Lessons in Excellence, Part II: How Beyonce's Homecoming Shifted the Culture (again)
Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter is the greatest entertainer alive — perhaps the greatest entertainer of our time. I wrote that as the opening statement in my piece for Blavity last year and 370days later, I stand by the statement.
By now you might have heard that Mrs. Carter released a film documenting her historic performance at 2018’s Coachella Festival, affectionately dubbed Beychella, and will be known as that now and forever more.
The Netflix film, HOMECOMING: A FILM BY BEYONCE', is accompanied by the surprise release of a live album. The film, like the event it documents, was a hella black experience, placing emphasis on celebrating the history and culture associated with HBCU’s, but more than that – it gives fans another, more intimate look into the mind and life of the world’s biggest star, examining the Beychella performance through the lens of those who took part in crafting it, while simultaneously showcasing Beyonce’ at her most vulnerable. From voiceovers discussing her journey back to the stage after giving birth to twins, vignettes showing her first rehearsal and failing to nail a routine, then more intimate breathless videos as she struggles through workouts, we are given a rare glimpse at just the toll it took to deliver the show that made the world STOP. Homecoming, like Beychella before it, is a love letter to Beyonce’s brothers and sisters throughout the world. She wanted to make sure everyone who had ever felt left out understood they belonged. The hours long rehearsals, the re-runs due to the performance not translating on screen, makes it clear, more than ever – that though Beyonce’ was performing on the stage of the festival, her true audience were the people who would be tuning in via live stream.
“Instead of pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella,”
As I watched the film, absorbing every ounce of the artistry it took to bring forth that effort, I was also struck by the reality that, at 22 years of performing – we might be nearing the end of Beyonce’s gifted performances. Yet, seeing her fight back from a risky pregnancy, relearn her body, rededicate herself to her craft, and set the bar so high one would need the crane she flew over the audience during the performance to reach, made me realize the true significance of Homecoming exists in our privilege of baring witness to the greatness that is Beyonce.
Here are some lessons we can take away from the additional insight provided.
It's Important to know your vision.
What was clear beyond any and everything is that Beyonce’, had a very clear vision on what she wanted to see on the stage which she articulated to her team at every turn. At one point in the film, she says during rehearsals that she is both in the stage and in the audience – simultaneously. She sees it from the audience’s perspective, often times at varying angles, at a viewpoint, that even her team has to marvel at.
We know from past footage that she is a perfectionist, but what we learned is that her level of perfection is intent on raising the level work for everyone around her, and boy did they rise!
Focus on the work
8 months. That’s how long Beyonce and her team prepared for the performance. Four months arranging the dancers and four months choreographing the movements, across three sound stages, 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week. With 22 years in the industry, no one would have faulted Beyonce if she didn’t put that level of rehearsal in – after all, she has paid her dues and earned the respect of the masses; yet none of that stopped her from pushing herself and her team up to and beyond their limits.
We’re not even going to discuss how, one year later, the content developed during that time is just now seeing the light of day, and will possibly breathe for another six months before dying down, so for those keeping track: we’re already nearing the two-year mark for this period of time and only NOW seeing the culmination of those efforts. Beyonce’s ability to utilize residual reach to connect with her audience means that while we are still discussing the content put in, she has room to breathe and transition to her next creative endeavor. Creatives – examine this cycle, study it as a blueprint on what effective marketing and rollout looks like – and understand the significance of focusing on the work above all else. I know I will be.
Never stop raising the bar
The only person that can even come close to competing against Beyoncé is Beyoncé. I believed this before the film and am now even more wholly convinced of this fact. Consider this, watching the 2019 Coachella performance live stream, though the artists were good and had a few memorable moments … they weren’t Beyonce’ good. We can be fans of those artists and still acknowledge that Beyonce raised the bar high and I doubt anyone will be able to surpass it, though, I hope they try to, because aspiring to the level of cultural significance of Beychella, even if not achieved would mean great things for consumers for years to come.
At the end of the film, Beyonce’ acknowledges that she pushed herself to her limits, and that she will never push herself so hard again because, with the birth of her children and the evolution of her family, she herself has changed. Homecoming shows how much the performance was a labor of love for her fans, family, and the world that may end up being the one we send her off to retirement with, and so we receive it all as intended- with love and gratitude, for the culture.