Beyoncé’s debut performance as the first black woman headliner at the predominantly all-white pricey music festival Coachella has made history for mainstream music in America. It racked up an impressive amount of press thanks to social media reactions by celebrities and “regular” people and set a new record for the festival.
But not everyone watched the dazzling array of costumes, backup dancers, and guest appearances with the same eyes it seems. Music journalists and black fans, and all the combinations thereof, immediately recognised what was happening onstage was a radical expression of black feminist liberation.
Others just saw shiny costumes.
Over at The Guardian, fashion writer Lauren Cochrane breaks down how we can “dress like Beyonce this summer”. She mentions Beyoncé’s references to Nefertiti as though the ancient Egyptian queen has no symbolic history and only sees “yellow and blue” in the varsity jacket. The barest mention of politics from Cochrane is that the Internet spotted it.
The internet has said it nods to “black Greek” culture, and African-American sororities on university campuses. Political statement through icons – kind of like emojis if you think about it – feels very now. We would be willing to bet this crest will feature on merch at tour stops this summer.
Luckily, over at Stylist.com, writer Danielle Dash does a much better job of an actual artistic analysis of the couture costumes from Balmain. “Beyoncé’s politics are deliberate both on stage and in real life,” she says.
And then of course there’s Perez Hilton, a rather vicious rival Queen from my hometown of Miami. He alleges that Beyoncé is “censoring” the media by trying to control what images of her performance get posted. He calls her a “control freak” as though that same alleged “freakiness” isn’t what has propelled her all the way to the top. He’s ultimately meaningless, but it’s not like these sorts of accusations aren’t constantly lobbed at successful women. Its pretty much spelt out in the monologue from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that Beyonce used in her track Flawless.
Tina Knowles, Beyonce’s mother and former manager, knows the game. She worried that the white audience wouldn’t “get it”. In her Instagram post following the performance, she happily states that she “stands corrected”.
Beyoncé is a bonafide money maker and as long as that remains true it might be the only thing that will always guarantee her a white executive backing to be marketed to white audiences. She was already a monumental pop icon when she started using words like “feminist” in her songs and integrating imagery from black empowerment movements. Audiences who would have normally baulked at such overtly political material decided they’d stick with it while the black and feminist (and all the combinations thereof) fans decided this is what they were waiting for in mainstream music all along.
Not only can we count on white fans paying top dollar to see her, but we know she can generate a massive amount of internet traffic. Twitter estimated that users tweeted #Beychella 2.2 million times during that performance weekend, compare that to the 200,000 tweets for #Coachella itself.
While there is reason to be very happy with the popular response, we should remain sceptical towards the responses of fashion and entertainment gatekeepers. Will black feminist empowerment in traditionally rich white spaces be tolerated by anyone but Beyonce?
Respond below with your favorite Beychella moment. I think mine is the “Everybody Mad” bit.
— JM. (@julzisher) April 15, 2018