“Coachella, y’all ready?” Beyoncé asks, stood at the top of a set of bleachers, surrounded by a marching band and troupe of dancers. The only honest answer, in hindsight, can be no – no one could have been ready for what she was about to deliver.
Beyoncé’s headline set is an important one. She’s now the first black woman to top the bill at the Californian festival, and she’s clearly aware of how big that is. She thanks fans for letting her be that history-making figure at the end of the set, and she cites the performance’s importance to her earlier in the night. Of course, she should already be in the history books for it – she was initially due to headline last year’s event, but had to pull out on doctor’s orders due to being pregnant with twins.
If her being forced to cancel last year was a disappointment for fans, Bey is more than making up for it this year. Her set tonight is a masterclass in performance and spectacle, even if you strip her band, dancers, and guests away. With them, it becomes an out-of-this-world marvel that will take some topping. Beyoncé starts things from a catwalk in the middle of the crowd, dressed like Nefertiti, before seconds later appearing at the top of the stairs on stage in a completely different outfit and ready to lay down the gauntlet for every other performer at Coachella and beyond.
She says she dreamt up the whole show while pregnant with her twins, and the results are just that – a dream that feels heaven sent. It has everything from dance interludes to Beyoncé soaring over the crowd in a cherrypicker (Kanye West, this is how it’s done), and feminist attitude. During ‘Sorry’, she’s a force of female empowerment, her and her female dancers asserting themselves over their male counterparts. The lyric “Suck on my balls, pause, I had enough” becomes a repeated mantra of power, bellowed out like a boss each time. Later, during ‘Run The World (Girls)’, she airs parts of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ TED Talk, previously sampled on ‘Flawless’. That song also gets an airing, incorporating elements of ‘Feeling Myself’, advocating for self-love.
It’s not until the 22nd track of the night that Beyoncé allows anyone of headline-grabbing status enter the stage. Jay-Z‘s cameo on ‘Déjà Vu’ feels less polished than the rest of the set, but perhaps that’s because Beyoncé’s star power outshines his – like it would outshine pretty much anyone’s.
Then, it’s Destiny’s Child‘s turn. Coming after ‘Run The World (Girls)’, it feels like another bold moment meant to lift women up. Beyoncé doesn’t need to reunite with her old group to make headlines with this performance, but Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland’s appearances onstage feels less like grab for column inches and more like a nod to the women who she made her start with. Her sister Solange joins her after to dance along to ‘Get Bodied’ in one of the set’s most subtly joyous moments.
“After Beyoncé’s done, Coachella gonna have to rename itself Beychella”, the disembodied voice of DJ Khaled says midway through Bey’s set. He’s not wrong. Coachella is dead, long live the Queen.