Everything We Learned From Beyonce's 'Homecoming'
Queen Bey is the master of surprises. A year after the royal highness of hip hop hit the desert for a groundbreaking performance at Coachella, she dropped a behind-the-scenes Netflix documentary outlining her path to becoming the first black woman to ever headline the infamous stage in all two decades of the festival's existence. And none of us saw it coming. How did she do it again? Bey keeps taking a baseball bat to our psyche with all these twists and turns.
April 2019 was a big month for the "Formation" singer. Not only did she release a 40-track Homecoming live album along with the doc, but she also finally put Lemonade on every major streaming platform that Jay-Z doesn't own. The documentary, as surprising as it might be, offers a glimpse into the sheer number of sacrifices the star made in order to make Coachella happen just a year after a traumatic pregnancy that almost claimed the life of one of her twins. In other words: there is absolutely nothing Bey can't do, except eat carbs.
These shocking revelations are just a small glimpse into this incredible performer's artistry. Here's everything else we learned from Beyoncé's Homecoming.
Music festivals are a notorious boys club, which isn't to say demographics haven't been changing. The issue is that it's just not changing fast enough. According to Pitchfork, female representation at some of the summer's biggest music festivals rose "from 14 to 19 percent" between 2017 and 2018, but "seven out of 10 artists on festival bills [were] men or all-male bands." Leave it to Bey to break down gender barriers for her landmark Coachella performance.
Beychella, as it came to be known, marked the first time a black woman headlined the festival in its entire then-19-year history. In those nearly two decades, only one other female — Bjork in 2007 — graced the top spot, according to Vice (though Lady Gaga filled in for Bey in 2017, so she was still technically meant to be the second). Needless to say, no one had any problems when the star slammed Coachella on-stage and reminded us that girls do, in fact, run the world — just not the world of multi-million dollar music festivals, yet.
"As a black woman, I used to feel like the world wanted me to stay in my little box," Beyoncé said in the doc (via Vulture). "I wanted us to be proud of not only the show, but the process. Proud of the struggle … It was no rules and we were able to create a free, safe space where none of us were marginalized."
As the first black woman in history to ever headline the fest, Bey wanted to craft a show that would be a celebration of black culture. To do so, the Lemonade singer drew from her childhood and conjured a reference that would likely be, according to Vox, almost entirely lost on Coachella's predominately white audience. But Bey wanted to do "what's best for the world and not what's most popular," according to her mama Tina Knowles-Lawson. Her goal was to educate and inspire.
The star's Homecoming set played off the idea of homecomings at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Though Bey never enrolled (what's really the point when you've got a $335 million net worth?), her father did attend Fisk University, an HBCU in Nashville, Tennessee. This served as a major inspiration for the star, who always dreamed of college life and occasionally rehearsed at Texas Southern University. Basically, she brought it back to band camp.
"I wanted it to feel the way I felt when I went to [the HBCU marching band showcase] Battle of the Bands," Beyoncé said in the doc (via the New York Times), "because I grew up seeing those shows and that being the highlight of my year."
Beychella almost happened in 2017, but the star was forced to cancel after she discovered she was pregnant. As it turns out, her pregnancy was more difficult than any of us could have imagined — she suffered from high blood pressure and toxemia (also known as preeclampsia) which put her and her babies' health in danger. According to Women's Health, the condition is marked by a "sudden, potentially life-threatening increase in blood pressure in pregnant women."
"My body went through more than I knew it could," she said during Homecoming (via O Magazine).
Bey first opened up about her difficulties in Vogue's 2018 September issue. Both the pregnancy — and the fact it was twins — were a total (welcome) surprise for the star, but she was stuck on bed rest for over a month before giving birth via emergency c-section. At the time, she weighed 218 pounds (no small number for her 5' 7" frame) and had to endure the grueling process of getting back in shape for her Coachella set. It took eight months of rehearsals to retrain her body.
"I had to rebuild my body from cut muscles. It took me awhile to feel confident enough to freak it and give it my own personality," she said (via Vulture). "In the beginning it was so many muscle spasms. Just, internally, my body was not connected. My body was not there."
Who run the world? Beyoncé. Of course Mrs. Carter would have all hands on deck when carefully creating her history-making Coachella set. Bey wasn't just the star performer, she was a total boss, who navigated each detail down to the hand-sewn patches on her musicians' costumes. She painstakingly met with Olivier Rousteing, Balmain's creative director, to talk colors and themes and what they'd represent. It took months to script the almost two-hour performance, and absolutely everything that happened on stage had a decisive purpose. Nothing was left to chance.
"I personally selected each dancer, every light, the material on the steps, the height of the pyramid, the shape of the pyramid. Every patch was hand-sewn. Every tiny detail had an intention," she said during Homecoming (via Vulture).
According to a feature in The New York Times, Bey's main choreographers — Chris Grant and JaQuel Knight — had been working on the show since December 2017 and even had one desert rehearsal to test the (lack of) waters while performing in the overwhelming heat. Basically, Bey was prepared for anything.
After Lemonade dropped on HBO and shocked the masses, we've sort of grown used to Beyoncé's surprise video releases. Homecoming probably won't be the last Netflix project we see from the star. According to Variety, the singer inked a $60 million, three-project deal with the streaming giant. The behind-the-scenes documentary — on which she served as executive producer, writer, and director — was reportedly worth around $20 million of that.
Queen Bey's Netflix deal marks a departure from her home at HBO. The network was reportedly vying for Homecoming as well, and previously released her Lemonade visual album, a 2014 "On the Run Tour" special, and 2013's Life Is But A Dream documentary. So, what next for the star? It's not really clear. Variety guesses that it might include a "music companion" similar to Lemonade, which came out in 2016. Three years is a long time to wait for some brand new music, but in the meantime, we do have the Homecoming live album. Those 40 tracks will take us some time to get through.