Who else is making spectacle this awesome, this intricate, and this meaningful?An onstage pyramid, two hundred performers, and an audience sprawling across a desert field: Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella show was big. Yet it was little, too. One could spend the two hours of Netflix’s new documentary Homecoming just taking in facial expressions—the furious widened eyes of the majorette who kicked things off, the stuck-out tongue of a male drummer gyrating low to the ground, the knowing wink of Destiny’s Child’s Kelly Rowland. Beyoncé gives supermodel smolder, and glistening pageant grins, and kiddy giggles.
Individuals in the crowd perform the Wile E. Coyote jaw drop, or they just cry.Macro, micro, personal, political: Beyoncé always works on many levels, achieving the kind of complexity one might call “effortless” if she didn’t go out of her way to show how much sweat it took. Last year’s Coachella set wowed the festivalgoers and fans live-streaming it online, but the full footage hasn’t been available officially until now. Released today, Homecoming cuts together the two weekends of performance—yellow-costumed for the first and fuchsia for the second—with a multiplicity of camera angles and filters. As importantly, it zaps from the stage to the prep, which took eight months of intensive labor.
You’re seeing the magic trick, and you’re seeing how it was done.It’s an amazing trick, still. In a voice-over, Beyoncé says she tried to make the show as “graphic” as it could be, which would seem to refer to bold shapes, bright colors, and other elements of clean, militant bombast. But she also talked about fussing over mini details, and now the world can rewind and scrutinize them as well. Someone’s seen stitching tiny jewels in a constellation pattern to the top of a beret. Beyoncé, fatigued post-pregnancy, struggles to learn intricate hand choreography. She says she personally picked each dancer, wanting to showcase “different characters” in the ensemble: unique faces, unalike body shapes, personal ways of moving.
This was smart stagecraft, hypnotizing spectators with mass movement and surprising them with divergence. It also served a deeper purpose. Beychella, as the event was nicknamed, celebrated historically black colleges and universities, which is to say it was an outpouring of pride in black traditions and excellence. Beyoncé played teacher, and her teaching text was the body. “It was important to me that everyone who had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us,” she says in the film. “Black women often feel underestimated. I wanted us to be proud of not only the show, but the process … I wanted everyone to feel thankful for their curves, their sass, their honesty—thankful for their freedom.”MORE STORIES