throughout the concert) and, as far as I’m concerned, that story didn’t end well.

Regardless of my own mixed, contradictory feelings, I left the concert inspired.

They’re entertainers. They’re successful business people, and they’re people of color.

They’re the industry and I’m willingly swept right up in it even when I think I can critique it and stand apart.