Wednesday’s shadow MVP is the random dude in the Coachella 2018 crowd who yelled “Fuck it up, B!” as Beyoncé thundered through “Lift Every Voice and Sing” a cappella. Love that guy. He is plainly audible both in the new Netflix documentary Homecoming—a luxe, two-plus-hour chronicle of “Beychella,” which remains very arguably the single greatest concert performance of our young century—and its surprise-drop companion album, which features a bumptious cover of Frankie Beverly and Maze’s “Before I Let Go” to enjoy if you haven’t passed out by then.
Yes, please discard all your malware-infested bootleg links and janky YouTube footage: Homecoming is a full-blown and painstakingly lush concert film dropping quick bursts of backstage footage amid the glamor and grandiosity of the instantly beloved show itself. And while the documentary is relatively stingy with crowd shots, there are more than enough to confirm that everyone physically present—for the performances on both Coachella weekends, meaning The Yellow One and The Pink One—was as shocked and awed then as your average Netflix viewer will likely still be now. Perhaps you will identify, in other words, with this lady.
THEY GOT ME IN THE DOCUMENTARY MAKING THAT FACE pic.twitter.com/ZRuIFIoqrT— sydney (@sydney_hardeman) April 17, 2019
That lady is reacting, specifically, to Queen B’s first regal appearance atop the giant onstage pyramid stuffed with a drum corps, and a bombastic horn section, and multiple crews of backup dancers, and a string section, and a baton twirler or two, and a comedy troupe, and on and on and on. “The amount of swag is just limitless,” Beyoncé marvels in the first behind-the-scenes segment, in which she sounds awed herself by the 200-odd superhumans who joined her onstage for those two shows. “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.”
Homecoming is explicitly modeled as a tribute to historically black colleges and universities, a singular and irreplaceably rich cultural experience Beyoncé re-created at Coachella because she got way too famous way too fast to ever have that experience herself. “I always dreamed of going to an HBCU,” she says. “My college was Destiny’s Child.” The film—directed, as you might’ve suspected, by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter herself—features vintage quotes and/or lengthy voice-overs from the likes of Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cornel West, and Toni Morrison, placing her in a proud lineage of black excellence, if not at its apotheosis, depending on how electrified you are by the horn blasts on “Countdown,” the bass line on the much improved marital-bliss Jay-Z duet “Déjà Vu,” the thorough suck on my balls breakdown during “Sorry.” This is an awful lot to absorb. Take your time.
Coachella, thank you for allowing me to be the first black woman to headline Coachella,” she announces at one point. “Ain’t that ’bout a bitch?” Homecoming is justifiably self-aggrandizing onstage and precisely intimate behind the scenes—the rehearsal footage and home movies and whatnot are as aggressively massaged to perfection as all the front-and-center glitz that’s supposed to look perfect. Veterans of Beyoncé’s arms-length 2013 HBO documentary Life Is But a Dream know the drill: Your peeks behind the curtain are vivid and bracing and revealing in an artifice-smashing style that only heightens the artifice. She can’t do Gaga-style Actual Rawness. But you come to appreciate the high-art flair she brings even to her confessionals.
Thus, you learn exactly how much she weighed—218 pounds—the day she gave birth to her twins. You learn the exact parameters of the diet she followed as D-Day approached: “No bread, no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol—and I’m hungry.” Homecoming’s single greatest backstage tidbit comes when Beyoncé finally fits into an audacious old stage outfit, which she hails as a “huge, huge, huge accomplishment.” She wants her husband to know, so a handler FaceTimes Jay-Z, and grants him a few glimpses and the space for one classic Jay-Z laugh, and then hangs up on him. Back to work.
Four months of rehearsal for the band, then four months of rehearsal for the dancers. “I definitely pushed myself further than I knew I could,” Beyoncé says. “And I learned a valuable lesson: I will never never push myself that far again.” At one point she delivers one of the half-pissed, taking-charge pep talks a pop doc like this requires—“Until I see some of my notes applied, it doesn’t make sense for me to make more”—as Jay-Z sits solemnly beside her. She wraps up on a firm but hopeful note: “We’re halfway there. We just gotta make progress faster, because we’re running out of time.” Then someone yells, “All right, have a good anniversary!” The endless and ungodly hard work here constitutes its own spectacle, and your heavily sanctioned glimpses of it—and your even more fleeting glances of eldest daughter Blue Ivy and the twins—constitute their own reward.
There is a tendency, even during the lushest and most bombastic of concert films, to zone out in places, but Homecoming is relentless in its quest to constantly bombard you with something new and absurdly flashy to gawk at: an extended Destiny’s Child guest spot here, a solo crane ride during the towering “Drunk in Love” there, an aura of lithe ferocity hanging over everything. The choreography is so seamless that any song might shift from Yellow (weekend one) to Pink (weekend two) at any moment. The Lemonade bromide “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” from Beyoncé’s introductory vocal assault (“Who the fuck do you think I am?”) onward, is the killer hard-rock moment for those of you whose last Netflix music documentary was Springsteen on Broadway. The way “Sorry” slides seamlessly into the vintage pop-R&B elegance of 2003’s “Me, Myself and I” is one of many gracious nods backward; the full-pyramid dance party that powers “Get Me Bodied” is the single moment when you’ll feel the full weight of this production most acutely and conclude that the Beyoncé Pyramid wouldn’t be such a bad place to be buried.
“Something that will make people feel open, and like they’re watching magic, like they’re living in a time that’s super-special, and like it’s a day they will never relive,” Beyoncé says, in a grainy voice-over recorded to make her sound archival, historical, already timeless. “That’s what I want.” Whether you caught it in person, or on the official live stream, or on a random Russian bootleg site, or just via the reflected rapture of social media, Homecoming is a thorough and often thrilling way to relive that experience. That Coachella allowed her to use Netflix to enter this two-times-only live performance into the permanent record is yet more proof of her nearly unprecedented industry power, but the film itself is all the proof you really need.