I recently watched Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” and wow, what a cultural experience. I don’t listen to her music (only recognized two of the songs) because most of it is not my style, but I still enjoyed the heck out of this combination documentary/concert because of what she is doing and representing.
Beyoncé was the first black woman to headline Coachella, and what did she do? Took busloads of highly trained and talented black musicians, dancers, and singers with her to put on a massive display of black culture. Much of it is out of my realm of experience — even with subtitles on and seeing the song lyrics, I didn’t understand half of them — but I certainly got her message.
She was 100% power. Black power, woman power, artistic power. She sang unabashedly (and graphically) of female sexual pleasure and never once draped herself over a male dancer to illustrate it — because it wasn’t about being a recipient of male pleasure or chasing after male approval. It was about expecting and enjoying sex with an equal partner.
Her band was full of women, including the set drummer. And when was the last time you saw a mostly female horn section? The dancers were universally powerful in their movements, whether male or female. All of the artists put on an incredible display of talent.
She sang furiously about her husband cheating on her, with a chorus informing him of the specific ways he’d better shape up or lose his wife. No weeping over “he done me wrong,” but righteous anger over his idiocy and a stark statement that she didn’t need to put up with that shit. She sang about earning her own way, about proving her talent with hard work, about overcoming obstacles imposed against her skin color, gender, and culture. She was a force of nature, proud and strong, and a fearless role model.
The audience, at least that seen nearest the stage, was also largely black and included both genders and a lot of teen girls, all enthusiastically singing along. I thought about how, as a gay woman, I search endlessly for someone I can relate to in the movies, in TV shows, in books, on stage — and how seldom I find it in anything but “my” little niche. I almost never find people like me in blockbuster cultural entertainment.
People of color have the same issue. Relatable protagonists and role models aren’t easy to come by when you’re not white and straight. How incredible, then, for the people in this audience — and especially the young girls — to see this defiant star power shining up on that stage. She is the Tina Turner of this generation, except she’s not singing about universal themes of love and lust. She’s singing about her life experience and the culture of the American South.
Homecoming is also about the sheer amount of hard labor that went into producing the Coachella show. It’s quite inspirational, but to be honest I was put off by the “artistic degradation” of the filming, with its low resolution, occasionally blurry focus, and square-with-rounded-edges framing to harken back to ye olde days. Snapping back into full-screen, high definition felt like letting out a relieved breath — “Ahh, here we go!” — and then we were yanked back to the crap resolution again.
But I didn’t really watch it for the documentary aspects. I watched it for the astonishing power on display, and for glimpses of a culture I have no part in but can enjoy and celebrate. For that, this is a smashing production.