None of us can be Beyoncé. I was more aware of this than ever in the run up to Homecoming, when Netflixs Facebook account posted the following comment below a teaser vid:
“Reminder: if you aren't that fussed about Beyoncé there is no obligation to watch this. Some people really like her and that is okay too.”
It was perhaps the gentlest form of mediation to remind those frustrated by the endless, decades-long Beehive hysteria: Beyoncé is not culturally compulsory. To put it as Twitter would, not liking Beyoncé does not constitute a personality. Its going to be okay.
But that might be hard to believe, especially after the month weve had. Its been a formidable trifecta of Beyoncé news: Lemonade arrived on Spotify, Beyoncés Coachella set (Beychella) also took the platform, and the performance was released as a Netflix documentary.
The stars ability to work a crowd far exceeds her physical performances, permeating the way she brings music to fans. The Beychella releases use the opposite marketing strategy to Beyoncés signature album drop; rather than silence, exaggerated buildup. What was once one event is now stretched out to the before, during and after, the making of, the audio, the video, the live version, the recorded studio edit. Its a slow build of hype that repackages existing content – which works because, after all, its Beyoncé.
Beyoncé represents the unattainable, and the documentary plays heavily on this premise. A recurring theme is that there is no one as famous as her; hence her ability to self-reference so smoothly – many discography highlights are worked into the fanfare, due to lack of time to hash them all out in the setlist. The performance acts as a whistle stop tour of her 20+ year career, with shots of individual audience members going crazy as song intros play, reminding us that she has been producing solo number ones since most of her fans were children.
To witness a Beyoncé show is to watch history in realtime; seeing her perform, particularly watching her dance, is like looking at the sun. After the original festival performance, The New York Times proclaimed that Beyoncé was bigger than Coachella – and its true, as she thanks the audience for letting her be the first black woman to headline, viewers are aware that its probably the festival that owes her the thanks.
Adjacent to this theme of excellence, the documentary steers towards black history and black education. The (surprisingly specific) concept of the historically black university underpins the performance, visible in the all-black marching band and appliquéd uniforms in a triangle formation dotted around mocked-up bleachers.
Towards the documentarys end, theres more explicit discussion from her performers about the importance of majority-black educational spaces. And Beyoncés choice to target the university might not be as unlikely as it initially seems – after all her father, Mathew Knowles, attended the historically black Fisk University, and Beyoncé herself launched the Formation Scholarship almost two years ago to the day.
Beyond formal education, the concept of exchanging both knowledge and care across generations, which featured heavily in Lemonade, crops up repeatedly in Homecoming. Queen B rarely does a show without the inclusion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichies “we teach girls to shrink themselves” speech, but the documentary also draws on teachings of black feminist writers of times gone by, notably Audre Lorde and Maya Angelou.
Barely one musical minute passes where a black artist from the archives isnt referenced in a sample, lyric or riff. The volume is turned up on Caribbean influences, with Sister Nancys Bam Bam mixed into Dawn Penns You Dont Love Me spliced alongside Sean Pauls vocals. As a Caribbean Brit, its striking how successfully this diaspora focus makes me feel just as involved and included in her history lesson.
But Beyoncé also tips her hat to her former and current contemporaries in a number of blink-and-youll-miss-it moments – calling out Soulja Boys signature “you!”, incorporating Missy Elliots marching band drumbeat, referencing the nursery-rhyme riff of DRAMs Broccoli.
Crucially, bonus track Before I Let Go shouldnt be interpreted as anything other than a stealth cover of Cameos Candy – setting out Beyoncés true Homecoming manifesto. The referenced 80s dance hit is a staple at black weddings, birthdays and other celebrations, with an accompanying dance routine that gets members of every generation flocking to the dance floor. Its the perfect symbol for her reimagined community: one huge, black, intergenerational mashup. For her, love, solidarity and education through music is paramount.
Beyoncé's public persona will always present contradictions and limitations. Many parts of the performance still carRead More – Source