You may have heard that Beyoncé headlined Coachella this year. Well, not headlined, so much as transformed a historically white, male-dominated space into a multimedia cultural platform and celebration of identity.
“Beychella” was not just accessible to the 130,000-person Indio crowd, but for the people at home who couldn’t afford to spend their life savings for a ticket. For two hours, the world stopped as the Houston singer put on an expansive two-hour performance that upended the taboo, church-and-state divide between pop music and political art. It did everything a successful main stage pop headliner isn’t “supposed to,” highlighting the black diaspora centered around New Orleans, Caribbean, and HBCU culture, and celebrating the complex realities of the feminine, otherized experience. All while being an absolute party for anyone in her blast radius. But as fans and other viewers attempt to gather themselves, we still find ourselves wading through the same ol’ hate and skepticism.
We get it. We haven't always been the biggest fans, reckoning with pop and perfectionism through our own complicated relationships with her. Like many, it wasn't until 2013's self-titled album that we had our own come to Beysus moment.
But whether or not you like Beyoncé's music, or even Beyoncé, is one thing; dismissing her and her Coachella performance is another. Some critics actively chose to sit out of her show because they were “expecting something more on a Saturday night,” confident that they already knew what Bey had to say before she even took the stage. Others combed through her extensive set, trying to find something to pick at, saying her set would’ve been perfect if it weren’t for Jay-Z. It’s a strange effort to reduce a historic performance (and as the first black woman to headline, that isn’t really up for debate) to 16 bars from her husband or just “expecting something more.” The Twittersphere, meanwhile, was littered with 280 character eyerolls, dismissing her as a “a dumb dancer who got born hot,” “crappy mass produced pop,” and “[the most] overrated garbage person on earth.” Others felt the need to expound on how past Coachella headliners like The Cure are just “a tad more important than her,” while dude after dude we spoke to IRL dismissed her set as “overly perfect” or too commercial.
It’s not totally surprising, then, that for Beyoncé’s Weekend 2 performance, it was women—and black women above all—who got the last word. As if to say “Maybe I wasn’t being clear before” to all those myriad dismissals, Bey’s cast of gender-spanning performers sported fierce pink in place of the previous week’s yellow costumes (the latter a nod to the resilience of Lemonade, which Beyoncé surprised dropped two years ago today—during Coachella, no less). The shift to pink was among the subtle but bold changes to the second weekend’s performance. While the setlist remained the same, the show collectively felt more like a continuation of the cultural conversation Bey started the week prior, rather than a duplication to be compared and contrasted. A woman’s work is never done.
We’re a little tired of having to defend Beyoncé and what her Coachella sets meant, only to be dismissed or mansplained that she’s just too perfect, too pop, too much. Dismissing her as shiny pop frivolity, as manufactured bombast, as too much anything, is to miss the point—and the implications of doing so are way more loaded and shortsighted than simply flaunting your superior music taste. So Noisey Staff Writer Kristin Corry and West Coast Editor Andrea Domanick are here to break down the hype, and why you don’t have to like Beyoncé’s music, but you do have to respect her.
AD: Being dismissive of or reductively hating on an artist is just so boring—and also kind of a masculine power play, I think.
I’ve been thinking about how that dismissiveness—of her being “just” this shiny pop spectacle—is problematic in the same way, for example, that Macklemore's “Thrift Shop” is. The preference for “real” instruments, or for subtlety, for example. What that all boils down to is “authenticity,” which I think is discussed in a very classed and gendered way in music. There’s this kind of flexing of soft power—cultural capital, like authenticity; symbolic power, like masculinity—that maintains tacit social dominance and hierarchies. When someone dismisses Beyoncé’s performance as superficial pop bombast, or calls fans’ relationship with her “unhealthy,” without paying heed to their experiences or what she represents within that, that to me is symbolic violence. It’s a very subtle form of oppression, and has nothing to do with whether or not you personally enjoy her music.
I think a lot of women, myself included, feel like they have to kind of apologize for or asterisk being a Beyoncé fan in order to be taken seriously. But it doesn’t feel like it works both ways when it comes to her or our masculine counterparts. And I think that’s a symptom of this broader cultural tone that has held her, women, and all the other marginalized communities that these performances spoke to, back. To me, that’s what she helped bust down with such a celebratory, unapologetic performance.
KC: I’m always amazed at the lengths that black artists, specifically women, have go through just to be recognized. It takes me back to the “twice as good” speech every time. Somehow, artists like The Weeknd and Bruno Mars get compared to Michael Jackson, when Beyoncé is a more fitting heiress to the throne. At the Grammys, she levitated in a chair, in her second trimester with twins. I can’t expect men to grasp the concept of what being a pregnant performer must feel like, and I won’t pretend to know either… But holla at me when you’re at your desk with cramps and have to pretend you’re not bleeding for eight hours.
She was not only an expansive look at the black experience, but this was her return from maternity leave. The HBCU theme was more than the simulated Greek life and marching band. It was her homecoming back to the stage, and commanded Coachella’s attention like it was her concert.
AD: Right. And it had to be in order to be heard. I touched on this a little in my Weekend 1 review, but the “spectacle” of the show was both the vehicle and the point of trying to make herself heard as a person born into the world invisible and marginalized. I’m quoting myself a little here, but I think it bears repeating: She, as a black woman, had to be too perfect, had to do it all—be an independent woman and loyal wife to a cheating husband, a mother of three and a sexual temptress, a pop star and a Pitchfork darling, a diva in a hoodie nailing every dance move in six inch heels—just to get here. Now you have no option but to hear her.
Cultural divisions, whether it’s music or politics or anything else, happen when you choose to stay in your comfort zone instead of opening yourself up to why something might appeal to someone else, right? It’s like, OK, maybe it’s not your cup of tea, but stop to think about why it’s other people’s before you rage tweet. Like, why are all these people getting so impassioned about this, even if you can’t relate to it? In this case, anyway, there’s a helluva lot more to it than mindless idolatry.
KC: A part of what made me realize I could no longer afford not to give Beyoncé all the praise she deserves is the level of precision that she devotes to her career. It seems like with each time she raises the bar for herself, there’s more of an effort to shrink her accomplishments. When Lemonade was released conservatives labeled her as an “urban terrorist” and called the visual album propaganda for the Black Lives Matter movement. On the other hand you have people who are just tired of the Beyhive, with people who think she’s “boring, overrated, unoriginal, and not the deity she’s made out to be. Words like “deity” are thrown around, but honestly, she’s a damn fine deity. Men are praised for much less.
Up until recently, she held the record for the most simultaneous Billboard hits by a woman. Cardi B only just took that title from her. She’s the most nominated woman in Grammy history (47 noms and 17 wins), and has the most Video Music Awards. She’s someone who is constantly reinventing the wheel each time and changing the industry while she does it. She literally changed the course of traditional album rollouts and formats with Beyoncé and Lemonade. “World stop...” wasn’t just a flex, it was the truth.
AD: That’s part of why I think you see women and other marginalized folks getting excited by her in a way that might not feel accessible to straight men, or others in more privileged positions of social power. Some of this goes back to fan culture being rooted in a very gendered power dynamic. The original "fans" are screaming young girls, which I've actually always thought of as pretty radical and bold, if not sometimes overwhelming and problematic too. I think there is still this association that to be celebratory and take ownership of your passion is superficial somehow. That's what is really pissing me off about those dismissive reactions I’ve seen. Like the LA Weekly music editor who wrote up the punk band that was playing up against her instead, with this preamble about how he already knows Beyoncé is gonna be great and spectacular, so he doesn’t need to see her. Like “Oh you already know,” but that to me misses the point of what it means for her to be headlining Coachella completely.
I think that’s what got everyone so excited about this. That feeling of being seen, at whatever intersectional other she represents to you. And even if you can’t personally relate to aspects of that set, it’s damn powerful to see those aspects represented in spite of the fact that most of Coachella’s audience wouldn’t relate. The very act of breaking down that mass appeal paradigm is thrilling.
KC: I distanced myself from Beyoncé years ago because I wanted to be a contrarian. She won me over somewhere around Beyoncé. I wasn’t suffering from teenage angst anymore but she had also grown and really seemed to inject her identity into her artistry. Over the last five years her goal seems to be that she became so good you can’t continue to snub her. Since her impromptu album, she’s been inserting herself in the conversation and essentially redefining how we speak about her. Instead of talking about how many times the Grammys has snubbed her for Album of the Year, she’s creating the recognition she wants to see and not waiting for the rest of the world to catch on.
AD: Totally. I was similarly dismissive of her as a “pop star” until her self-titled record. It’s interesting how we’ve all kind of ended up on the same page. I think that’s another remarkable, if more subtle, thing about these performances. There’s something to be said for her public but unapologetic willingness to be vulnerable with her growth as a person and artist. Yeah, she was less political before. I mean, she even performed for Gaddafi. Obviously that is Very Bad, and there’s no excusing it, but she also donated the money to Haiti. People like to hold that against her, but let’s not forget that there are lot of successful (male) artists out there continuing to profit off of or in spite of some pretty horrible things. I also think it’s worth considering how as a black woman, Beyoncé hasn’t always had the luxury of turning down opportunities or paychecks. The reality is that, yeah, Beyoncé was part of a bigger machine—but maybe that’s because she had to be in order to pay the bills and get the clout just to get to a point where she could be part of the conversation. Same with Solange, who’s now seen as even more outspoken and “artistic” than her sister. I think very few people can say they haven’t been there (and if they haven’t, they should understand that’s a rare privilege). We all fuck up, but I’d argue that it’s whether and how you turn it around that matters even more. It’s 2018, and there’s a broader cultural growth, toughness, and outspokenness happening right now, and I think maybe on a subconscious level, Beyoncé’s willingness to showcase and accept her own growth—to show that it’s OK to change, and that you can change—is what’s resonating so much with people about these performances too.
Kristin Corry and Andrea Domanick ain't sorry. Follow Noisey on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.