6 solo albums in, six years after the surprise release of her self-titled album, 3 years after the groundbreaking Lemonade, one year after the rap album she provided with her hubby, and we’re beginning to get it. We’re beginning to comprehend Beyoncé Knowles-Carter as an artist with unequaled range, depth, and power: acknowledging her rapperly skills, her breathless musical ambition, her ear and eye for synthesis and abiding love for black culture. With the release of Homecoming: The Live Album, the 40- track companion to her headlining sets from in 2015’s Coachella released as a documentary with Netflix, we look the artist at work during her peak– in voice, physicality, and self-confidence– reimagining and remixing her own brochure, decentering herself to shine a light on her influences and structures.
#Beychella redefined what was possible for a music celebration. On stage, over 200 bodies undulated in unison however amazingly, every body moved in its own method. They filled out a set of risers constructed into a pyramid, constructed to appear like the bleachers of a football arena at a black college or university. Filling the structure was an orchestra that included a drumline and a complete brass band that introduced themselves with the constant refrain of the Rebirth Brass Band’s “ Do Whatcha Wan na” Male dancers stood in a shivering line like black fraternity promises, female dancers impersonated majorettes, background vocalists formed a choir of merged sound and movement, folding their bodies into Beyoncé’s elaborately aggressive choreography.
It was an old-fashioned revue, a cacophony of talent. It was a bold celebration of complex, diasporic blackness. Woven into Beyoncé’s efficiency was a genealogy that hat-tipped the Clark Siblings, Big Freedia, Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, and James Weldon Johnson. I was home on the couch when I saw a rough live stream of the first weekend’s program, impressed, mouth agape, proud: Here was Beyoncé practicing black studies in front of a broad audience, digging into the long, living archive of black ephemera. The Netflix movie gives you the efficiencies as Beyoncé desired them seen, with close-ups of bedazzled outfits and their pastel colors worn by bodies of all sizes. You see the sweat of wedding rehearsals and Beyoncé’s exacting physical regimen to get herself back into performing shape after the 2017 birth of her twins. You see the underlying principles that guides her operate in the kind of quotes and music mentioned from the poets, writers, and artists like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, who conjured worlds that required and focused an abundant, fecund blackness.
Homecoming is an essential document of those performances, with cautious blending and engineering that render each track with spectacular lucidity. We hear, for instance, Kelly Rowland’s feathery soprano during the three-song suite of Destiny’s Kid hits; it permits us to remain for a moment on the group’s famous chemistry and three-part consistencies. Homecoming doesn’t base on its own as an album experience separate from the film. It most likely doesn’t require to. Beyoncé and her sis Solange significantly depend on visuals to paint a fully embodied and populated vision that includes music. Homecoming, an accompaniment to a concert movie, feels as if it wasn’t ever implied to be experienced in isolation. Still, it might be among Beyoncé’s essential releases for how it brightens both her past and her future.
Beyoncé’s core musical vocabulary is the rhythm and bounce of a tune. She’s a classicist who thinks in a tune’s structure– choruses, bridges, meticulous verses, extended vamps, crucial changes. Her uptempo tunes like “Crazy in Love,” “Countdown,” and “Love on Top” are some of the most inventive, dexterous pop and R&B music of the past number of years. For nearly the entire 110 minutes, she separates these adrenaline-spiking cuts, magnifying their kinetic energy with marching-band plans. The extended version of B’Day‘s 2006 single “Get Me Bodied” is an emphasize here, as is 2005’s “Look at It.” Both are supercharged booty thumpers, more than a years old that sound newly baptized worldwide of Homecoming: the clarion calls of trumpets and whoomps of sousaphones, the foot-stomping on the risers and the off-mic “ayys” of the dancers that are sprayed throughout. The arrangements amplify the relationship Beyoncé’s music needs to the inherently percussive body.
Still, Beyoncé’s a singer first, and it’s enjoying hear her full-throated, low-end brassiness with a lot clarity. She’s still got the versatility to play in her upper ranges, but the musicality at the bottom of her range, where she belts the early notes of the rare ballad in this collection, “I Care,” is stunning. She grumbles through Lemonade cuts like “Sorry” and “Don’t Injured Yourself,” but likewise whispers and coos through the early notes of “Partition.”
The tape-recorded variations of Homecoming‘s interludes and transitions draw out the black pop musical history Beyoncé mentions and inserts. “ SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and “ Boodle Surfin” are very important minutes, but so are those when she uses TRU’s “ I’m Bout’ It, Bout It” UGK’s “ Something Great“– regional classics of the black South. She doubles down on her archival work, her career-long project of translating black music and big-upping black Houston and black Louisiana. (The just new piece of music on Homecoming is a bonus studio cover of Labyrinth Featuring Frankie Beverly’s 1981 “ Before I Let Go,” an evergreen black jam that gets every generation moving.) The minutes feel like nods to the audience she so deliberately centers. The film captures this phenomenon of a mutual, pointed look with its frequent close-ups of black audience members, who were scarce at the actual shows. Her connection with the crowd is loose, filled with “I see you’s” that are left in the recording and further punctuate that Beyoncé was hoping to make a specific declaration to a particular group of people.
The album sounds communal, like a revival meeting in a little, sweaty camping tent that leaves you raised and fortified. It’s as much about Beyoncé as it has to do with the individuals who made her and the individuals who sustain her. As I was listening, my upstairs neighbors, two young black ladies, were also listening at complete volume. My friend in Miami was texting me hot takes, while my sister, who had actually attended the show on the 2nd weekend, was tweeting about just how much the white individuals in the audience seemed to simply not get it. Every Beyoncé occasion is a gospel you desire to inform someone about, however this one doubles down on this feeling of communion. She’s singing tunes you already understand, and connecting them to other songs you keep in mind, too. She’s drawing on her past, looking back, however likewise looking squarely back at us.
Black ladies and rock ‘n’ roll leaders like Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Etta James, and contemporary queens of balanced music like Janet Jackson and Missy Elliott have actually not gotten sufficient credit for their developments. Beyoncé, famously, was the very first black woman headliner of the almost 20- year-old celebration. In an area where she was not clearly welcome, she made a long-lasting impression. A house. Then she made it about something besides herself. She brought a whole family tree into the space.
Within a few months of each other, both Knowles sisters released projects that reimagined home as a soulful black paradise, rooted in the very best of its abundant past however queerer, more holistic, self-aware, embodied, and feminist than in the past. Homecoming is a fascinating, rapturous collage that exposes how Beyoncé has actually made a career of playing, dipping, and diving in the “great swimming pool of black genius”: the genius of her forefathers, her contemporaries, and her own. For her entire life, she’s brought the mainstream over to her. Where will all of us go next?