Everything We Learned About Beychella From Beyoncé’s Homecoming

A year ago, Beyoncé stopped the world for an umpteenth time with her groundbreaking headlining Coachella performance. Since that moment — so off-the-charts and unlikely to be matched in our lifetime — the festival has henceforth been renamed Beychella no matter who’s playing. Now, for its anniversary, we’ve been blessed with the chance to revisit it in Netflix’s Homecoming. It’s part concert film — so you can finally delete that one grainy stream you’ve had bookmarked — and part documentary, pulling back the curtain on how the show got made, from her postpartum recovery, to the HBCU inspiration, to its cultural significance. Interspersed with quotes from Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Nina Simone, Alice Walker, and other like-minded black geniuses, the film offers a rare look at Beyoncé’s process. Just don’t expect her to repeat this kind of history-making act anytime soon. She notes, “I will never, never push myself that far again.”

She wasn’t sure she’d ever be the same performer after birthing twins

Beyoncé was of course originally meant to headline Coachella in 2017, but she — as she puts it in the doc — “got pregnant unexpectedly … and it ended up being twins, which was even more of a surprise.” It forced her to postpone Beychella until the following year, and the toll that carrying twins took on her body, she says, was irreversible. Beyoncé reveals that she suffered from high blood pressure, toxemia, and preeclampsia, and had to undergo an emergency C-section when one of the twins’ hearts stopped beating. On the day she gave birth, she says she weighed 218 pounds. Reconnecting with her body and mind post-partum was grueling. “I’m creating my own homecoming,” she says of the first rehearsal for Beychella. “There were days that I thought I’d never be the same. My strength and endurance would never be the same.”

They rehearsed for eight months

With Beyoncé already committed to doing Coachella the next year, she had to retrain her body to perform after her traumatic pregnancy and delivery, and had to move quickly. Six months after giving birth, the grunt work on Beychella began. First, she and her music director, Derek Dixie, started with four months of rehearsals with the band. Then on top of that came four more months of dance rehearsals. (“The music and those vocal rehearsals, that’s the heartbeat of the show,” she explains. “I wanted it to feel the way I felt when I went to battle of the bands … and put my 22-year career into my two-hour homecoming performance.”)

But that doesn’t mean she was physically or mentally ready. “A lot of the choreography is not technical, it’s about feeling. And that’s hard when you don’t feel like yourself,” she says. “I had to rebuild my body from cut muscles. It took me awhile to feel confident enough to freak it and give it my own personality.” She continues, “In the beginning it was so many muscle spasms. Just, internally, my body was not connected. My body was not there.” Bey then forced herself to adopt a terribly strict diet: “I’m limiting myself to no bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol … and I’m hungry.” Somehow, throughout all of this, she still had to be a mom. “My mind wanted to be with my children,” she explains. “What people don’t see is the sacrifice. I would dance and go off to the trailer and breastfeed the babies. And the days I could, I would bring the children.” She later half-jokes to her crew, “I gotta go home … to my fifty-’leven children.”

The HBCU inspiration

The entire concept for Beychella was centered around the Historically Black College and University experience, from the marching bands, to the majorettes, to the greek life, and especially to the spirit of homecoming. Although Beyoncé did not attend college, her connection to HBCUs remains personal. She explains in the doc that her father was a Fisk alum. She spent a large chunk of her life rehearsing at Texas Southern University, an HBCU in Houston, and “always dreamed” of going to one herself but life had other plans. “My college was Destiny’s Child,” she says, but her sense of pride in HBCUs never left her. “Instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella,” she explains of her mission. “Creating something that will live beyond me — that will make people feel open and like they’re watching magic, like they’re living in a time that’s super special, a day that they will never relive. That’s what I want.” One of her dancers later offers, “Homecoming for an HBCU is the Super Bowl. It is the Coachella.” Of her collaborators, many of whom attended HBCUs, Beyoncé says, “The amount of swag is just limitless … It literally felt like we were in our own university and struggling together.” The film ends with this note: “There is something incredibly important about the HBCU experience that must be celebrated and protected.”

Beyoncé had a hand in absolutely everything

It goes without saying that only Beyoncé controls Beyoncé. For Beychella, she ran the show with military precision and made sure everyone and everything served a purpose. “I respect things that take work. I respect things that are built from the ground up. I’m super specific about every detail,” she says. “I 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.” For the costumes, she met with Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing multiple times before he ever set foot in Los Angeles “so we could understand, Okay, why do we want these colors? What do they represent?” Scripting the show, she says, took months, “and I was very adamant that we were well-rehearsed and knew the show front to back.” As you might imagine, the whole production was unprecedented: “We did a lot of things that were very unconventional for a festival show,” she admits. “It takes a village and I think we all worked to our limit.”

She directed the show with film in mind

By now it’s clear that Beyoncé does nothing without considering visuals, and so she directed Beychella with the understanding that it would be primarily live-streamed first then preserved on film for this Netflix doc. When at one point in rehearsals it doesn’t seem like the show is working on video, she has a talk with her crew: “Not only does Derek have to record the choir, he has to record the rumble of the structure, the stomps. He has to record everybody’s ‘Hey! Ah!’ That adds another element of the performance that feels so good on the stage and it’s not translating on film. And until I see some of my notes applied, it doesn’t make sense for me to make more.” She further clarifies her intention, “It’s just so everyone out there can feel what we’re feeling.”

The significance of being the first black woman to headline Coachella

Beyoncé told Coachella off on their stage for not having a black woman headline the festival until she did it (“aint that ‘bouta bitch,” she said opening night). She’s in disbelief in the doc, too, and reflects on her opportunity to represent, saying at one point that she hopes people see that it’s “possible if my country ass can do it, they can do it.”

“It was important to me that everyone had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us. As a black woman, I used to feel like the world wanted me to stay in my little box. And black woman often feel underestimated. I wanted us to be proud of not only the show, but the process. Proud of the struggle. Thankful for the beauty that comes with a painful history and rejoice in the pain. Rejoice in the imperfections and the wrongs that are so damn right. I wanted everyone to feel thankful for their curves, their sass, their honesty – thankful for their freedom. It was no rules and we were able to create a free, safe space where none of were marginalized.”

You’re damn right Jay-Z came second to Beychella

There’s a great moment midway through the film that peeks into one of the more tense rehearsals, where Beyoncé gets stern with her team about the need to get in formation because they’re running out of time. The camera zooms in over her shoulder at Jay-Z sitting at her side, visibly awestruck at his wife’s leadership. When she’s done speaking, a man offscreen nervously goes, “All right, have a good anniversary.” Come again? “It’s my anniversary,” Beyoncé claps. That’s right: It’s her and Jay-Z’s wedding anniversary, but as far as she and Beychella are concerned, it’s Bring Your Husband to Work Day. Obviously, Hov is a background player throughout the doc, mostly there to babysit the kids while Bey does the damn thing. (There’s another great moment where she excitedly FaceTimes him to show him that she can fit into an old costume again and he responds with a casual “All rightttt.” Men!) “Okay guys,” he says meekly on his way out of that one rehearsal, fully aware and accepting of his minor place in this show.