Beyoncé’s message for Coachella was hiding in plain sight last year but for those who didn’t fully understand, her Homecoming documentary — released at midnight (April 17) via Netflix — made it all crystal clear. The documentary featured voiceovers from notables like Maya Angelou, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi and Cornell West, all speaking on community, self-awareness and purpose.
Beyond the glitz and flashiness of the performance, Bey was sure to highlight the intricacy of the work that went into showcasing Black culture. She said that her intention, even with the audition and acceptance process was to provide a sort of safe space for all involved to be themselves. She’d hoped to have this vibe resonate outwardly to all her “brothers and sisters worldwide.” This was no halftime show — Beyoncé put unabashed Blackness on a platform before an audience who would hear it, because even if they didn’t understand the importance of HBCUs or pan-African culture in a sense, those in the crowd were clearly fans of the Beyoncé experience. At the very least, Homecoming showed us how significant it was to her for everyone present to witness the beauty of black pride. “The amount of swag is just limitless,” she gushed lovingly, referencing her 200-plus person company. “The things that these young people can do with their bodies and the music they play… It’s just not right. It’s just so much damn swag.”
Perhaps just as momentous as her nod to heritage was the pointed emphasis on the empowerment of women. “Black women often feel underestimated and I I wanted us to not only feel proud of the show, but of the process, the struggle and thankful for the beauty that comes it, and thankful for a painful history and [being able to] rejoice in the pain or the imperfections and the wrongs that are so damn right.”
When she and her all-female crew led the hazing of a group of “Bugaboos” on stage, she hit two marks at once: paying homage to Spike Lee’s 1988 classic School Daze and cleverly simulating a circumstance that held women in utmost power — even in jest. One member of her Coachella company commented that in a conversation with his dad, he ribbed that he’d joined a sorority: “He started dying [laughing], ‘cause there are so many great sisters in there. We’re a family and this feels like a college trip.”
Beyoncé’s homecoming was rooted in the upliftment of two marginalized groups: women and black people. In one scene towards the end, Beyonce feeds Blue Ivy the lines to the National Negro Anthem, she sings it perfectly, complete with a run or two, and the six-year-old’s response is: “I wanna do that again. ‘Cause it feels good.” And she’s right. It does feel pretty good and the rest of us have to figure out how to do it again in its entirety— from the inspiration, onward.
Here are five things we learned from Beyoncé’s Homecoming:
She always wanted the HBCU college experience.
Beyoncé’s been in the public eye since she was about 15 years old and though her career has taken her to exorbitant heights, she shared that she always desired the traditional college experience. “Destiny’s Child was my college. My college was traveling around the world, and life was my teacher,” she offered. Still, Bey says that her earliest memories of wanting to hit the yard are rooted in everything from her dad being an HBCU alum to having practiced at Texas Southern University in her early years and hitting the Battle of the Bands annually with her family.
Being the boss, especially on Bey’s level, means that you can request pretty much whatever you want, down to an HBCU dedication onstage. To be committed and dedicated to what your product looks like is more than a job — it’s your life.
She drew inspiration from the same generational shows and movies that we all did and she flipped it.
Back in the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s there was a heavy emphasis on the Black college experience: on television, in film and even in clothing stores with various hoodies emblazoned with HBCU names. Beyoncé paid homage to it all throughout Homecoming, but particularly during one segment.
When she and her all-female crew led the hazing of a group of “Bugaboos” on stage, she hit two marks at once: paying homage to Spike Lee’s 1988 classic School Daze and cleverly simulating a circumstance that held women in utmost power — even in jest. One member of her Coachella company later commented that in a conversation with his dad, he ribbed that he’d joined a sorority: “He started dying [laughing], ‘cause there are so many great sisters in there. We’re a family and this feels like a college trip.”
She’s more of a perfectionist than we thought.
Mid-documentary, Bey said, ”I respect things that take work and are built from the ground up. I’m super specific about every detail…” She selected every performer, every costume, every silhouette, the height of the pyramid and even what material was used on the steps of said pyramid. She also checked on all three soundstages: one for the band, one for the dancing and a third for the creative staff, walking between all three at random.
On the day of her wedding anniversary, Beyoncé was still donning her glittery t-shirt dress from dress rehearsal and held a company meeting to talk about her most recent notes on the show. She was firm but understanding, verbally taking into consideration the fact that the entire crew was working endless hours for days at a time. Then she bid adieu, “Good night,” she grinned and warbled Tony Toni Tone’s melody and lyric, “It’s our anniversary…,” as she left the soundstage finally ready to forget work and kick it with her husband.
Getting back to her own performance standards proved to be harder than she thought.
Bey revealed that she had a tougher pregnancy with the twins. She was at 218 lbs when she gave birth and struggled with toxemia, preeclampsia and high blood pressure prior to the babies’ arrival. She had to sit down. After giving birth, she started to prepare for Coachella with the band, eight months ahead of the festival dates. Then four months later when she began physically preparing, she found that disassociation was another element she’d have to fight through.
“A lot of the choreography is about feeling,” Beyoncé said. “So it’s not as technical. It’s your own personality that brings it to life. And that’s hard — when you don’t feel like yourself.” She cites that she followed a rigorous workout schedule [dance rehearsals, SoulCycle and “ropes”]. “This is grounding.” she says later at dance rehearsal. “No matter who you are. You get in here and it’s real. That’s why people don’t like to rehearse. You gotta get in here and be humble. You gotta study, be a student…” She cut out all carbs, dairy and sugars: no alcohol, no bread, no fish or meat. “I definitely pushed myself farther than I knew I could. And I learned a valuable lesson,” she continued, with a laugh. “That I would never push myself that far again.”
She might be everyone’s best friend low-key.
Unbeknownst to us, possibly because Mrs. Carter rarely does interviews — her sense of humor is one we didn’t expect, it’s almost droll. “When I decided to do Coachella, rather than pulling out my flower crown,” she quips. “It was more important that we brought our culture to Coachella.” When she performs and the moves are particularly fly, she makes faces. Just to let you know she’s killing it all. Sometimes, she curses, not at anyone in particular, it just seems to slip out naturally. Another time, at dance rehearsal, she wraps up the appointment, announcing, “I gotta go home. To my fifty-leven children…”