“HOMECOMING” – THE CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING BEYONCÉ’S DOCUMENTARY
QUEEN BEY IS Back
In 2018, when Beyoncé celebrated her stage comeback at the Coachella Festival of all places, everyone knew that it would be a memorable show! For the simple reason that the singer is the first black woman to headline the Californian festival extravaganza since its debut in 1999 – a truly career-defining experience for Queen Bey. But she was more than aware that expectations would be high – further exacerbated by the fact that it was all taking place a mere year after the birth of her twins.
The Netflix documentary “Homecoming” chronicles both the legendary concert and the gruelling rehearsals in the eight months leading up to it – always taking us to the exact point where Beyoncé wants her audience to be: not too close but not too far away either. However, that’s exactly where the problem lies for a lot of people: this isn’t really a documentary as such, it’s more of a concert show, interspersed with perfectly staged intimate footage. And then there is that whole diet matter. But first things first…
TOO MUCH BEYCHELLA?
As already mentioned, eight months of tough rehearsals led to this monumental “Beychella” homecoming concert. Meticulously overseen, compiled and produced by Beyoncé herself, her entire team manages to pull off a show that people certainly won’t forget in a hurry – also with regard to the socio-political manifesto behind it. Beyoncé educates her audience on the beauty of black culture. She pays tribute to America’s HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) and reminds us that their legacy should be preserved and encouraged. She celebrates her culture, is proud of her culture and represents her culture, giving it, quite literally, the biggest stage possible.
It’s easy to understand her quest for perfectionism, which seems necessary when you bear all this in mind and also consider the size and significance of the show. After all, holding together a huge marching band, background singers, dancers, special effects, stage outfits and the musical set-up of such a 140-minute mammoth project is certainly no easy feat. The fact that the transitions of both separate performances, from the first and the second weekend, are so seamless that it was possible to edit them together right down to the millisecond (with the two shows denoted by differing colour schemes, show 1: yellow hoodie, show 2: pink hoodie), is the result of arduous work, harmony and a strong team. And that’s exactly what Beyoncé gushes about in the voiceovers. The critics, however, are accusing her of hypocrisy and not being a good role model. But why?
Beyoncé is a lot of things – talented, sexy, strong, successful, a perfectionist and yes, she is also enigmatic. For more than 20 years she has played a formative role in the music industry, consistently, almost nonchalantly, setting new benchmarks, which she isn’t afraid of redefining. When pop culture as a whole is looking at you critically and waiting eagerly for the next coup, the next hot album or the next sexy outfit, the pressure can be inordinately high.
She weighed almost 100 kilos after being pregnant with her twins: “I was 218 pounds the day I gave birth. I had to rebuild my body from cut muscles. What people don’t see is the sacrifice,” she says. From then on, Beyoncé had to work harder on her body than ever before. As part of the “Homecoming” preparations, she stuck to a radical and incredibly restrictive diet plan: no carbs, no sugar, no dairy, no meat, no fish, no alcohol… You might be rolling your eyes right now and asking yourself whether that’s all really necessary, but at the end of the day Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, global star or not, is also just a working mom and it’s her job to perform on the stage as Beyoncé and live up to her flawless reputation.
But all the hard work certainly paid off: in one of the most vulnerable, intimate clips in the documentary, the 37-year-old is elated when she realises that an old stage costume she wore pre-pregnancy fits her again, which she proudly shares via FaceTime with her husband Jay-Z. For a lot of the documentary’s critics, this was reason enough to spark controversy. After everything she has preached, Beyoncé, the strong independent woman, just wants her husband to like the way she looks in hotpants and a crop top?
But if we break it down, we see a woman who has struggled hard to fit back into that stage costume, to feel like herself again, and who wants to share this special moment with her husband – whose response, admittedly, is less than enthused, but that’s not what matters at the end of the day. What does matter is that despite the huge responsibility she is facing, she has achieved a small triumph for herself, which fills her with pride. And there’s nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, in fact: accusing her of betraying herself because she only wants to please her husband would simply be wrong. In “Homecoming”, Beyoncé is the performer, the organiser, the creator, but also the mother who had to find herself again by admitting that she’s changed and that that’s okay. “I definitely pushed myself further than I knew I could,” she says in the voiceover, adding: “I will never, never push myself that far again.” It seems as though Beyoncé, in a time of scandals, reality stars and private Instagram posts, is seen by many people as being too impenetrable, too perfect. Which means that a candid moment, like when a woman has proven something to herself by managing to fit back into a pre-pregnancy costume, is turned into a discussion about bad role models. Or as Queen Bey herself would say: “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation.”
Text: Cheryll Mühlen