On Homecoming, Beyoncé Clears Her Own Mile-High Bar
If you’re just waking up, welcome home: Beyoncé has finally granted us access to her long-awaited Coachella documentary, Homecoming, which she’s paired—in typical Mrs. Carter fashion—with a live album of the same name. If you’re even peripherally familiar with Beyoncé, you’ve seen snippets of Beychella on Twitter; you’ve heard tell of the narrative arc she created with the performance, the reinterpretations of her hits (her many, many hits), the homage she pays to historically black colleges and universities throughout, the jaw-dropping visuals, the face-melting live vocals, the military precision of the choreography. This set is the stuff of legends, which, you know, makes sense considering who we’re talking about.
Beyoncé has, over the past two decades, become synonymous with the word control. As artists go, nobody comes close to the directorial hand and sharp creative mind she possesses. Her narrative is just that: hers. You won’t ever find a toe out of line in Beyoncé’s world, and that’s what makes watching her reinvent herself time and time again so endlessly compelling. You never know what you’re going to get from her, but you know it’s always going to be executed flawlessly. That takes us to 2018’s Coachella, a victory lap for Beyoncé, who’d had to drop out of the prior year’s headlining slot. So rather than come back with a set that mimicked just another stop on a world tour (let’s be real, most festival headliners phone it in hard in that department), she created an entirely new show from the ground up. It was performed twice. If you weren’t there, you weren’t there. But now you can be.
As a live album, Homecoming does the Coachella set justice; it’s easy to say it makes you feel like you’re there, but it does. It’s deeply immersive. And it’s no wonder we only caught fleeting glimpses of this performance last year; Beyoncé wanted to polish the hell out of it before her fans could get their hands on it, and that attention to detail shows. The production on this thing is pristine; the live instrumentation is tight and in perfect service of the songs. Adding a live band to exquisitely constructed studio tracks can be a hit or miss exercise—sometimes the very core of what fans grew to love on record is lost when you introduce elements like live horns and drums; ticket-buying masses show up wanting to hear exactly what they listen to through their AirPods at home, nothing more—but on Homecoming, a more fitting pairing I’ve never heard in my life. The band waters the seeds of these songs and lets them sprout up anew, true to their essences, lusher than ever. “Diva” has never sounded harder; “Sorry” grows legs and stomps the shit out haters with glee; “Formation” brings Big Freedia to the forefront and then scorches earth. She mixes in samples that pay tribute to the culture, weaving in quotes and song snippets that don’t simply sit there; contextually, they push the show forward and upwards, towards the sky, never turning its neck to look back to see if you’re watching. It’s a confident, muscular body of work that doesn’t seek anyone’s approval.
The thing is: Beyoncé easily could have delivered a paint-by-numbers hits set. Nobody would’ve complained. Fans would’ve swooned. Critics would’ve thrown bouquets onstage with tears in their eyes. She’s that kind of performer, with the catalogue and track record to back up her every move. But Homecoming is a very different body of work. It’s a live album that captures a performance’s spirit; it’s a live album that demands to be heard, which isn’t something you can say about most live albums. It not only tells a new story, it continues an ongoing one. It raises the stature of our most-revered modern artist to unimaginable heights. Beyoncé has long been at the top of the entire game. With Homecoming, she’s at the top of her own game too.