Beyoncé’s Homecoming: The new standard for a concert movie?
A year after Beyoncé delivered a concert at Coachella that was greeted as the high-water mark of 21st-century entertainment, that consensus take on the show “feels like it’s underselling it,” said Chris Willman in Variety. Last week, a film of the performance debuted on Netflix. Though little is added by the change of medium, Homecoming reaffirms that what happened on the festival stage in the California desert was monumental. A celebration of black excellence, built around one of music’s greatest stars and her dreamworld vision of the ultimate homecoming bash at a historically black college or university, the show was an explosion of horns, drum lines, eye-popping costumes, and hip-hop dancers—“surely the first concert in history you could imagine Cecil B. DeMille and W.E.B. DuBois being equally proud of.”
The film does add a few new layers, said Melanie McFarland in Salon.com. Stepping behind the scenes, it wanders now and then into the pre-festival rehearsals, “revealing the sweat, grind, joy, and pain Beyoncé, her choreographers, musicians, and dancers poured into the eight months preceding the 2½-hour performance.” Beyoncé, who directed both the performance and the film, had given birth to twins in 2017 and needed physical training to return to stage form. But more pressing was the responsibility she felt as the first black woman to headline Coachella, a mostly white music festival launched in 1999. She was determined to bring black culture on stage with her—in step sequences, chopped and screwed Houston beats, and screen projections of quotations from great African-American writers and thinkers. She claims she even chose every dancer, selecting for a wide variety of body types. In the end, “every beautiful, slim, chunky, and funky aspect of black culture is in that concert, with purpose, on purpose.”
The music, though now available as a concert album, wasn’t intended to be heard in isolation, said Danielle Jackson in Pitchfork.com. Even so, the record “could be one of Beyoncé’s most important releases for how it illuminates both her past and her future.” Though she’s “a singer first,” with a wide, full-throated range, her “core musical vocabulary is the rhythm and bounce of a tune,” and her uptempo songs—given fresh life here—rate as “some of the most inventive, dexterous pop and R&B of the past couple of decades.” The film might have been better without the commentary about all the hard work, said Chris Richards in The Washington Post. The evidence is right in front of us. In fact, “if the citizens of tomorrow need to convince their kiddos of Beyoncé’s greatness, they’ll point back to this.” ■