My Life As a Paparazza
Here I am, two hours early for Jay-Z and Mary J., shivering on a concrete ramp overlooking an unmarked tour bus parked in the Greensboro Coliseum’s service bay. Every so often a man in a dark suit punches a code and slides open the bus door.
When this happens, I lean forward and try to catch a look inside. I’m trying to find the man himself, the greatest MC ever: hustler, millionaire, fashion executive, hip-hop kingmaker and rumored spouse of megastar Beyoncé Knowles.
That scuttlebutt is what put me here, anyway, on an errand to discover whether Jay-Z and Beyoncé, longtime romantic partners, actually tied the knot yesterday in a rooftop ceremony in New York City. Anyone who reads this paper on a regular basis knows it’s not the kind of assignment I normally undertake.
So how did I, a lowly Winston-Salem correspondent, become a cog in the celebrity news machine? Simple. I got a phone call.
An editor for The New York Post called the office looking for a stringer. I had a ticket to the evening’s Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z concert and some time to kill.
And to tell you the truth, I’m having a pretty good time, buzzing like a live wire, waiting for opportunity to present itself, feeling no guilt at all. After all, for all the knocks it takes, celebrity news consumes far fewer column inches in your average daily paper than sports. Readers need an escape, and newspapers need readers. That’s where this story comes in.
When I took this gig, I imagined I’d find a way backstage, put my questions to Jay-Z, maybe admire Ms. Blige’s shoes, and then slink off to the YES! Weekly box to enjoy the show, comfortable in the glow of celebrity scoopdom. That didn’t happen. According security, Ms. Blige and Jay-Z didn’t exactly coordinate their entourages, resulting in an excess of badged personnel. Staffers at the Coliseum have been warned to keep a tight lid on anyone else trying to talk their way backstage.
Instead I spent an hour and a half staring at a van until Coliseum security removed me from my roost.
“Sometimes the tech staff has pretty nice buses, too,” the man chuckles.
That’s okay, I think. Word on the street says Jay-Z will be bringing his new bride onstage. All I have to do is capture their words, describe their dress and keep an eye out for wedding rings.
The show opens with a duet by the headliners. Mary J. slinks around on heels the size of railroad spikes, and Jay-Z’s all done up in black – an ensemble finished with a vinyl vest and trademark ballcap pulled low. My friend Zachary describes Mary J.’s look as “Hip-Hop Witness Protection Program.” Hair falls from her crown a platinum curtain – we can’t tell whether it’s a wig or not – and she’s wearing sunglasses that are roughly the diameter of Valencia oranges.
It’s a long way from our cushy perch to the stage – all the rows on the lower level, plus an entire floor full of seething fans. So I can’t be certain if that’s a wedding ring sparkling from Jay’s left hand.
“Congratulations to my man Jay-Z and my girl B,” Mary says as she waves him offstage. Then she launches into “You’re All I Need.”
It’s all I’ve got, so I report it verbatim to an editor on the city desk. Meanwhile Mary does her empowering best, showcasing her range, melisma mastery and high-heeled gymnastics for an adoring crowd.
It’s incredible. She’s backed by a 22-piece band, including horns and strings, actors and dancers. And it’s a coliseum show for sure, with chasing lights and pyrotechnics, but Mary J.’s the main attraction. Like a preacher in the church of self-esteem, she’s imparting the faith in workin’ what we got to all us ladies. She’s confident, commanding, sexy enough to raise this congregation of thousands into a bumpin’, singing mass.
She does her thing for more than an hour, never once slipping a note or a step. Then she welcomes Jay-Z back onto the stage, where he opens his set with the hit “Roc Boys” off American Gangster. He only nods to Beyoncé once, when he plays a measure of “Crazy in Love” and cuts it off with the words “Sorry B.”
And that’s how I earned my first New York City byline. It’s in the Post, you can look it up.
And all of it is pretty inconsequential, I know. No one hands out Pulitzers for going to Jay-Z concerts and reporting on the nuptial habits of celebrities. But it’s fun anyway, and better than what I’d be doing on most rainy Sundays. So I check my phone one last time, switch it off and exit the building.
I wash back out onto the waterlogged streets, satisfied but scoopless.
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