Beyoncé reminded the world of her dedication to crafting stellar entertainment experiences when she performed the song “Be Alive” as the opening number of the 2022 Oscars. We were also reminded of the important statements she makes in her performances.
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has long been a household name, and she continues to prove to both the music industry and audiences why. As soon as people wonder how she could top what she’s already accomplished, she somehow makes her next project bigger and better than one could imagine.
A quintessential example is her Coachella show known as Homecoming. In April 2018, Beyoncé became the first Black woman to headline the popular music festival in California. She stunned the packed-in audiences and streaming viewers with her 32-song performance, including multiple interludes and dance numbers.
Beyoncé’s show rocked Coachella, making the 2018 festival nicknamed “Beychella.” Just when fans thought she had finished her Coachella project and moved on to different ventures, Beyoncé dropped her entire Coachella performance with added behind-the-scenes footage as a documentary on Netflix in April 2019, along with Homecoming: The Live Album on streaming platforms everywhere.
As Beyoncé’s Homecoming album celebrates its third anniversary, now is a great time to revisit when she made Coachella history, and to recall the performance that reset the standard for all types of artists, directly impacted our popular culture through recognition of Black heritage, women’s empowerment, and the importance of family and sisterhood.
Attention to the details
In her Homecoming performance, Beyoncé honors her Black heritage more than ever in her decades-long career. Her performance was geared toward Black culture mere seconds into her show. Dressed in a cape, Egyptian style headdress, and holding a cobra-head scepter, Beyoncé employs images of the powerful African queen Nefertiti, giving a nod to her fans’ nickname for her, Queen B.
As she struts down the runway to the stage, her dancers follow dressed in King Tut-printed bodysuits. Her stage is designed as a pyramid of bleacher-style rows where her full marching band and background singers stand. She joins them front and center at the top of the pyramid after a quick change to match her performers. They are all dressed in collegiate-style outfits with sweatshirts that say BK on either side of a Δ (delta—the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, four being her well-known favorite number, and BK standing for her initials, Beyoncé Knowles). Her performers also have berets to match their outfits for both weekends (bright yellow for the first Saturday she performed and hot pink for the second) creating a look that implies she has formed her own sorority—one that celebrates Black culture and pushes her Black fans to feel that where they come from is both important and relevant.
Beyoncé also shows how important her background is to her and her monumental show by making the third song into her performance “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”—a song that is often referred to in the Black community as the Black National Anthem. She sings alongside strings, rumbling drums, fire on the sides of the stage, and the heavy steps of her dancers:
“Let our rejoicing rise / High as the listening skies / Let us march on ‘til victory is won.”
This immediately connects into the recognizable beat of possibly her most controversial song, “Formation,” with the chorus being a celebration of Black culture:
“My daddy Alabama, Momma Louisiana / You mix that negro with that Creole make a Texas bama / I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros / I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils / Earned all this money but they never take the country out me / I got hot sauce in my bag, swag.”
In the predominantly white space of a California outdoors festival, Beyoncé cements her place as a Black woman on the stage only ten minutes into her concert.
It’s also clear Beyoncé understands the cultural significance of not only her performance, but of her heritage and what a Black woman on the Coachella stage means. She’s aware her long career is bigger than herself and represents all Black individuals. She later states in the documentary during behind-the-scenes footage, which is interlaced between her performances, “Instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella . . . It’s hard to believe, that after all these years, that I was the first African American woman to headline Coachella. It was important to me that everyone who had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us.”
Representation was surely a key tenant of her performance as she graciously shared the stage with some of the most talented artists to ever perform at Coachella.
Throughout the show, her performers execute dances, step routines, and the Bug A Boo Roll Call (roll calling being a tradition where Black fraternities introduce themselves through a unique step and name) that all pay homage to her Black sorority/fraternity theme and are all an essential part of historically Black colleges and universities. Not only this, but her background singers, dancers, musicians, and artists were allowed to bring their own unique style and funk to the show. This made the entire performance a beautiful display of fun and freedom, and showed the importance of embracing all talents and styles in Black culture.
“I wanted different characters,” she said. “I didn’t want us all doing the same thing . . . I wanted every person that has ever been dismissed because of the way they look to feel like they were on that stage . . . It was no rules, and we were able to create a free, safe space where none of us were marginalized.”
This became apparent throughout the show, as violinists, contemporary dancers, flexers (“bone-breaking” dancers), percussionists, and more, all collaborate and meld their talents.
The documentary also shows Beyoncé watching the various types of artists performing during rehearsals. She sits and allows them all to have a moment and the space to make her Coachella performance their own. It’s unmistakable that Beyoncé watches the people who will share the stage with her with an eye of respect, attention, and awe at the talents that are being displayed. She is impressed and says, “The amount of swag is just limitless. Like, the things that these young people can do with their bodies, and the music they can play, and the drumrolls, and the haircuts, and the bodies, and the—it’s just not right. It’s just so much damn swag.”
This, coupled with cut-together footage of Black marching bands, steppers, cheerleaders, and fraternities/sororities from historically Black colleges and universities across the nation, show how much respect she has for what is a significant part of her background.
At the end of the documentary, Beyoncé added an afterword across the screen, bringing light to what she aimed to do in her performance: “So many people who are culturally aware and intellectually sound are graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including my father. There is something incredibly important about the HBCU experience that must be celebrated and protected.”
In addition to her showcasing Black culture, Beyoncé has always been known for her empowering songs that inspire women while redefining what the supremacy of womanhood means. Since she decided to leave Destiny's Child in 2003 to start a solo career, she has always been branded as a larger-than-life woman in all aspects, including her performances, mindset, vocal range, and looks.
But in her behind-the-scenes footage, the audience is given the opportunity to see Beyoncé at her most vulnerable. In one segment, she explains the complications behind her second pregnancy with her twins and how she had to undergo an emergency C-section.
“My body went through more than I knew it could. I was 218 pounds the day I gave birth,” she said.
Beyonce was originally slated to perform at Coachella in 2017—a date that was pushed back a year after she became pregnant. Her twins were born in June 2017, with her new Coachella date being only 14 months away. As many women can relate, she almost immediately began working after giving birth.
While many view Beyoncé as a superwoman who seems unaffected by media outlets, glass ceilings, and bad days, in her documentary, she reveals her struggle balancing her recently expanded family with preparing for Coachella.
At the beginning of her dance rehearsals, she says, “Just internally my body was not connected. My mind was not there. My mind wanted to be with my children . . . I would dance and go off to the trailer and breastfeed the babies, and the days I could, I would bring the children.”
At the most common denominator, Beyoncé during this period was an overtired working mother of three.
“I’m creating my own homecoming [back to the stage]. And it’s hard,” she said.
She also delves into her physical insecurities during this segment. In order to be ready to be back on the stage singing, dancing, and performing for over two hours, Beyoncé placed herself on a strict diet, understanding the burden of the decision and looking none too happy in the footage of her eating and drinking mostly fruit, vegetables, and water. She explains the difficulty she had picking up new choreography, as well as expressing herself through dance.
“I had to rebuild my body from cut muscles,” she said. “It took me a while to feel confident enough to freak [the choreography] and give it my own personality.”
But, in a humorous moment that surely every woman can relate to after trying to lose weight, she tries on a prior costume from the back of the closet in her trailer. Her smile is contagious as she squeals, “I’m back in my costume—big deal! It zipped!” She also FaceTimes her husband, Jay-Z, to show him her success, another common occurrence that many women recognize. Despite her happiness over the results of getting her body back, she closes with, “I definitely pushed myself further than I knew I could. And I’ve learned a very valuable lesson. I will never, never, push myself that far again.”
After this segment, the documentary returns to her Coachella performance, entering into a string of self-empowering songs (“Flawless,” “Feeling Myself,” and “Top Off”) as the audience celebrates with Beyoncé the beauty of accepting every type of body, promoting individualism, and raising self-esteem. The lyrics to “Flawless” create a powerful anthem that invites every woman to feel on top of the world:
“You wake up (flawless), post up (flawless) / Ridin’ ‘round in it (flawless), flossing on that (flawless)…I woke up like this, I woke up like this / We flawless, ladies, tell ‘em / I woke up like this, I woke up like this / Say ‘I look so good tonight.’”
However, even though Coachella is a monumental performance, and most artists would stray from including slower tunes, Beyoncé adds one of her most popular ballads, “I Care,” to her set. Her performance of this song gets back to the roots of her success, showcasing her strong vocals and power ballads that are so special to women. It’s a simple performance, as her band plays the song in a straightforward manner and her dancers perform straightforward choreography.
Beyoncé sits for most of this song as she sings, but despite the simplicity, it is equally affective and speaks to women personally that not every day or relationship calls for celebration. This section showcases beautifully the numerous emotions women go through on a day-to-day basis, from feeling unbeatable, to mourning difficult relationships, to embracing personal confidence. Beyoncé is able to cover all of these songs that are geared toward women, all while creating seamless transitions between each emotion that the songs represent.
Another significant part of Beyoncé’s Coachella show is her recognition of her family and women who supported her on her journey to superstar status. She first brings out Jay-Z to perform their iconic 2006 song “Déjà vu” for the first time in several years. They are obviously in tune with each other as performers, showing audiences that their marriage and relationship is in a better place than it was around Beyoncé’s Lemonade era two years prior, when Jay-Z was accused of cheating. Fans appear delighted by their performance together.
Beyoncé opens the last section of her concert by crying out at the top of her pyramid, “This song is dedicated to all the incredible women who opened up the doors for me. Thank you, ladies.”
This transitions into “Run the World (Girls),” a celebration of women everywhere. Toward the end of this song, feminist and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech is heard:
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise, you will threaten the man.’ We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments, but for the attention of men. Feminist—a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”
Immediately after this, to the audience’s surprise and delight, Beyoncé comes up from an elevator built into the stage along with the familiar silhouettes of Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, the final three members of Destiny’s Child. During the first Coachella performance, they are dressed in camouflage outfits that remind fans of Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor,” era. They begin their classic strut down the runway to the beat of “Lose My Breath,” and as they do, Beyoncé can be seen gently guiding both Rowland and Wiliams in front of her to lead the way. Fans of Beyoncé see this as her innate humble personality that not only recognizes those who have made her career possible, but brings them alongside her to join in her success.
This portion draws reminds us of Beyoncé’s 2013 Superbowl performance when she also brought Rowland and Williams to the stage as a surprise. At Coachella, Destiny’s Child also performs “Say My Name” as well as “Soldier” with Rowland and Williams performing their own verses. Their sisterhood is apparent as they share smiles and laughs throughout the songs. With their final bow, Beyoncé thanks and kisses them as they leave the stage.
The show keeps its momentum after this when Beyoncé begins “Get Me Bodied” and introduces her younger sister, Solange. We once again see a vulnerable and playful side to Beyoncé’s personality when she and her sister dance together on stage, a side of Beyoncé we don’t always get to witness. The atmosphere at the end of her show is fun, silly, and family-oriented, ending with Solange and Beyoncé laughing and falling on top of each other before Solange runs off stage after a quick bow.
Beyoncé then performs the last and one of her most popular songs, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” on the runway, sticking to the classic choreography that most people, whether fans of hers or not, are able to recognize, rounding out her concert and her career in a way that is full-circle.
“I feel we made something that made my daughter proud, made my mother proud, my father proud. I mean, and all of the people that are my brothers and sisters around the world,” Beyoncé ends her documentary with, “and that’s why I live . . . if my country-ass can do it, they can do it.”
During the last few moments of her performance, Beyoncé adds a stripped-down version of her fan-favorite song, “Love On Top,” saying that the song is “dedicated to my incredible Beyhive.”
She begins the song on the catwalk, close to her fans and interacting with them and showing personal gratitude. She brings the show to a close, thanking her band, dancers, singers, and the vast team working behind the scenes who were able to bring the Herculean concert to the Coachella stage. The documentary ends with a cover of “Before I Let Go,” a hit by Black soul musicians Frankie Beverly and Maze, rounding out the homey and traditional feel her entire show embodies.
Beyoncé’s Homecoming was a cultural reset pushing Black culture, feminism, and the importance of family and sisterhood to the forefront of modern pop culture. Instead of fitting into the mold of past Coachella shows and adapting to the precedent already set, Beyoncé chose to make it her own, redefining what it means to not only be a tide-changing performer with every project she does, but as a Black woman who has undoubtedly excelled to the ranks of American icon—and one who raises up those listening and watching as well.