STOCKHOLM, May 11, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Ecstatic Beyonce fans sang and danced in feverish excitement in Stockholm Wednesday as the superstar kicked off her first solo tour in seven years with a futuristic spectacle featuring a lunar rover, an airborne horse and wall-to-wall rhinestones.
Hours before the doors opened hundreds of people were thronging outside the stadium, including some who had travelled halfway around the world to catch the show, anxious to see the global music icon -- one of the world's best-selling artists.
Once the concert was about to begin, the tens of thousands of fans in the 60,000-capacity Friends Arena -- filled to the brim -- erupted in cheers as their "queen" emerged on stage.
"Just want to say: Y'all make me so happy," Beyonce said as the concert began.
"I see familiar faces, people that flew from very, very far to come see the first show tonight," she told the audience at the outset of the three-hour space and science fiction themed show.
The show features Beyonce performing atop a lunar vehicle, playing the role of a news anchor while dressed as a queen bee, and suspended above the crowd as she sits on a model horse completely covered in sparkling rhinestones.
"This was another level. Amazing, I can't wait for the rest of the tour," Abdul Ibraimoh, a 33-year-old artist manager from London, told AFP after the show.
"There was a lot of anticipation for what she was going to do, and yes I'm speechless, it was just incredible," Shane Barkey, a 31-year-old radio host from Ireland, said.
Beyonce, who has a record 32 Grammy awards; is in the top 10 biggest grossing female artists. She is also a fashion icon, with designers queueing up for her attention.
Many of the fans in Stockholm sported cowboy hats and rhinestones, mimicking the look of the performer's outfit in the ads announcing the 57-stop European and North American tour.
Julie Vargas, who flew in from Houston, Texas -- Beyonce's hometown -- confessed to having a "shrine" dedicated to the star at home.
"I don't want any spoilers, I wanted to be the first to see it and take the news back to H-town baby!" the 38-year-old surgical technologist told AFP as she waited in line in the early afternoon.
- 'The queen' -
The "Renaissance World Tour", announced in February after being teased last autumn, is the star's first solo tour since 2016.
Tickets sold out so quickly for the opening show that tour organisers added a second concert at the same venue for Thursday. From there, she goes to Brussels this weekend.
The tour, which continues until September, is expected to earn the international artist nearly $2.1 billion, according to business magazine Forbes. She is already a multi-millionaire.
"We love Beyonce, she's the queen, that's why we are here of course," 36-year-old artist Kasher Bloom from Riga told AFP.
"Beyonce is the queen! Our mother, everything! I would do anything for her," Jarra Jatta, a 21-year-old fan from Helsingborg in southern Sweden.
In February, Beyonce made history by becoming the most successful artist in the history of the Grammys, surpassing the late classical conductor Georg Solti's long-standing record of 31 lifetime trophies.
But despite winning another four Grammys, fans were disappointed that she missed out on the award for album of the year for her seventh studio album, the house-tinged "Renaissance". The 16-song 2022 album was an instant hit and earned wide praise for its deep ambition.
- Decades at the top -
Born Beyonce Giselle Knowles, the now-41-year-old has been in the upper echelons of pop music since her teenage years.
She initially rose to fame as part of Destiny's Child -- whose smash hits included "Survivor" and "Say My Name" -- before embarking on a wildly successful solo career.
From setting the standard for the overnight album drop to delivering her earth-shattering "Homecoming" show at Coachella in 2018, Beyonce has long bucked the industry's conventional wisdom. She is simultaneously one of music's most private and most watched stars.
Her paradigm-shifting 2016 album "Lemonade," which emphasised Black womanhood against the backdrop of America's heritage of slavery and culture of oppression, remains one of the most venerated musical projects in recent memory.
Then she dropped the critically acclaimed song "Black Parade" in June 2020, amid nationwide protests ignited by the murder of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer.