On the day that Jay Z and his partners introduced Tidal to the world, it was clear they wanted the streaming music service to be all things to all people. On Tuesday night at Brooklyn's Barclays Center, Tidal X 1020, a concert meant to raise money for social justice and also celebrate Tidal's 1 million subscribers, swelled from a similar ambition. The show's producers somehow had to cram 25 artists, stuffed onto two stages and one live stream, into three hours, all in front of a crowd that had paid top dollar to be there.
The end result, though a little misshapen, also felt weirdly successful.
The evening’s collaborations doubled as its most memorable performances. It felt as if the audience was buzzing about “Feeling Myself,” a duet between Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé, before the Barclays Center had even opened its doors, and the sound of the song’s first notes caused immediate hysteria. Later, Jay Z and Beyoncé teamed to perform “Holy Grail,” a song Beyoncé described as “my favorite song to sing to my husband.” At its conclusion, when she fell into her husband’s arms, the audience hollered.
But those moments all came at the end of the night, after a two-hour blitz packed with nearly 20 other acts. Throughout the night, time was not on Tidal’s side. Most of the evening’s performers spent a handful of minutes on stage, usually just enough time to perform one or two songs, and not always their biggest ones.
In some cases, the anticipation charged the arena with uncommon energy, as the crowd waited to see who would be next. When Meek Mill, Rick Ross, DJ Khaled and French Montana gradually piled onto a miniature stage right in the middle of the floor, it felt thrilling. When five emerging artists who are part of a program called Tidal Rising came and went, it felt like a talent show.
A few odd production choices also added wobbles. Benjamin Booker, one of two guitar-centric songwriters on the bill, barely bothered to conceal the fact that he was singing along to backing tracks, rather than the pantomiming musicians with him onstage. Later, one of the longest sets of the night was given to Cipha Sounds, a DJ who didn’t actually do any DJing. Instead, Cipha stalked back and forth on an elevated stage, shouting the lyrics from older hits another person queued up with computer software.
Taken as a whole, the show’s producers have a strong foundation on which to build next year’s benefit. According to Jay Z, this particular show will become an annual event, and by then, it’s likely that people will view his streaming service in a totally different light from the one it’s currently cast in.
For most of Tidal’s first six months, media coverage focused on things like the service’s poorly received launch event, or the app’s lack of traction, or the head start and deep pockets of its competitors, as sure signs that Tidal’s days were numbered.
Yet plenty of people gathered at Barclays Center saw and heard things differently. “I’m all for Jay Z getting involved in this stuff,” Anthony Savino, a student at St. John’s University, said, adding that he watched Tidal’s much-maligned launch event and signed up afterward.
The crowd wasn’t filled solely with Tidal devotees. Tracey Winfield, who won a pair of tickets to the show by calling in to local radio station Hot 97, said the first time she’d ever heard of Tidal was when a DJ announced the opportunity to call in and win.
Another attendee, Kelly Mills, who currently subscribes to Apple Music, said she shied away from Tidal after a friend told her that it cost $35 per month; Tidal’s basic tier costs $10 per month, and its premium tier costs $20 per month.
But for every attendee who was skeptical or misinformed, there was another one who showed Tidal’s mix of star power and product features can be compelling. And in that sense, Tidal X 1020 did exactly what it needed to do -- allay subscribers of any lingering skepticism they may have toward the service.
Tom Carbone and Nicole Witwicki need no further convincing. Two Canadians who had been in America on holiday, they extended their trip an extra day just so they could attend Tuesday’s show. They also signed up for Tidal, and so far, the early returns have been positive.
“So far, we really like it,” Carbone said.