On April 14, 2018, Beyoncé became the first black woman — and third woman ever — to headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Her performance — which her fans aptly named “Beychella” —was an ode to black culture, from the costumes she wore to the dancing and songs interpolated into the setlist. Beyoncé headlining broke records, becoming the most viewed Coachella performance and the most streamed live event of all time. A year later, Beyoncé teamed up with Netflix to create a documentary titled “Homecoming” along with a live album. “Homecoming” allows diehard fans to watch the entirety of Beychella in HD, while also showcasing the effort required to pull off such a gargantuan production.
If there exists a single person who questions the work ethic or celebrity of Beyoncé, let “Homecoming” be the answer. An artistic presence with perhaps no equal, Beyoncé even calls out Coachella’s reputation in the documentary. When discussing her choice to celebrate blackness at Coachella, she said “instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella.” Her statement called out the many who attend the costly festival for the sole purpose of posting “instagrammable” pictures.
Before performing “Run the World (Girls),” she pointed out she is the first black woman to headline Coachella and exclaims, “Ain’t that ‘bout a b—tch?” To headline a festival so many musicians dream of headlining and then critique it in the corresponding documentary is a testament to her level of superstardom. If Beyoncé wants to criticize you, you take the feedback and say “thank you.”
With the documentary, the “Single Ladies” singer cements her place among the greatest performers of all time. Her work ethic mirrors that of Michael Jackson, who notoriously hated touring due to the physical strain it put on his body. Beyoncé herself details the labor put into Coachella — such as recovering from a pregnancy plagued with toxemia/preeclampsia and an emergency C-section, four separate months of band and dance rehearsals and a stringent diet of no bread, carbs, sugar, dairy, fish or alcohol.
Culturally, “Homecoming” aligns her with Madonna, who in 1991 released the tour documentary “Truth or Dare,” which fans praised for showcasing her primarily gay backup dancers. “Homecoming” showcases blackness. The title itself is an homage to an event commonly held at HBCUs where black alumni return to their schools, fraternities and sororities perform step shows, famous black artists hold concerts and much more — a true celebration of black youthhood. The songstress channels this spirit into her own “Homecoming” by including steppers, a drum line and majorettes in her band and backup dancers. Following a powerful rendition of “Freedom,” she sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is commonly referred to as the Black National Anthem Everything down to the costumes she wore was steeped in blackness. Beyoncé started the show dressed as Egyptian queen Nefertiti and also wore shirts with images of Nefertiti, the black power fist and a bee.
In addition to documenting Beychella and the behind the scenes with “Homecoming,” Beyoncé also released two new songs, “Before I Let Go” and “I Been On” — the former a cover of R&B band Maze’s song. Once again a recognition of black culture, “Before I Let Go” is a staple at every black gathering, from cookouts to graduation parties. As soon as the opening notes play, everyone — especially the aunts and uncles — jump to their feet and dance. Beyoncé puts her own spin of the song, with new lyrics and an interpolation — the 1986 hit song “Candy” by Cameo. She references her own success at Coachella, singing “I pull up to Coachella” and “I did the d—n thing.” She even gives classic cookout songs like “The Electric Slide” or “The Cupid Shuffle” a run for their money as she instructs listeners to do everything from bunny hop to drop it low. Beyoncé does not just embrace culture, she reinvents it — taking a song older generations are more familiar with and reintroducing it to a younger crowd.
During “Homecoming,” the Marian Wright quote “you can’t be what you can’t see” flashes across the screen. This quote is the essence of both Beychella and its coinciding documentary. The singer knows she has the influence to be a true role model for everybody in the black community. With Beychella and “Homecoming,” Beyoncé could have gotten on stage and given a run of the mill concert — not that any Beyoncé show has ever been run of the mill — but instead she does the opposite. She took a predominantly white space and turned it into something “for us, by us.”
“Homecoming” stands as a tribute to black culture, fashion, bodies, beauty and music. Parents will pass it down for future generations to watch. At a point in the documentary, Beyoncé expresses frustration about the “magic” on stage not translating well to camera so “everyone out there can feel what we [Beyoncé and her team] feel.” Fortunately, with “Homecoming,” she does more than this. Not only does the audience feel the magic, they possess it.