Beyoncé's 2018 Coachella performance caused an interruption.
Not only was the 23-time Grammy-winning singer the first Black woman to headline the Indio, CA, festival, she also presented a unapologetically Black performance in a venue that's traditionally been reserved for white and wealthy music lovers. On Wednesday at midnight, the highly-anticipated Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé debuted on Netflix along with a 40-track live album, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Coachella performance.
Interspersed throughout the album are notes from Beyoncé about what inspired the performance, which featured nearly 100 dancers and band members and was themed around historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
"I grew up in Houston, Texas, and visiting Prairie View [A&M University], we rehearsed at TSU [Texas State University] for many years in third ward," Beyoncé says about the inspiration of her show, which was conceptualized a year before.
Adding, "I always dreamed of going to an HBCU. My college was Destiny's Child. My college was traveling around the world, and life was my teacher. I wanted a Black orchestra. I wanted the steppers, I needed the vocalists. I wanted different characters, I didn't want us all doing the same thing."
Beyoncé's solo career has always been a consistent display of intentionality. From the start of her solo career—with Dangerously in Love that combined her R&B vocals with painfully deep narratives about love, up to her last solo album, Lemonade, that painted a picture of marriage informed by generational trauma and wisdom—she infuses succinct messages into her work. On each project, Beyoncé continues to deliver messages of pride, resilience, and fearlessness into the fabric of her artistry.
Adverse to unspoken messages used between Black and brown people to convey information in predominantly, and sometimes dangerous, white spaces, Beyoncé flipped the script and goes bold. She didn't explicitly say, "this is for us," but it was clearly evident in her Nefertiti headdress; heard through her vocals as she sang the National Black Anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing;" felt through the sampled O.T. Genasis dance sequence, Fela Kuti remix of "Zombie," and Fast Life Yungstaz's "Swag Surfin'."
"Beyoncé’s Coachella performance last year was absolutely electrifying," Pilin Anice, a Howard University alumna and Ailey Extension instructor tells Broadly. "For me, having attended an HBCU and being a dancer, it was nostalgic and fodder for my spirit to see elements of movement that originates from the rich traditions of Africa on a main stage. It was an empowering celebration of our history and watching, dancing and stepping along left me with a sense of pride for our ancestors and the legacy we come from.”
Angel Lenise, a supervising video producer at ELLE and cultural critic agrees. The native Texan and HBCU alumna was a member of her high school dance line and competed with the award-winning Big “D” Marching Band of Townview Magnet Center, a band modeled after Prairie View A&M University Marching Storm. Lenise contends that Beyoncé's performance was nostalgic for her but also gave more visibility to historically Black institutions that have served as cultural pillars in the African-American community since Reconstruction.
"Beyoncé, arguably the biggest star in the world, celebrated Blackness and Black academia...in front of a live audience that was largely white...and digitally, around the globe, to viewers who I’m sure aren’t privy to the excellence that the HBCU and Black Greek experience breeds," Lenise says. "She didn’t do that for them. She did that for us. For me. She didn’t swag surf for them. She swag surfed for us—and trust me when I say, we were right in the middle of Indio, swaggin’ and surfin’ right along."
Coachella was affectionately renamed Beychella by DJ Khaled during last year’s performance. And while the term of endearment was humorously met with acceptance, there is something revolutionary about a single performance by the venue’s first Black female headliner changing the status quo of performance in the 21st century. So much so that her stage is on display, a monument of excellence and the performance’s indelible mark on our culture, at this year’s Coachella Music Festival.
"Fact is, she could have produced an entirely different show, and we would have been just as excited, and just as proud,” Lenise says. “There was no expectation that she would do what she did—that she celebrate us in that way, on that stage, in the way that she did. And she did the work anyway. She sees us. She celebrates us. She is proud to be one of us. And she let the whole damn world know."