By now, everyone has found out about the internet's worst-kept secret: Beyoncé's return to the stage for the grand opening of the ultra-luxurious resort Atlantis The Royal Dubai. This was not just her first performance in front of a live audience in almost five years, but also her first since releasing her groundbreaking album Renaissance last summer.

Since Beyoncé has yet to reveal any visuals for her new project—which she has said will be a three-part musical experience—fans were looking to the show as a first glimpse of what's to come for the Renaissance era.

But like some online commenters feared, Beyoncé did not perform a single song off of Renaissance Saturday evening, instead opting for a ballad-heavy setlist that included tracks like "Flaws and All," "Halo," and "Spirit." Standing before an intimate-feeling assembly of just over a thousand people, including Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Kendall Jenner, and Chloe and Halle Bailey, she opened the show with her famous cover of Etta James's "At Last" — a nod to her long-awaited return.

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Harper's BAZAAR was in attendance and witnessed firsthand how Bey's latest appearance differed from performances past. Most noticeably, there was no high-energy choreography from the superstar herself. The night was solely about Beyoncé's voice—its presence and power. She opened the show in a blooming yellow dress with fluttering wings mimicking the sun, and the implication was clear: the world revolves around Bey, and the dozens of high-profile editors, influencers, and global personalities who hopped across the Atlantic to witness the evening proved her point.

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While there was no music from Renaissance in the show, the album's influence was still apparent in the avant-garde stage setup for the night. A reimagined version of Raphael's "The School of Athens" (featuring visibly Black painted characters instead of white) was the official backdrop for the singer, while her backup dancers switched between sequined suits and Victorian-inspired petticoats. Drummers wore Baroque gold face masks, and the women of the Lebanese dance group The Mayyas made multiple appearances throughout the evening, including an appealing throwback to her 2006 collab with Shakira, "Beautiful Liar."

The intricate setup included lush waterfalls and a 48-women-strong orchestra that reinforced the unbelievable reality of the night; this was easily the most intimate show Beyoncé had performed in decades, and the magic of the moment wasn't lost on anyone (even the 1% who made up the invite-only audience). When Bey performed for the first time live with her eldest daughter Blue Ivy Carter, or belted out a shortened rendition of "Ave Maria" with her voice echoing over the Arabian Sea, every single member of the audience knew they were witnessing something rare and special.

atlantis the royal grand reveal weekend 2023 beyonce performance
Kevin Mazur//Getty Images
atlantis the royal grand reveal weekend 2023 beyonce performance
Kevin Mazur//Getty Images

While the news of Bey's Dubai-exclusive performance surprised some fans, it must have felt like an obvious win for the new hotel. Dubai has established itself as a leading influence in the luxury market; under those terms, a grand opening celebration with a superstar synonymous with world-class excellence does seem like the only viable option for an opening of this scale.

The resort has been under construction for the last eight years and features opulent offerings such as an in-house Valentino boutique, a mini art gallery (including a rare work by Pablo Picasso), and multiple restaurants helmed by global chefs like Jose Andres and Nobu Matsuhisa. Beyoncé was also inspired to partner with leading women entrepreneurs in the region and teamed up with IAM entertainment to bring the the unforgettable spectacle to life. If Dubai was the first glimpse of what's to come from the icon, then fans are truly in for a ride. It's clear that Beyoncé has never been more confident in herself, her work, or the musical and artistic legacy she's continuing to build.

Headshot of Bianca Betancourt
Bianca Betancourt
Culture Editor

Bianca Betancourt is the culture editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com, where she covers all things film, TV, music, and more. When she's not writing, she loves impulsively baking a batch of cookies, re-listening to the same early-2000s pop playlist, and stalking Mariah Carey's Twitter feed.