Beyoncé’s headlining set at Coachella in 2018 was a master class in pop performance: an instantly iconic celebration of blackness, HBCUs and her own historic 22-year career. She was originally slated to headline in 2017 following her Formation World Tour, but a surprise pregnancy — with twins, nonetheless — delayed her appearance. Instead of recreating her Lemonade-era shows, she formulated something entirely new. It’s this show, now known simply as Beychella, that’s documented in Homecoming.
The Netflix concert film— written, directed and executive-produced solely by Beyoncé, naturally — is a carefully constructed combination of her performances from Coachella 2018’s two weekends, interwoven with intimate footage from the months of rehearsals it took to not only re-train her body post-pregnancy but also to see her complicated vision come to life. While the behind-the-scenes footage is only a fraction of the total film, Beyoncé is refreshingly candid about the hard work that it took to put the shows together. Here are five things we learned from the film.
1. Beyoncé always wanted to attend an HBCU.
While planning the show — which prominently featured a marching band, step-team choreography and Greek-life lettering — Beyoncé thought hard about her own history. Growing up in Houston, she would attend battle-of-the-bands shows and other college-centric events at schools like Prairie View. Destiny’s Child, the group she also refers to as her “college” since that’s how she spent her teen years and early twenties, rehearsed at TCU as they were brought up. Attending an HBCU was aspirational for Beyoncé, even though she prioritized her pop stardom instead.
“So many people who are culturally aware and intellectually sound are graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including my father,” a statement reads at the very end of the film. “There is something incredibly important about the HBCU experience that must be celebrated and protected.”
Homecoming, a famous, annual celebration at HBCUs around the U.S., is seen as a counterpoint to the whiteness of Coachella, something Beyoncé and her collaborators nod to throughout the documentary and even the concert when she reminds the audience that she’s the first black female headliner of the festival. In a performance that celebrates the beauty of black culture, the HBCU experience was an important, youthful and joyful touchstone for her to build upon.
2. Her pregnancy wasn’t easy — and neither was the recovery process.
Carrying Rumi and Sir Carter was the reason why Beyoncé had to delay her first scheduled appearance at Coachella in 2017, but she had never previously spoken about how distressing the pregnancy turned out to be. As she detailed in the film, she had high blood pressure and developed toxemia (a blood infection) and preeclampsia (typically a sign of damage to the liver or kidneys, characterized by high blood pressure). One of her twins’ heartbeats paused while in the womb, leading to an emergency C-section.
Thankfully, her babies were delivered successfully and healthily but that was only the beginning. She was 218 pounds on her delivery date and had a long road of re-training her body to perform the way she used to — along with being a mother of three. In the film, Beyoncé gets real about the struggles of getting back into shape for the intensity of performance she delivers and her early struggles with rehearsals.
“There were days where I thought I’d never be the same,” she says during a voiceover. “I’d never be the same physically. My strength and endurance would never be the same.”
To combat these concerns, she adopted a strict vegan diet, combined with her arduous training regimen.
3. Beyoncé is a tough boss.
Some of the film’s best scenes include the pop diva sternly but kindly dragging her team who seem to have a hard time grasping her highly specific vision. Early in the film, she becomes aware of that fact, noting that another run-through would be needed to get everyone on board. From the beginning, Beyoncé wanted to make sure the show felt like an experience for more than just the people on stage or even in the audience at the festival. It was a heavy lift, especially given that there were over 200 people on stage with her. So, as she details, she had some unconventional ideas for what’s expected from a festival show, including the ways she used a Steadicam and how the hundreds of people backing her were outfitted. She had three soundstages for rehearsals: one for the band, one for the dancers and one for the creative team. Beyoncé would travel from stage to stage during this time to watch and fine-tune every detail of the show, down to even how it was filmed, in a way that could capture the onstage energy.
4. But she’s also in awe of her collaborators.
Beychella may have been Beyoncé’s show, but the artist found herself inspired daily by the musicians, dancers, singers, crew members and creative team that helped her put it together. She specifically celebrates the people who shared the stage with her: intentionally all young, black artists who were able to unlock a totally new perspective on her classic songs and performance style.
“I wanted a black orchestra. I wanted the steppers. I needed the vocalists. I wanted different characters. I didn’t want us all doing the same thing,” she explains during one of her voiceovers. “And the amount of swag is just limitless. 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 and the … it’s just not right. It’s just so much damn swag.”
5. Blue Ivy is turning into a mini-Beyoncé.
Blue Ivy is already a consistent joy when she’s seen in public with Beyoncé and Jay-Z — never forget her putting her pop-star mom on snack duty during the Grammy Awards — so her presence in Homecoming didn’t disappoint. Blue and her dad were a constant presence during rehearsals, watching her mom dance and even learning some of the choreography from the sidelines. Towards the end, she’s seen singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with some lyric-feeding from her supportive mom. She gets so into it that she wants to do it again because it “feels good.”
For Beyoncé, the joy that the show gave Blue Ivy was deeply inspiring. “I feel we made something that made my daughter proud,” she says towards the end of the film.