Beyoncé set the Earth on fire with her instantly legendary Coachella set. Let’s break down the biggest and best odes to black culture throughout the performance.
1. HBCUs Get Major Love
The stunning two-hour spectacle paid homage to HBCU culture. For those unfamiliar with the term, HBCU stands for “historically black colleges and universities.” Beyoncé, who recently expanded her scholarship program to include 4 new HBCUs for a total of 8, created her own Greek organization called Beta Delta Kappa. With a resident majorette squad, marching band, and drumline, Beyoncé brought Black Greek Life to the Coachella main stage. The band, which included alumni from various HBCUs, stood on bleachers in the formation of a beehive. The entire performance held to the theme including the wardrobe, numerous step routines, majorette choreography.
Queen Bey made her grand return to the stage with a sickening strut to New Orlean’s marching band standard, “Do Whatcha Wanna.” She wore a Queen Nefertiti-inspired headpiece and beautifully embroidered cape by Olivier Rousteing, who oversaw her entire wardrobe. Arguably, the most iconic and referenced queen in the world, this Egyptian legend was one of the many facets of black culture that Bey celebrated this year.
3. The Negro National Anthem
Directly after her rousing “Freedom” performance and before going into the instant classic “Formation,” Beyoncé gave a gut-wrenchingly beautiful rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” This was the most solemn moment of the show, and her vocal performance was simply exquisite. This song means so much to so many African-Americans, and Bey’s rendition left us speechless.
3. The Unofficial Negro National Anthems
Somehow Bey interpolated three unofficial black anthems/culture shifters into three of her most intense dance breaks. First, during “Crazy In Love,” the band played a snippet of “Back That Azz Up,” a certified black classic that everyone has heard at least once. During “Drunk In Love,” Bey and her band had a giant dance-along to “Swag Surf.” Visually, it was astounding seeing over a hundred people move with such meticulous synchronicity onstage. Finally, during her classic “Diva” dance break, Bey included Migos’ “Getting To tha Money” and O.T. Genasis’ “Everybody Mad.” Both tracks recall the domination of trap culture in recent pop music and how in every decade black artists have shifted the culture to greater heights. Bonus: she even rapped a tiny bit of Playboi Carti’s “wokeuplikethis*.”
4. The Bug-a-Boos
Barring the Les Twins, this was the first time since 2010’s I Am… World Tour that Bey has had male dancers. The male dancers acted as pledges for her Beta Delta Kappa probate and their line names were all taken from album tracks across Bey’s discography. Their inclusion intensified the HBCU theme and brought a sense of fullness to the show. Also, the fact that she brought them onstage to essentially say “men are trash” was kind of epic.
6. NOLA For the Culture
We already know Beyoncé’s love and respect for the city of New Orleans, but the extra horns during her performance of the NOLA-influenced “Formation” were immaculate, but it didn’t end there. Solange, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and Bey’s little sister, was the final guest (she succeeded Jay-Z’s guest spot and the Destiny’s Child reunion) of the night as she joined her sister re-enacting to the “Get Me Bodied” music video. The dance was steeped in New Orleans bounce and call-and-response and it was glorious. She also finally gave attention to her B’Day album which is heavily influenced by Black Southern culture; from that album, she performed “Déjà-vu,” “Green Light,” “Kitty Kat,” “Irreplaceable,” and “Get Me Bodied.”
Yes, Bey actually performed the “I Been On” part of viscerating buzz track “Bow Down / I Been On.” With a special microphone that lowered the pitch of her voice and a mean mug on her face, Bey brought the chopped-and-screwed Houston flavor to Coachella. And of course, we can’t forget that signature Houston drawl that came out when she said: “Thank you for letting me be the first black woman to headline Coachella… ain’t that bout a bitch?”
8. Malcolm X, Nina Simone, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Fela Kuti
Already used in her Lemonade film, Beyoncé mouthed along to the perennial excerpt from Malcolm X’s speech, “Who Taught You To Hate Yourself.” She also expertly sampled Nina Simone’s “Lilac Wine” before going into “Drunk In Love.” It’s been a staple in her live shows for years now but that iconic excerpt from Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” is still so powerful. Last but not least, Beyoncé paid her respects to afrobeats legend, Fela Kuti, as her band played a snippet of his 1976 hit, “Zombie.”
9. The Carribean Jumped Out
As if celebrating parts of African and African-American culture weren’t enough, Bey went even further with her exploration of blackness. Bey performed a mashup of her Mr. Vegas-featuring “Standing on the Sun” and her remix to J Balvin and Willy Williams “Mi Gente.” She then followed that with the timeless reggae-influenced “Baby Boy” featuring Sean Paul and plus size dancers(!). Finally, she also covered Dawn Penn’s classic “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)” and her own “Hold Up,” which samples Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam.”
10. The Crest
On this crest we have: 1) a Nubian queen, 2) a black power fist, 3) a bee, 4) a black panther. All four of these elements are overlooked by the all-seeing eye of Horus, an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection, good health, and royal power. Even the costuming was powerful.
At a festival owned by a right-wing billionaire who donates to anti-abortion/gay and pro-gun candidates, Beyoncé put on a dazzling display of black female power with mind-boggling ease and precision. At a festival notorious for hosting culture-appropriating drugged out white people, Beyoncé turned the Coachella main stage into a dizzying displace of various facets of black culture and empowerment. Beychella will go down in history as not only one of the greatest live performances of all time, but one of the most powerful, impactful, and culturally-rich mainstream performances of all time.