For years, fans have coveted Michelle Obama's playlists. Those personal soundtracks that reveal her workout jams (Cardi B, Destiny's Child) and her songs of the summer. (Like all of us, she was jamming out to Lizzo last year, too.) So it's only fitting that her new Netflix documentary Becoming, named in honour of her 2018 autobiography, begins with a song handpicked by Obama herself.
"This is what I do in the car," the former first lady says from the back of a black SUV as she scrolls through her iPhone looking for mood music. She has "eclectic taste," which means she has a lot to choose from, but when it comes to the right song, "it depends on the mood; whether I want to be inspired, or whether I just want to thump it out," she says. With her song choice for Becoming's opening credits, she does both.
The Netflix documentary, which tells the story of how a girl from the south side of Chicago became the first black FLOTUS, kicks off with help from Kirk Franklin's "A God Like You."
Obama plays the 2011 gospel track, bopping her head right along with the beat. "Do you want to bounce?" Franklin asks on this spiritual anthem, only to have Obama answer what was assumed to be a rhetorical question. "Sometimes you need to bounce before you do something," she says.
The film's opening montage is a flashback to the Obama era starting with the 2009 inauguration. As she makes her way to the hometown stop of her 34-city book tour promoting her memoir, we get to see how the journey began. How she became the role model who, in 2019, was named "most admired woman" in the world for the second year in a row.
A shot of the Obamas walking hand-in-hand down the street during the inauguration feels so different under President Barack Obama's successor. The first black U.S. president was sworn in amid a terrible economic crisis, but his first day was a celebration. Seeing it again is a happy reminder of the hope so many had even during that dark time — and hopefully, will have again.
Like the change candidate, Franklin and his musical congregation bring the positive vibes; that "thump" that Obama alludes to in the opening of the documentary. It's a bombastic track that makes makes you want to believe in something more than yourself, to work harder and be better, even best. (Quite literally in Obama's case since Franklin's track tops her 2020 workout playlist.)
"Everybody wanna be like you," Franklin's choir sings. "They want power and praise like you." Those lines could easily apply to the 44th First Lady of the United States, who during her eight years in that role promoted health, fitness, and going high when they, no matter who they are, go low. She made the White House feel "like it was really our house, the people's house," as Oprah says in the documentary.
However, Franklin is referring to God. "There's only one god that's our God," the chorus preaches. "There's no one like You." His song acts as a reminder that Obama was human, not some saviour, for there is only one of those in his opinion. In many ways, the documentary also works to prove that, offering an intimate look at Obama's humble beginnings. She is the American dream come to fruition, but it was also a nightmare at times.
We too often pushed her to be more, holding her to impossibly high standards we didn't hold ourselves to. Obama admits in the documentary she sobbed for 30 minutes after she and her husband officially left the White House in 2017. "I think it was just the release of eight years of trying to do everything perfectly," she says.
Still, she rose to every occasion, which is why so many feel a connection to her. They have felt that need to be perfect for others. They understand the pressure that comes with being a powerful woman in the public eye. The sacrifices she was made to be and admire her for keeping it together through all of it. Her poise and leadership while in the White House is why so many lined up throughout her Becoming book tour to watch her speak and maybe, just maybe tell her in person how much they admire her. To show that, “Damn, those eight years weren’t for nothing,” as her eldest daughter Malia says in the doc.
This might be why the throwback clips of Barack Obama being sworn in with Michelle by his side in front of a historically large crowd hit a little different now. There is a joy in seeing the excited faces of all those who lined up to catch a glimpse of the Obamas make history. Joy to see this candidate that brought so much hope to so many people. Joy in remembering what it felt like to witness Michelle Obama becoming well, Michelle Obama.
As much as things have changed over the last decade, Becoming 's opening moments show at least one thing has stayed the same. Obama was bouncing her head right along to the music back in the early days, too.