Wednesday at midnight marked a homecoming for Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.
The 37-year-old Queen Bey unveiled Homecoming, her highly anticipated concert film of her historic 2018 headlining performance at Coachella, marking the first time a black woman headlined the music festival. This came with the added surprise of a live Homecoming album of her set.
The title of Homecoming bears many meanings: the Coachella show was a homecoming for Knowles, as it was her first live performance since giving birth to twins Sir and Rumi. It was also a homecoming of culture. While the image of a shirtless white trust-fund jock wearing a Native American headdress and Ray-Ban sunglasses seems to be the unofficial mascot of the festival, Knowles brought the HBCU experience to her two-weekend concert sets through the costume, choreography, and production design.
Jay-Z and a Destiny’s Child reunion highlighted what became known as Beychella, but in the Homecoming doc, Knowles goes deeper. She opens up about her “extremely difficult pregnancy” that left her feeling unable to bounce back physically, her rigorous training to get back in shape, and the pressures of juggling motherhood while putting on one of the most grand and intricate shows of her career.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the more than 2-hour-long film.
Beyoncé changes the “culture” of Coachella
Every year’s Coachella comes with another batch of think pieces ruminating on the specific ilk of Millennial attendees — the “oasis for douchebags and trust fund babies,” as The Daily Beast put it. “When I decided to do Coachella, instead of me pulling out my flower crown,” Knowles says, pausing as she laughs at the image, “it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella.”
Elsewhere in voiceover, Knowles mentions how it was important to have “a black orchestra,” “steppers,” and “vocalists.”
“And the amount of swag is just limitless,” she adds. “Like, the things that these young people can do with their bodies and the music they can play, and the drum rolls, and the haircuts and the bodies… it’s just not right. It’s just so much damn swag.”
A “four-month period of rehearsals” with the band and director Derek Dixie preceded “the four months of dance rehearsals.” Black-and-white backstage footage glimpse the training routine, as Knowles explains: “The music in those vocal rehearsals, that’s the heartbeat of the show. I wanted all of these different characters and I wanted it to feel the way I felt when I went to Battle of the Bands because I grew up seeing those shows and that being the highlight of my year. So I studied my history, I studied my past, and I put every mistake, all of my triumphs, my 22-year career into my two-hour Homecoming performance.”
The HBCU concept
Every live performance from Knowles has a clear concept. For Coachella, she channeled imagery of historically black colleges and universities through marching bands, step-team choreography, and Greek letters. Homecoming on Netflix also features footage from the marching bands and dancers at Southern University, Jackson State University, Alabama A&M University, Grambling State University, and other institutions.
Before the end credits roll, a statement from Knowles reads, “So many people who are culturally aware and intellectually sound are graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including my father. There is something incredibly important about the HBCU experience that must be celebrated and protected.”
On her surprise pregnancy
Knowles was supposed to perform at Coachella in 2017, but her unexpected pregnancy with twins Sir and Rumi prevented that from happening.
“My body went through more than what I knew it could,” she recalls. “I was 218 pounds the day I gave birth. I had an extremely difficult pregnancy: I had high blood pressure, I developed toxemia, preeclampsia, and, in the womb, one of my babies’ heartbeat paused a few times so I had to get an emergency C-section.”
Knowles says later in the concert documentary, amid party footage of SZA, Octavia Spencer, Pharrell Williams, Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, and her mother Tina Knowles, “If you know me, you know my family is the biggest priority in my life. My family is my sanctuary, my weakness, and my strength. They are my tribe, and it was important that we all felt like family.”
How she bounced back
“I’m creating my own homecoming,” Knowles says, “and it’s hard.”
In addition to a rigorous personal training and rehearsal routine to get back into shape, Knowles limited her diet to “no bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol.”
“There were days that I thought, you know, I’d never be the same. I’d never be the same physically, my strength and endurance would never be the same,” she explains. “And, you know, a lot of the choreography is about feeling, so it’s not as technical. It’s your own personality that brings it to life, and that’s hard when you don’t feel like yourself. I had to rebuild my body from cut muscles. It took me a while to feel confident enough to freak it and give it my own personality.”
It was only 33 days prior to her Coachella performance that Knowles could fit back into her costume, which was “a huge accomplishment,” she notes. But the real struggle was something “people don’t see is the sacrifice,” which is balancing a career with motherhood.
“It’s not like before when I could rehearse 15 hours straight. I have children, I have a husband, I have to take care of my body,” she says. “I definitely pushed myself further than I knew I could and I learned a very valuable lesson: I will never, never push myself that far again. I feel like I’m just a new woman in a new chapter in my life and not even trying to be who I was. It’s just so beautiful that children do that to you.”
Eye for detail
When Knowles says she had a hand in every aspect of her Homecoming performance, she means ev-er-y-thing.
“I personally selected each dancer, every light, the material on the steps, the height of the pyramid, the shape of the pyramid,” she lists. “Every patch was hand-sewn. Every tiny detail had an intention.”
Knowles worked with designer Olivier Rousteing to hash out concepts for the costumes, which were just as intricate and layered as every other element. “There were so many meanings with Olivier before he flew to Los Angeles so we can understand, okay, why do we want these colors? What do they represent? What is the silhouette? What is gonna look the most graphic? How do we look united but how do we have these different characters that stand out?”
“It took months for us to script the show,” Knowles continues, “but when you spend so many months on choreography and arrangements, and when there are over 200 people on the stage, you want to make sure you see everything.”
Blue Ivy singing break
A little more than two hours into Homecoming, Knowles inserted footage of Blue Ivy Carter singing the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” an audio version of which is available as a bonus track on Homecoming: The Live Album.
Beyoncé gives a shout-out to trans performer Miss Shalae
At one point during the Netflix doc, a moment from the second Coachella performance, Knowles, pulling on her pink hoodie, looks out to someone in the crowd. “I see you,” she says. “How did you do that so fast? She has on my outfit, y’all.” That someone was trans performer Miss Shalae.
“I had the yellow outfit when she had on the pink,” Shalae told Out magazine. She wore the yellow ensemble Knowles wore the week prior, while the “Diva” singer kicked off week 2 in pink. “That would have been absolutely insane if I had intel on what Beyoncé had on before she wore it,” Shalae added. “She totally would have been freaked out.”