Today Netflix dropped Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé, a two-hour-long documentary chronicling the 15-month lead up to the superstar’s iconic 2018 Coachella set. The release came with a surprise drop on Spotify: a 40-track live album that includes music from the show, with credits for the 64 musicians that performed alongside Beyoncé last April. Also accompanying her were over 100 back-up dancers, a marching band, and the star’s husband, sister, and former Destiny’s Child bandmates.
The Homecoming drops have successfully preempted all other Coachella-related press. With the power of her performance last year, which the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica called “a gobsmacking marvel of choreography and musical direction,” the pop star even hijacked the festival’s name: Beychella was a “cultural movement,” according to Netflix (which briefly changed its twitter name to “Netflix US aka BEYFLIX” today). Coachella? It’s just a festival.
“There’s not likely to be a more meaningful, absorbing, forceful and radical performance by an American musician this year, or any year soon,” Caramanica wrote of Beychella last year, pronouncing as one of its achievements the wholesale destruction of Coachella’s—and festival culture’s more broadly—chill: “[I]t obliterated the ideology of the relaxed festival, the idea that musicians exist to perform in service of a greater vibe.”
While the triumph of the performance itself was not really up for debate, Homecoming is a good reminder that Beyoncé’s (shimmery, fringed) boots aren’t there for garden-variety pop divas to step into. It’s a point the writer Kevin Allred made in a Twitter rant against the attempted coinages “Arichella” (for Ariana Grande) and “Gagachella” (for Lady Gaga):
The Homecoming drops were also a brilliant feat of marketing, one that team Beyoncé has apparently been preparing for meticulously for a year: Outside of its original livestreams, Beychella has been all but un-viewable, as bootleg versions are scrubbed from the internet soon after they appear.
The documentary intersperses clips of the performance with intimate backstage footage and interviews with the star. She describes how the show was pinned to the idea of homecoming at historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s), something that the Houston native grew up watching.
The performance featured the superstar’s extensive discography as interpreted by an HBCU marching band, as well as a phalanx of sounds from traditional black music. A rendition of the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the black national anthem, was particularly poignant: At one point, the documentary cuts to Beyoncé’s eldest daughter, 7-year-old Blue Ivy, singing it in a sweet but also deeply impressive a capella.
In the film, Beyoncé describes how she began prepping for the event just months after giving birth to twins, a harrowing pregnancy that involved an emergency C-section. “I had to rebuild my body from cut muscles,” she says. “There were days that I thought, you know, I’d never be the same.” Beyoncé also addresses the emotional challenge of rehearsing hours a day while balancing motherhood, with all three children often on set, and taking breastfeeding breaks in her trailer between rehearsals.
In spite of that, she describes an incredible attention to detail, having “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.”
Coachella is underway again in Indio, California with headliners Childish Gambino, Tame Impala, and Ariana Grande. But without downplaying the talent of this and past years’ performers, Homecoming arrives as a testament to Beyoncé’s power and importance—as an artist, empire, and cultural symbol. She is in a different league from any pop star or music festival today.