The precision. The energy. The limitless swag.
Fans of Beyoncé are reliving the pinnacle performance of her career once again with Homecoming, the concert documentary released on Netflix last week. The film both documents the performance and sheds light on the eight months of work — four months of putting together the run of show and learning the choreography, followed by four months rehearsals — that led up to her headlining slot at Coachella in 2018.
In the two-hour film, extended sections of the performance are intercut with behind-the-scenes clips of Beyoncé conceptualizing the show alongside the 200-plus artists — dancers, musicians, creative directors, technical staff — who helped make it possible.
As momentous as the performance was in real time, and in the days that followed, its shadow has only lengthened in the year since. As the first black woman to headline Coachella — probably America’s most-visible music festival — Beyoncé set out to make a deliberate statement about black beauty, culture and fortitude. From the orchestral sampling of Southern greats like C-Murder and Juvenile to the incorporation of classic marching band fight songs, the detail woven into the performance, much of it native to the culture of historically black colleges and universities — HBCUs — was a celebration that now doubles, in the document of it, as an introduction to that culture’s traditions: the big football game, the drumline battles, the homecoming concert, the steppers, the dancing dolls.
To do so authentically, Beyoncé’s creative team enlisted the help of marching band members from across the country to kick up the flavor.
“I wanted a black orchestra,” Bey says in the film (and in an interlude on Homecoming: The Live Album). “I wanted the steppers. I needed different characters, I didn’t want us all doing the same thing. And the amount of swag is just limitless. Like, the things that these young people can do with their bodies and the music they can play. The drum rolls and the haircuts and the bodies… it’s just not right. It’s just so much damn swag.” Beyoncé commends the insurmountable passion and charisma of her band, calling the young performers “the heartbeat of the show.”
To find her black orchestra, Beyoncé and her team enlisted the services of DRUMLine Live, and sought out black musicians on an individual basis. Over the weeks and months of rehearsal leading up to the show, she trusted the instincts of her assembled band to incorporate their swag in ways that were most natural to their college experiences.
At NPR Music, the home of the Tiny Desk, we know that any good lead vocalist is only as good as their support. NPR Music spoke to members of Beyoncé’s commends the insurmountable passion and charisma of her band, calling the band, some of them Tiny Desk Concert alums, about their road to Beychella, the view from the bleachers and the two-fold legacy they’re now part of.