First and foremost I have to say that I have always been a fan of Beyonce’s music. Growing up and listening to her evolve as an artist from a 15 year old girl in Destiny’s Child to a successful business woman, philanthropist and artist of today has in many many ways helped me to grow in my own endeavors. I can recall many instances in my life exactly where I was by the songs of the era. With that said, Watching Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce has changed how I view her. I have a new found respect for her and I believe I am forever changed for the better after watching it.
The film is a somewhat of a documentary/concert film about her monumental 2018 Coachella performance. It starts with the intensity of a solo drum beat and the eyes of a female drummer burning a hole deep into your soul as she gazes into the camera. This sets the tone as it moves into a wide shot of a line of dancers as they give you the pomp and circumstance of a Homecoming parade. The details of the dancers outfits, an Egyptian print followed by jeweled catsuits, as a line of perfectly poised women lead up to the Queen herself, Beyonce dressed in a regal cloak and crown as she walks forward in her signature strut to the stage. The feeling of revelry and strength is conveyed by the women as the dancers give their all in every moment on stage.
I was in awe from the beginning as all of this happens before she utters one word. The stage itself surprises you as the “curtains” open up to reveal a pyramid of risers in the form of bleachers you would find at a football stadium and a full orchestra and Drumline as well as dancers poised to entertain. Beyonce emerges from the top of the bleachers wearing denim shorts, a hoodie and white boots with a head of flowing golden curls. The energy flowing from the screen is electrifying as she begins singing one of her biggest hits “Crazy in Love”. One has to remember that the original performance was over a weekend at Coachella so there were multiple costume changes and depending on which day you attended you would see different outfits. One of the best details of the film is how seamlessly it cuts between the multiple performances as the outfits of her and the ensemble changes from yellow to pink. Watching the film makes your appreciate Beyonce not only as a performer but also as a person. She make sure to have a mixture of dancers, spreading a message of Black love and body positivity as you see a representation of all shapes and sizes and genders that work hard to deliver a performance at the level of professionalism and entertainment that we have come to expect from Beyonce.
The setlist is a compilation of songs that mean something because they relay a message and vision that she was trying to share with everyone. Beyonce delivers an empowering rendition of her song “Freedom” followed by what is often referred to as the Negro National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. As I sit her and watch it I am crying. The beauty of the song, the emotion behind it, the depth and pride in the performance is emotional and this is only ten minutes into the film.
Beyonce was very strategic in her placement and selection of the songs as after the emotional breakdown of “Lift Every Voice” she follows it up with “Formation” and now I am dancing in my seat. After walking down the runway to the heart pumping song it cuts to behind the scenes footage of the show rehearsal. One of the most compelling quotes from the film comes from her in this moment. It spoke directly to me. She said, “I want everyone that has ever been dismissed because of the way they look to feel like they were on that stage.” As someone who is a gay, dark-skinned African American male I know the feeling of being immediately judged because there is a presumption of wrong-doing because of my skin color or the willful disregard of my human rights solely based on my sexuality. The level of pride in her “Blackness” and the message of inclusivity and “Black is Beautiful” was endearing on many levels.
From here Beyonce goes into a performance of “Sorry” and includes a throw back to a scene from the 1988 musical comedy directed by Spike Lee “School Daze”as she makes her male dancers, the “Bugaboo’s”, line up and make her laugh. It is an homage to the hazing scene from Spike Lee’s 1988 film. The line up leads into a step show, again reminiscent of college life at a Historical Black College or HBC. She follows this with a rendition of her hit “Me, Myself and I” followed by “Bow Down”. The mixture of music and dance styles is a display of not only black girl magic but a representation of just a taste of what our community has to offer and how truly amazing we are. It is important to note her dedication to bringing “our” culture to Coachella. Although the music event has been around for almost 20 years Beyonce is the for African American woman to headline the event ever. This performance was a culmination of her 22 year career, its successes, triumphs and failures in a 2 hour Coachella show.
She starts the next phase of the show with her song “Drunk in Love” and I am continued to be surprised by the level of artistry that is happening with each passing minute from the contemporary dance break in the middle of this song to the step dance break down leading into her song “Diva”.
The behind the scenes footage at this point talks about her pregnancy. Beyonce was originally supposed to headline Coachella the year before but found out she was pregnant with twins. She talks about the complications that occurred with a twin pregnancy and how she developed preeclampsia, high blood pressure, toxemia and how the most frightening thing was that one of the babies heart beat paused causing her to have an emergency C-section.
The level of dedication to her profession and family is evident in everything that she does. She explains how hard it was for her to return to work because at times all she wants is to be with her children. She talks about the struggles of breastfeeding between rehearsal and the fears that her body will never be the same after her second pregnancy. Beyonce is very candid about how she didn’t feel comfortable in her own body. She didn’t know if she would ever get her endurance back or be able to perform like before. She talked about how humbling rehearsals were saying, “You have to be able to let yourself look crazy and let go.” To meet her goals she limited herself: no bread, no carbs, not sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, and no alcohol. She said that she was hungry but the dedication to her craft kept her going.
The set continues into her songs “Flawless” followed by “7/11” before her Bugaboo’s return to the stage to do another heart pumping step show joined by an impressive baton twirler. The French dance duo Les Twins enter the stage to an entertaining dance as the background singers perform “Party”. At this point Beyonce re-emerges with a costume change: thigh high shiny black leather boots, leather bodice and long sleeved hooded jacket and performs “Don’t Hurt Yourself”. The strength in her voice and the stance as she delivers the lyrics gives me shivers. I have to say one of the most impressive images that she conveys on stage is during her song “I care” she is seated on the steps of the bleachers as dancers line up seated beside her. As she is singing there is a moment when two of the dancer place their head in her lap and it reminds me of something so maternal and vulnerable but beautiful.
She moves the performance along with a seductive version of “Partition” leading into “Yonce” followed by “Mi Gente (Remix)”. The behind the scenes commentary is mesmerizing. She explains that she personally selected each dancer, the lights, the bleacher pyramid, the style of the pyramid and more. Beyonce wanted to make sure that the same feeling that the audience at Coachella received what how people would experience this film. She had three sound stages: one for the band, one for the dancers and one for the creative team. To capture the feeling on stage she had them capture the vocals, the rumble of the stage and the improv and ad-libs of the ensembles “Eh’s and Ah’s” to make sure that everything translated to camera.
She committed to the message of body positivity by not only having all shapes represented in her ensemble dancer group but also have out women of all sizes during her dance break down during “Baby Boy”. I was so happy to watch them kill the dance and the dedication to the performance. Coming to the end of the film we see her perform”You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No) leading into “Countdown” followed by “Check on It” until the bass guitar drops and her husband the incomparable Jay Z joins her on the stage for “Deja Vu”. Their chemistry on stage is intoxicating and electrifying. Once again at the dance breakdown she showcases our culture in an African dance. More behind the scenes footage shows her appreciation of everyone that had a hand in making this performance come together even in the times that she was tired and stressed. It shows her strength of character and the pride of all those involved in this project. Beyonce felt that it was important that there was a feeling of family.
When the Drumline appears it is electric, entertaining and awe inducing as the lead into a powerful rendition of “Run the World (Girls)” she continues the message of strength, empowerment and family by emerging from beneath the stage with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams in a Destiny’s Child reunion. For me the show could have ended there as all I need in life is another Destiny’s Child album. They treated us to flawless harmonies and amazing vocals for “Lose My Breath”, “Say My Name” and “Soldier”. They performed like no time had passed and you could still feel the love between the women. At this point Kelly and Michelle leave the stage but now it is a party as Les Twins return as well as the full orchestra, Drumline and dancers to jam to “Get Me Bodied” and Beyonce bring out her sister Solange to dance along side of her at the dance breakdown. After a phenomenal performance of “Single Ladies” we see behind the scenes of Blue Ivy singing to her mom and it is precious. Beyonce exclaims that in this film she has made something that she thinks her family can be proud of and there is a collage of all the dancers and musicians involved in creating the film as another way that she shows her appreciation of all the hard work that everyone put into this project. The final song she dedicated to her fans, The Beyhive, as she has them sing along to “Love on Top”.
As the film closes I am met with a range of emotions from pride, happiness, excitement and fulfillment. It furthers the confusion that although I have always been a fan, I have a new found respect for Beyonce’s dedication to her craft, her level of professionalism and her compassion for others. I am now and forevermore a “stan” and member of the Beehive.