What makes a historic Beyoncé performance? Doubtlessly that’s what hordes of Coachella-goers were asking themselves on Saturday night, as they huddled in wait for a show that was both two years and an entire career in the making. Every time Beyoncé performs she seems to produce perfection; her unparalleled ability to dance, sing, and command a stage like some sort of glambot is what sets her apart from mere pop stars. Beyoncé is so professional that the sight of her own blood doesn’t cause her to miss a step. Plus, she’s already defined “Feminist” at the VMAs and graduated from pop icon to the literal Madonna in a show-stopping, religious experience of a Grammys performance. How was she going to top that?
Last year, Kevin Fallon described Beyoncé’s transcendent Grammys performance as “a tribute to herself.” Last night’s Coachella performance—or Beychella, as the hive has renamed it—was a Beyoncé tribute and a career retrospective all rolled up into one. And if you’re confused by the idea of an artist acting as their own historiographer, hype man, and biggest fan, then you clearly don’t know anything about Beyoncé.
Of course, this epic show was supposed to be the crowning moment of last year’s Coachella, before life got in the way and a very pregnant Beyoncé was forced to bow out. And while it would have been awesome to watch mom-to-be Bey somehow nail a massive, choreo-heavy headlining gig, it’s safe to assume that that performance would have been nowhere near as strenuous and jaw-dropping as this one.
With Rumi and Sir Carter safely delivered and Bey and Jay’s “On The Run Tour II” currently slated for this summer, there was no better time for Beyoncé to officially welcome herself back from maternity leave. But what elevates a technically masterful montage of iconic pop songs into groundbreaking territory? Clearly, it’s a question that Beyoncé meditated on at length before taking the summer stage, churning out a performance that was at once a seamless, gorgeous entity in its own right and a highly calculated mix of headline-worthy stunts and thematic culminations. Every single Beyoncé narrative, from her hip-hop royalty marriage to her feminist credentials, from Black Lives Matter to her Destiny’s Child roots, was stunningly evoked, a dream for concertgoers and clickbait writers alike.
Beyoncé took the stage amid a cacophony of drums and horns, stealing the attention away from the impressive marching band she had assembled in the desert (not to mention the male and female dancers, choir and orchestra). Decked out in a Cleopatra-esque cape and body suit, Beyoncé turned the stage into a runway and strutted down the catwalk for the adoring crowd. After a quick outfit change, Bey rose from the rafters in denim cutoffs and a yellow sweatshirt, stomping in high-heeled white boots to the opening chords of “Crazy in Love.” Anyone else’s performance might have been upstaged by the army of backup dancers and full marching band, but Beyoncé had no trouble holding anyone’s attention, moving through “Crazy in Love” to “Freedom” to a stirring rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as “The Black National Anthem.” Naturally, this led into “Formation,” the rallying cry for black women everywhere that Taylor Swift could never touch.
“Ladies, are we smart? Are we strong? Have we had enough?” Beyoncé addressed the audience, before launching into a truly inspired chant of “suck on my balls,” backed by her female dancers. “Yoncé” was somehow made even sexier than usual, probably because Beyoncé performed the song lying face down and humping a bleacher.
“Coachella, thank you so much for having us tonight,” she intoned, leading into an explosive rendition of “Bow Down.” “This is a very important performance for me. I’m happy to be back home on stage with you guys.”
For “Drunk In Love,” the singer took to a moving crane suspended above the crowd, proving once and for all that Beyoncé could pull off a stunning performance without any of her dancers, relying only on stationary gyrating and hairography. The female empowerment theme continued through “Diva” and “Flawless”—the latter was performed partly sitting down, because even Beyoncé needs to catch her breath sometimes. One outfit change—black thigh-highs, a shiny black bodysuit and an accompanying oversized parka—some impressive vocal runs and a Malcolm X voiceover later, Beyoncé started to move out of vengeful, righteously-pissed-off wife territory, rounding off the Lemonade portion of the evening with “Partition” and “Hold Up.”
An ecstatic Beyoncé nodded to the fact that she was making history mid-performance: “Coachella, thank you for allowing me to be the first black woman to headline. Ain’t that ‘bout a bitch?"
She continued, “This song is dedicated to all of the incredible women that opened up the doors for me.”
Unsurprisingly, the set was fairly stacked towards the end of the night, at least in terms of A-list appearances. Jay-Z joined his incredibly forgiving wife for a rendition of “Déjà vu,” which also served as a preview of their upcoming tour. Hip hop’s reigning power couple didn’t disappoint, looking at each other adoringly and generously sharing the stage (yes, Beyoncé did like 80% of the work, but does anyone really want to see Jay-Z attempt choreography?) As many people have correctly pointed out, this was the exact right amount of Jay-Z for a Beyoncé concert.
Fittingly, the real show-stopping performance of the night wasn’t when Jay came through, but rather a long-awaited Destiny’s Child reunion. Cued in by Chimamanda Adichie’s sampled definition of “feminist,” the girl group appeared in matching camouflage (a nod to the iconic “Survivor” video) and suddenly it was 2004 again. “Do you remember this song?” Beyoncé teased the audience before “Say My Name”.
By the time Beyoncé thanked her “sisters” for joining her on stage, it was clear that she was having an incredible night. The only thing left to do was for Bey to be joined by her actual sister, Solange. They performed an incredibly energetic sisters’ dance routine to “Get Me Bodied,” incorporating hand games, bleacher choreography, and a bunch of supportive eye contact. Solange and Beyoncé hugged, and Bey prepared for the final stretch: “Single Ladies” and “Love On Top.”
“I just want to say thank you guys,” Beyoncé addressed the crowd before her final song. “I’m so happy that I’m here. I was supposed to perform at Coachella before but, I ended up getting pregnant, thank God. So I had time to dream and dream and dream with two beautiful souls in my belly and I dreamt up this performance and this is everything and more than I dreamt of it being.”
And then she nailed every single key change attempted on “Love On Top.” It was worth the wait.