Last April, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter was scheduled to perform as headliner for the Saturday night slate of Coachella. Her highly-reported on pregnancy had caused her to cancel her plans to perform at the 2017 edition of the festival, leaving fellow musician Lady Gaga to fill in the gap left behind by her. When the time finally came for Beyoncé to perform, the big question in the mind of both casual festival-goers and her fanatic fan base, the Hive, was, “what is she going to do?”
What she did rocked the entire world. In front of a crowd of 125,000 and more than 40 million viewers on the livestream (which broke records), she led more than 100 dancers, singers, and band members in a celebration of both the African musical diaspora and of historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs for short. Both her incredible performance skills and the expansive setlist, which ranged from old classics like “Crazy in Love” and “Baby Boy” to the best songs from her critically acclaimed latest album, the mature and artful Lemonade, inspired the kind of idolatry usually saved for religious icons. Dubbed “Beychella” in her honor, it was proof that she truly does run the world. Even at this year’s lackluster edition of Coachella, her stage remains on display; a reminder of the greatness anyone can aspire to.
Somehow her performance managed to feel truly epic, even for her standards. Beychella was on an even grander scale than other moments in her career, such as the surprise release of her eponymous fifth studio album, which broke the Internet and caused the global release date of music to be shifted from Tuesday to Friday; or the release of Lemonade, which turned her husband Jay-Z into the most hated man in the world for a brief moment of time. Homecoming dives into the creation of the performance, while displaying the show in full with footage from both weekends of Coachella.
“Instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture ,” Beyoncé notes at one point during the film. Bringing her culture – black culture – is exactly what she did. Coachella has been a predominately white-oriented festival ever since the beginning, with only a few black artists headlining over the past twenty years. Criticisms of cultural appropriation from attendees frequently goes viral, given how many of them mindlessly wear henna and Native American headdresses without any consideration of the cultural aspects behind them. It would’ve been easy for Mrs. Carter to just perform her hits and dance in a performance without much culture behind it.
She gave the world a Homecoming instead – something that she never got to have, despite her wishes. “My college was Destiny’s Child, my college was traveling around the world, and life was my teacher,” she says early on in the film. Agreed upon by many students at HBCUs to be the highlight of the calendar year, Beyoncé recreated the feeling of one, complete with a drum line and majorettes. The performance is a stunning display of black culture, involving damn near every type of music created by black people, from afrobeat to dancehall to rock-and-roll to bounce. By juxtaposing the national black anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, with her triumphant ode to all black women, “Formation”, Beyoncé informed the audience that she knew how important her music has become to black people all across the world, and that she would always respect that. It was a true family reunion – and not just because she brought her husband, her sister Solange, and her former band-mates from Destiny’s Child out as special guests.
The almost two-hour set, presented in full during Homecoming, is a triumph. It solidifies her status at the greatest entertainer alive; possibly the greatest entertainer of all time. Yet the film has more to offer than just a killer show. The film is interspersed with interludes focusing on the hard work behind the performance, narrated by Beyoncé herself. She notes, time and time again, the incredible amount of effort it took to make sure that the performance would be a masterpiece of showmanship. Jay-Z is there, sitting patiently with Blue Ivy and the twins as Beyoncé rehearses every single dance break repeatedly for hours on end. Rehearsing for any show is difficult. But rehearsing for eight months, with 14-hour rehearsals almost every single day? That’s the kind of dedication most mortals lack.
For the most introverted megastar in the world, Beyoncé gets surprisingly intimate at multiple points throughout the film. She’s open about how her pregnancy with twins Rumi and Sir almost killed her, how she felt worried about getting her body back into shape, how frustrated she felt at times. She’s a perfectionist, and her attention to detail comes across clearly. In one of the rawest moments, she sternly tells the crew that she’s concerned the performance isn’t going to work on film, before giggling due to the rings of “Happy anniversary!” from her crew. Jay-Z just sits there, meekly smiling at her. It might be their tenth wedding anniversary, but the work can’t stop.
Whatever concerns she had about the performance working well on film were unfounded. Beychella truly comes alive on film, due to the amazing Steadicam work by her DP, Ben Hagarty. Hagarty’s camerawork is even more impressive considering how cautious he had to be about walking around on the bleacher pyramid stage. The film also contains flawless editing by Nicholas Figuerora, who has worked on prior projects such as First Reformed and A Quiet Place. He crosscuts between the two weekends with impeccable timing, and creates some stunning edits in the process. The whole film is a visual feast, due to the staging, costuming by Balmain, and the lighting effects.
Put the visuals with the music, and you’ve got a truly astounding concert film. Add in the behind-the-scenes footage with inspirational quotes from black thinkers and artists, and you’ve got something that will be remembered for decades to come.
All hail the Queen!
Homecoming is available to stream on Netflix. The live album accompanying it is available on all major streaming platforms and iTunes. Beyoncé’s discography is available on all platforms, with the exception of Lemonade, which is a TIDAL exclusive until April 23rd, when it will become available on Apple Music and Spotify.