Saturday night, Beyoncé became the first Black female headliner at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. In a performance that she called “very important for me” and that was politically charged, as has become her style, Beyoncé’s brazen tribute to Black history and Black culture has inspired mass reactions that reverberated across the internet. How could it not, after she declared Coachella forever changed: it is now Beychella.
In case you missed it, here are some highlights of how Bey made the stage at Coachella distinctly her own. She came to slay, and managed to light the whole desert on fire.
She paid tribute to the HBCU experience
Known for vibrant marching bands, show-stopping drumline performances, competitive choirs and Black Greek life, Beyoncé paid homage to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Since the debut of Black Panther, whose star is an alumnus of Howard University, America has a newfound interest in the legacy of HBCUs. From probates (aka pledges) stepping and strolling to being accompanied by a full marching band, Beyoncé’s entire stage show portrayed elements of HBCU culture. Her custom college letter sweatshirt that read BAK created so much interest fans hit the internet to investigate its meaning and where they could score one.
She sang the Black national anthem
Beyoncé broke into a beautiful rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” a song crafted in 1905 by J. Rosamond Johnson using a poem written by his brother, James Weldon Johnson. Dubbed America’s “Black national anthem,” “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was embraced by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1921 as its official song and continues to be a hopeful reminder of how far African Americans have come.
She paid homage to iconic Black activists Fela Kuti, Nina Simone and Malcolm X
Woven throughout Beyoncé’s performance are strategically placed sound bites and musical references. You heard the voice of Malcolm X giving his reverent speech “Who Taught You To Hate Yourself,” about the need to respect and protect Black women, and the earnest vocals of Nina Simone singing about lost love in “Lilac Wine.” The soulful singer-songwriter was inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night. The band also played a rousing rendition of Fela Kuti’s 1976 title track “Zombie.”
She celebrated the Black woman’s body
The music industry (and the world) has a long way to go in terms of embracing body positivity, but a visual representation of that by a top selling recording artist is a bold statement that cannot go ignored. From voluptuous dancers and a shapely baton twirler in unapologetic fashion, Beyoncé’s Coachella performance highlighted what we celebrate in Black culture: curves! Negative media representations of the Black female body remains a huge human rights and sexual rights issue. To normalize women’s natural Black bodies in the media, they have to first be seen.
She honored her familial roots
In Black culture, we are conditioned have a reverence for our family and family traditions. Beyoncé was born and raised in Houston, TX, and in Lemonade, we learned her mother has roots in Louisiana. Beyoncé returned to her Southern roots by infusing Texas trill, bounce music and New Orleans brass band sounds. In addition to a cameo by her husband, Jay Z, and reuniting onstage with her musical sisters Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland of Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé also performed special choreography with her sister Solange.
She celebrated Black feminism
In Beyoncé’s world, women are dancers, section leaders, instrumentalists, headliners, bosses, and moguls and all representations were reflected in last night’s performance. A sample of a reading by feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie underlined Beyoncé’s overall message of women’s empowerment. She reflected on her achievement: “Thank you Coachella, for allowing me to be the first Black woman to headline Coachella. Ain’t that about a bitch?” Though it was a moment to celebrate her win, her response emphasized how absurd it was for the world’s largest music festival to be reaching the milestone so late in the game.
Whether or not you are in the Beyhive, the knowledge dropped during the superstar’s Coachella concert and her spirited celebration of Black women and Black culture was a masterclass that everyone needs to see.
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