Arts and Entertainment

How Beychella Made Coachella History

Beyoncé’s performance at Coachella was visually stunning and has made way for diversity and appreciation for black culture in popular culture.

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I’ve hated Coachella for as long as I’ve known about it. The idea of a crowd of privileged college students wearing daisy dukes and feathered crop tops to a desert where they take pictures for social media isn’t very appealing. There’s really no problem with people wearing what they want, until flower crowns turn into Native American headdresses. That’s when the line between self-expression and cultural appropriation is not just crossed, but soared across with a pair of oversized sunglasses in hand.

The festival was originally founded as a way for lesser-known bands to perform, in hopes that their collective fan base would be able to provide a steady income. The founder is known for being very conservative and often donates to anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ organizations. Sets typically catered to a more alternative taste, with bands like FatBoy Slim, Nine Inch Nails and the Chemical Brothers performing. But until they got the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beastie Boys to perform in 2003, they were barely making money and were virtually unknown. That year, they drew international attention and grew even more in the following years by featuring Madonna in 2006 and Paul McCartney in 2009. Since then, Coachella has been including well-known artists in its annual lineups. From its founding up until today, the festival is still largely associated with white music. The audience demographic lacks in diversity as well, with a white majority ranging from 18 to 35 years old.

This year, Beyoncé became the first black woman to headline the festival, nearly three decades since its founding. Why has this taken so long? While Prince headlined in 2008, as did Jay-Z in 2009, the number of black artists listed on previous lineups are paltry. The amount of female artists performing is dwarfed by the number of their male counterparts, though their numbers are currently growing, with new artists like Hayley Kiyoko, Cardi B, and SZA replacing the many male bands that have performed in previous years. Recently, rap music and R&B has become more mainstream, and has thus made it onto the Coachella lineup.

Queen Bey put on a show that fell nothing short of what you would expect of her. Of course, how black it was made it an iconic moment. It featured Wakanda, Egyptian queen Nefertiti, black sororities, stepping, swag surfin’, the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) marching band, quotes from Malcolm X and Maya Angelou, and majorettes. Her mother, Tina Knowles, had warned her that perhaps her audience would not be able to appreciate her performance because they “would be confused by all of the black culture and black college culture,” she said. Despite her mother’s warnings, she began with “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” to start a show that would exhibit her pride. The NAACP named the song “The Negro National Anthem” in 1919. There was a mock probate, in which black sorority members are initiated. She brought out Jay-Z and Solange for duets, followed by Kelly Rowland and Wendy Roland, reuniting Destiny’s Child. There was a homecoming complete with HBCU alumni as band members, majorettes, dance captains, and steppers performed. Not only was the audience living for this moment, but Adele, Rihanna, and Chance the Rapper were, too.

As amazing as Beyoncé’s performance was, its symbolic value is what makes it historic. She refused to tone down her culture in order to tailor it to her audience. Beyoncé certainly didn’t have to perform at Coachella; she’s probably well-known enough to start her own festival. Coachella boycotts in protest of the owners’ support of right-wing organizations have become a thing, too. Despite this, Beyoncé made the choice of performing for an audience that possibly wouldn’t understand, at an event where the founder may have been against what she stood for. She used Coachella’s fame and her own as a way to educate young people about black culture and encourage them to enroll in black colleges and universities. Her show sets the precedent for future female artists of color to create their own space where their cultures can shine, with or without a white institution. In an age where audiences are able to recognize the importance of cultures and embrace them through music, it is imperative that those cultures are recognized on a privileged stage, one like Coachella.