Beychella will stand the test of time as the definitive and declarative Beyoncé performance, and now we can witness history being made in our homes.
Beychella. It was April 2018, and the word thrummed around the internet as video clips of Beyoncé dressed as Nefertiti were posted and pulled down.
Everyone who wasn’t in the California desert suddenly switched focus. Everyone who was there realized they’d witnessed a historical musical event — the first black woman to headline Coachella bringing her A game and then some.
A year on and we’re still talking about Beyoncé’s performance, but those of us who didn’t brave the dry and dusty plains of the Coachella Valley in the Colorado Desert no longer have to watch snippets recorded on people’s phones. Instead we can watch the full show in the comfort of our own homes courtesy of Netflix. And if you don’t need the visuals, you can listen on the streaming service of your choice.
The show is captured in high definition for posterity and combines with the rougher footage depicting the painstaking preparation and collaborations that ultimately made it such a triumph. Beyoncé, who wrote, directed and executive produced the movie, wants to show and tell us what her Homecoming performance meant to her.
Threaded through glossy footage of the performance are vignettes of the months-long rehearsal process. In raw, often black and white, behind-the-scenes shots, Beyoncé brings together dancers, singers and a full orchestra, not just to perform behind her, but to co-create a show that celebrates black history and music.
She themed Homecoming around the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and pulled her team of performers from their student bodies, channeling their energy and tapping into their experiences.
“When I decided to do Coachella, instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella,” she says during a voiceover. “We were able to create a free, safe space where none of us were marginalized.”
She doesn’t make it look easy and effortless, because it’s not. With a face free from makeup and a baseball cap often wedged on her head, the star moves between three sound stages, pulling long hours over many months, switching between the roles of audience member, director, logistics coordinator and performer to ensure every detail is perfect.
For Beyoncé who gave birth to twins by caesarean less than a year before her Coachella, the performance and the rehearsals leading up to it also presented her with a unique physical challenge. Rather than skirting over this, she addresses it directly, talking about the ways she restricted her diet and the discomfort she felt in her stomach muscles as she recovered from the operation while learning the choreography.
The physical strain the performance put on her body was compounded by the challenge of suddenly being a mum to twins in addition to her 6-year-old daughter Blue Ivy. She surrounded herself with family as much as possible — her husband Jay-Z seems to be ever present and also performs on stage with her along with Michelle and Kelly from Destiny’s Child and her sister Solange. Blue Ivy too is often dancing away behind the scenes, and proves to be the film’s breakout star with her rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (it’s also a bonus track on the album).
Beyoncé also sings the song — which is often referred to as the black national anthem — in the show, with more stripped-back production than most of the other numbers. It sets the tone early on for what she wants the performance to mean politically, as well as serving as a reminder of just what her raw, unadulterated voice is capable of.
It’s been 17 years since I first saw Beyoncé floating, ethereal, on a podium through dry ice on the Destiny’s Child World Tour in Manchester, England. It was a formative moment for me as a 13 year old witnessing her power and charisma with my own eyes. The effect has only been amplified over time.I’m no stranger to watching Beyoncé perform, but Homecoming feels different, definitive — and that’s kind of the point. “It feels like a dream come true and something I worked my entire life for,” Beyoncé’s voice tells us at one point. “I’m so grateful I was able to come home.”
Homecoming was part career retrospective, part celebration of what Beyoncé’s become. What it is to the rest of us will depend who you are, especially if you’re black, if you’re a woman, if you’re a black woman. And what it means over the course of time will evolve as it continues to be talked about as an important moment in musical history.
You will be proud to be able to say you were there. And even if you weren’t, then at least you can say that thanks to Netflix you’ve seen it with your own eyes — that you witnessed it and you too were grateful that Beyoncé brought it home.