It's homecoming season so let's talk about Beyoncé's 'Homecoming' : Pop Culture Happy Hour Two years ago, Beyoncé unleashed two major projects called Homecoming. On Netflix, a documentary captured the process of putting on headlining appearances at the Coachella Music Festival. She also surprise-released a double-length live album containing just some of the highlights from Beyoncé's Coachella performances. In this encore episode we're revisiting our conversation about Beyoncé's Homecoming.

It's homecoming season so let's talk about Beyoncé's 'Homecoming'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1042018632/1042284399" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:

Two years ago, Beyonce unleashed two major projects. On Netflix, a documentary captured the process of putting on headlining appearances at the Coachella Music Festival. She also surprise-released a double-length live album containing just some of the highlights from Beyonce's Coachella performances. Both projects are called "Homecoming," and they help immortalize a huge stage show full of dancers and drum lines and impeccable choreography and songs that reach across Beyonce's career. I'm Stephen Thompson. It's homecoming season, and there is never a bad time to talk about Beyonce. So in this encore episode of NPR's POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR, we are revisiting our conversation about Beyonce's "Homecoming."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

THOMPSON: Welcome back. Joining us today is Sidney Madden of NPR Music. Hi, Sidney.

SIDNEY MADDEN: Hi, Stephen.

THOMPSON: Great to have you here. In New York, we've got Brittany Luse, co-host of the podcast "The Nod." Hey, Brittany.

BRITTANY LUSE: Hey.

THOMPSON: And also in New York in the same room as Brittany is music writer Kiana Fitzgerald. Welcome back to the show, Kiana.

KIANA FITZGERALD: Hello. Thank you for having me back.

THOMPSON: Oh, we are thrilled to have you. We are so...

MADDEN: Thrilled is an understatement right now, Stephen.

FITZGERALD: Oh, shut up.

THOMPSON: So fair warning - this is an enthusiastic panel.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: There is a lot of energy percolating. Just a quick note - we are recording this just a day or so after the launch of "Homecoming: A Beyonce Film." By the time this episode drops, Beyonce may have done all sorts of things...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: ...May have dropped a new drop album. Who knows? If that happened, we are recording this on Thursday, the day after the drop. Sidney?

MADDEN: Yes. So picture this as, like, the let-out post-"Homecoming." So we're all...

(LAUGHTER)

MADDEN: ...Still processing. All right?

LUSE: Yes.

THOMPSON: So Sidney, you were at Beychella. You saw...

MADDEN: Yes.

THOMPSON: ...This happen live in the audience. You were covering this for NPR Music. What'd you think of the show?

MADDEN: Yes. I was there in the flesh last year. And as you said, I was covering for NPR Music, and I was however many thousands of rows back. But yeah, I felt that electricity, that organized chaos, that Christmas morning tingling feeling. And I want to say reliving it now with this two-hour documentary with all this context added, it's very, very close to bottling that electricity.

THOMPSON: Nice.

MADDEN: Yeah. And on the night of Baychella (ph), Beychella, there was so much energy in the air that it really felt like a homecoming for everyone in the Beyhive. I was thousands of rows back. And for a show like that, you got to stake your claim, and you got to find your spot early afternoon. She didn't go on till, like, 10 or 11, but people were standing where they were standing in the show for four, five hours prior.

FITZGERALD: I was wondering about that.

LUSE: I would have done it.

MADDEN: Oh, my God.

FITZGERALD: Oh, for sure. That's the first place I would have went. Yeah.

MADDEN: People went to the bathroom, like, in - they took turns. They took time getting drinks, everything like that. And I remember I made friends with a group of Australian women. And it was Australian women from, like, all colors and creed. It was so fascinating. And to just, like, find a kindred spirit in the Beyhive all the way across the world at Coachella was great. But as the show started, there was some really annoying guy - and I don't want to - you know, I don't want to spend too much energy on it, but it was really annoying. And he was trying to talk over - asking his friends if you want to go get a drink. And the Australian woman with a crown full of Bantu knots, she spins around, and she was like no. This is Beyonce. You don't talk during Beyonce.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: I want to capture the finger wag that Sidney...

MADDEN: It was real. It was so real.

FITZGERALD: Have some respect.

MADDEN: You have some respect for Beyonce.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDEN: Yes. And that type of, like, gumption is the gumption that translated onstage for Beyonce and is now translated into this documentary.

THOMPSON: Nice. Kiana, what'd you think?

FITZGERALD: Yo. OK. So I'm going to - like, I'm going to backtrack to when it happened last year. I don't know what happened. Oh, I was asleep because it was so late...

LUSE: Yes.

FITZGERALD: ...So I completely missed it when it was livestreaming. But I woke up the next day, and I watched it by myself, and I livetweeted it by myself, and it was still a thrilling experience. And I watched it, obviously, again last night. And I just like - I feel so dramatic saying this, but I immediately started crying as soon as I saw her, like...

MADDEN: Right? Yes.

FITZGERALD: When they opened the scene and, like, all the dancers and the musicians are, like, leading to her and then you see her for the first time in this regal, like, crown and she looks like royalty - and I was just like, oh, my God. Like, we finally have a queen. Like, we knew that she was our queen. But just seeing her like that was like, yo, this is it. So it was fantastic reliving that.

THOMPSON: That's great. How 'bout you, Brittany?

LUSE: I was so floored the first time that I saw the performance. I - like Kiana, I had - I went to bed that night. I'm 31 years old. I can't be staying up (laughter)...

MADDEN: It was real late on the East Coast.

LUSE: Yeah.

THOMPSON: And we're on the East Coast.

LUSE: I think the most generous and knowledgeable thing that Beyonce did as somebody who understands her fans was to rebroadcast the performance during, like, daytime East Coast the following day. Like Kiana, as soon as that first shot with the female snare drummer and all of those women...

MADDEN: The nostrils.

THOMPSON: Oh, the flare.

LUSE: Yes. Oh, the nostrils flaring - it was - it took me right back to the very first homecoming that I attended at Howard University, my alma matter. You might have seen Beyonce throughout her documentary wearing a Howard sweatshirt as an ode to my college. But it took me back to my first experience, 17 years old, at homecoming, around all these beautiful Black people, like, watching the Howard University Showtime Marching Band show out on the field. Ooh La La, the dancers, that were - I guess, like, we would call a lot of times majorettes that dance with the marching band, like, at Black schools and also a lot in the South.

MADDEN: Dancing Dolls and...

LUSE: Yeah, Dancing Dolls and the J-Sets. Yeah, they were out there on the field getting it. And, like, I was really just touched by the level of specificity of detail. I am a Black American woman. I'm not from the South, but I did attend an HBCU. And that culture is so close to my heart. This is who I am. And I had never seen that subset of Black culture put out into the mainstream in a way that was so tender and so loving and so well done.

MADDEN: This was a total love letter to HBCUs...

THOMPSON: Yeah.

MADDEN: ...And the culture that it nurtures and cultivates and the beautiful Black people that come from this lineage and this culture. Brittany, as you said, it was an encapsulation of it, but it was broadcast on the widest scale possible.

THOMPSON: Right. Well, and with the biggest budget possible.

(CROSSTALK)

THOMPSON: I mean, one of the things you really glean watching this is how personal an experience this is for the people who love it. Every time I've talked on the show or on All Songs Considered or whatever about how much I love Beyonce, somebody will always clap back at me in my mentions or whatever, like, Beyonce, she's overrated, blah, blah, blah.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDEN: Right?

THOMPSON: And I always imagine they talk exactly like that. And when you watch this, you understand why it is not hyperbolic. Yes, I mean, people will talk about Beyonce as, you know, the queen, as the - was it on "The Good Place"? - 104% perfect or whatever, you know, when people talk about her.

FITZGERALD: Shout out to "The Good Place."

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: But, like, she's putting forth a picture of Black culture that is unlike the pictures we have gotten because of how much budget, how much impeccability, how much just a showcase and a platform she has. One thing that I really appreciated watching this film as opposed to a straight concert representation, if this had been a two-hour and 17-minute Beyonce concert, I think we'd have all been thrilled.

But the fact that she folds in so much of her process really gives you a sense of how much work and how much practice and how much drudgery and misery and pushing herself beyond her limits and pushing her staff beyond their limits went into putting on a show like this. You can - you know when you're watching it on YouTube and you see this gigantic set and 200 people on stage...

MADDEN: Yeah. The end product.

THOMPSON: The end product. You know there's work that went into that. And I don't know. As a process nerd, I just kind of appreciated having a sense of what went into it.

MADDEN: Yes. I love how you're going back to that notion of process because spliced in with the long cuts of the beautiful, vibrant, joyful end result on that pyramid, on that stage is the three soundstages, the months of work, the dieting, the rehearsals, the technical problems that went wrong. And it's all leading back to the idea that everyone thinks Beyonce is effortless. She's become the queen and she's, like, raised her own game so many times that it's like, yeah, it's already a prerequisite for you to be perfect - 104% perfect. A lot of the point of the behind-the-scenes stuff is to show you, this was work.

FITZGERALD: Like, Beyonce is doing all of this, and she's still taking care of three kids. She still has...

LUSE: She was breastfeeding.

FITZGERALD: She was - like, she was working, going to her kids. Like, I remember she was like, I got to get home to my 50 loving children.

MADDEN: Yes...

(CROSSTALK)

FITZGERALD: And I, like, melted. I was like, yo, she is showing you that, like - and there was another moment where she was kind of not chastising the crew, but she was like, I want to be done with having this talk of getting better. Like, we should have been better already. It's time for us to keep moving forward. But even the way that she said it, it was in the tone of a leader. It wasn't someone being disappointed. It was someone knowing that she is well worth all the attention, the eyes...

LUSE: Yes.

FITZGERALD: ...The support that she has, and she's trying to extend that to other people. Also, keeping in mind the fact that she is a human being and not a robot is incredibly exceptional.

LUSE: Well, even to your point, Kiana, like, in that one scene where she is giving - like, I mean, I felt like watching this, I was like, Beyonce needs to be teaching at Wharton because, like, she is such - she's such a demanding but considerate and clear boss.

FITZGERALD: Yes.

LUSE: It was amazing. But the specific speech that you're talking about, Kiana, she was delivering it, like, sitting in a director's chair, sitting next to Jay-Z, who's also sitting in a director's chair. And I was like, oh, that's interesting. Like, this is her show, but he's sitting there. OK. So she's talking to them at length about how they need to do better and what she's expecting out of them and how little time they have left to be able to close that gap. And at the end of that, she's like...

MADDEN: And then...

LUSE: ...Now I've got to go because my anniversary.

FITZGERALD: Yup.

MADDEN: Yes.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

LUSE: And I...

MADDEN: (Singing) It's my anniversary.

LUSE: Yes.

FITZGERALD: Exactly.

LUSE: I love that. I also noticed it's a thing that she - I did pick up on that's a thing that she does. It seems like when she knows that she's, like, gone in on somebody, she goes, like, Wicked Witch to Fairy Godmother real quick...

FITZGERALD: Yes.

LUSE: ...And she'll sing a little something.

MADDEN: Yeah. Yeah.

LUSE: And I'm like, taking notes.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: Just to kind of diffuse the pressure - but...

MADDEN: You can definitely see her doing the sandwich effect - so saying, like one thing's really good...

LUSE: Oh, yes. Yes.

MADDEN: ...And then just, like, ripping you apart, and the meat and cheese and bread, and then putting another little (singing) it's my anniversary. A little, like...

FITZGERALD: That's - yeah.

MADDEN: ...Nice little jab of confidence.

FITZGERALD: It's like a bookend. Yeah.

MADDEN: Yeah, a bookend.

LUSE: I thought, to me, that was just a beautiful Black family thing to see, because you don't - it's rare to see, I would say, like, hetero married couples have a woman who has a career like that, and the man is so openly supportive. Like, if the kids are coming to the set, like, Jay's bringing the kids.

THOMPSON: Right.

LUSE: He's sitting there with Blue. That's not a common dynamic that I think a lot of people are used to seeing, even though I'm sure it happens. But I don't know if it happens as frequently as it should. But, like, I just loved seeing her be - like, be the boss and have everyone in every arena of her life see that and know that and respect that.

THOMPSON: One thing that I noticed watching the way she portrays herself - I mean, this is a Beyonce a film. She is legendary for controlling every aspect of the public image that she puts out into the world. And I was taken by the rawer moments that you do get to see interspersed with very deliberate touches. Like, you see her rehearsing. You often see her in that Howard shirt, but you also almost always see her decked out in Ivy Park...

FITZGERALD: Yes.

THOMPSON: ...Which is her women's activewear label.

MADDEN: The brand is strong.

LUSE: Yup.

THOMPSON: The brand is strong. And I definitely felt watching it, like, oh, I'm getting this behind-the-scenes look. But, boy, you are still getting the exact behind-the-scenes look...

LUSE: Yes.

THOMPSON: ...She wants you to see, complete with plugs for her (laughter) activewear label.

FITZGERALD: Yeah.

LUSE: Yes.

THOMPSON: Did you feel like you were seeing the real her?

LUSE: I think that we were seeing an aspect of the real her.

FITZGERALD: Yeah.

LUSE: But, like, also, I don't expect to or even really want to necessarily...

THOMPSON: Yeah.

LUSE: ...Know the full real her. And I think that she knows that. I think that, like, she's really good at managing that sort of Beyhive fan expectation of, like, understanding our desires, but also, like, sort of being this sort of all-knowing omniscient presence that's like - and also a human being who wants to sort of protect her private life.

THOMPSON: Yeah.

LUSE: But she knows. Like, she knows like, you guys want a lot, but you don't want everything. You think you want everything...

FITZGERALD: Yeah.

LUSE: ...But you don't want every.

FITZGERALD: Exactly.

LUSE: If you look at, like, her work and also, like, the documentaries or interviews that she's done that are in-depth that she's sort of had a hand in producing for herself, she's very intent on showing specific aspects of herself. I felt like it - with her HBO documentary "Life Is But A Dream" that came out a few years back, she was very intent on showing us, I am a whole person. You all think of me as this - like, this hardworking perfect machine, but I am a wife, and I am a mother, and I am a daughter, and I am a sister, and I'm a friend. And I'm just trying to make it through this life, and this is how I've gotten through this journey.

And now, you know, through "Lemonade" and "4:44" and "Everything Is Love," like, she was showing us, I am a human being. I am just like you. Also too, the woman is like - I said this on Twitter. She has basically got a doctorate-level musical education, and she's not going to be out here giving away free game.

(LAUGHTER)

FITZGERALD: Not at all.

LUSE: No, she's not.

FITZGERALD: Yeah. And what you were saying earlier about how she is giving us so many different, like, itemized things about her - and to specifically answer the question of do we think we saw the real her, I think we did. And I think that because she represents so much. And she represents so much for so many different kinds of people - for women, for Black women specifically, for Black women from Texas. Like, there are so many levels. As - I am a Black woman from Texas, so, like, I have a very, very particular attachment to her. And I wrote about my relationship with her and her music for NPR Music actually. You should check it out. And...

(LAUGHTER)

MADDEN: Get that plug, Kiana.

FITZGERALD: Get my plug. But, yeah. That's for the Turning the Table series led by Ann Powers. And that was a very cathartic piece for me because I was able to work through how Beyonce has been, as I said in the piece, leveling up since she started in the game. And she's still doing that. So I feel like her true self is showing us that she is the master of leveling up. Like, she's excellent at what she does.

THOMPSON: I've seen - watching Twitter react to this concert special, one thing that I want to push back against that I hear from people sometimes is this, like, Beyonce's showing everybody how it's done. You wish you could do what Beyonce does here. And it's - and I totally get that. Like, this is such incredible excellence on display.

But saying, like, you can't measure up to Beyonce - among other things, Beyonce has an absolutely incredible amount of resources at her disposal. And one thing that I felt like I was watching was not only somebody who puts in the work, but somebody who puts on a show that other people can't put on because they don't have massive amounts of wealth at their disposal.

MADDEN: Well, she's showing it takes a village, and you can do it too. Like, you can perform with Beyonce. And the fact that she pushed herself for this performance - and she says at one point in the documentary, I pushed myself to the brink, and this was my limit, and I don't think I'll ever do it again...

THOMPSON: I love that.

MADDEN: ...But I'm glad I did it.

THOMPSON: Love that.

FITZGERALD: Yo, testify.

LUSE: Yes.

MADDEN: That shows the humanity of it. So that shows you actually can do it too. Like, seeing it on that level and the intricacies of it, I was like, you know what? If you give me some time, if I watch this doc many times, I could learn that step. I could even be...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: I did not feel the same way...

MADDEN: Really?

THOMPSON: ...At all.

MADDEN: Really?

(LAUGHTER)

MADDEN: The "Bug-A-Boo" choreography? That wasn't that bad.

THOMPSON: I thought - I am...

MADDEN: The steps?

THOMPSON: I am 46 years old. If you gave me $10 trillion and 10 years...

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: ...Could not do it. I just don't want people to beat themselves up, you know? Like, because this is a triumph of work plus resources.

LUSE: Well, it is a triumph of work plus resources...

FITZGERALD: And God-given talent.

LUSE: And God...

THOMPSON: And God-given talent.

LUSE: That's the other thing I was going to say. I think about like - I've been in the Beyhive for a really long time. And, like, I think about - you know, the thing about Beyonce is she hasn't always had the resources that she has now, No. 1. And there are other pop stars who have had and some who do currently do have the same resources that she does. They do not use their money or their time or their effort in the same way. That's the thing that actually inspires me about Beyonce. I don't need to put on a show at Coachella. Nobody will ever ask for that.

(LAUGHTER)

FITZGERALD: Nobody is asking for that now. No one has asked for it in the past. Like, I want to see Beyonce's Google calendar.

THOMPSON: (Laughter) Asana.

FITZGERALD: Like, does she use Trello?

MADDEN: Right.

FITZGERALD: Is she on Asana? That would stress me out.

MADDEN: Does she use Trello?

FITZGERALD: Exactly. The person who - like...

(LAUGHTER)

FITZGERALD: She is somebody who - 'cause the thing is that when you're looking at this - and she talks about how much time it took to put together. I mean, it seems like pretty much about a year.

MADDEN: Yeah.

FITZGERALD: She was in rehearsals for eight months.

LUSE: Eight months. Yeah.

FITZGERALD: So she had to be working on this for at least a year. Right within - what? - two months of that coming out, she released "Everything Is Love" and also went on tour with Jay-Z. And it makes me feel like - I think the message that she's trying to give with the documentary also was that there's only one of me, but there's also only one of you. But that doesn't necessarily mean, like - being the Beyonce of something doesn't mean that you're the only one; it just means that you are consistently pushing yourself to be better in a way that raises the game of all of the people around you.

THOMPSON: I cannot imagine being the Beyonce of anything. I strive to be, like - who's the lead singer of Smash Mouth? I'll be the lead singer of Smash Mouth of something (laughter).

FITZGERALD: He's probably rich, though. So what's bad about that? You make a song that everybody loved for a summer - what's bad about that?

(LAUGHTER)

FITZGERALD: What's bad about that?

LUSE: I respect that.

(LAUGHTER)

LUSE: You be that, Stephen.

MADDEN: Yes.

THOMPSON: Thank you. Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: All right. Before we go, we've been talking about Beyonce for a while and have not actually mentioned the music.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: That speaks to how much there is to unpack here. She also dropped a concert album around the same time that she dropped this film. So she also wants you to hear the songs as well. Kiana, what do you think of Beyonce's music?

FITZGERALD: Oh, boy. It was an incredible journey to hear - 'cause I started listening to the album itself this morning. Last night, I watched the film, and then this morning, I woke up and listened to the album. And it's still, like, an incredible experience just, like, listening to it wash over you and hearing the band and the live action.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOMECOMING")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Freedom, freedom, where are you? 'Cause I need freedom, too. I break chains all by myself, won't let my freedom rot in hell. Hey. I'm going to keep running 'cause a winner don't quit on themselves. No.

FITZGERALD: What got to me was at the very end, she ended the show with "Love On Top," which is her thing, and then she started playing "Before I Let Go" by Frankie Beverly and Maze.

LUSE: Maze and Frankie Beverly.

FITZGERALD: Yeah. And she started playing, like, the regular version at the concert, which is the thing to do. At Black events, like...

LUSE: Yes.

FITZGERALD: ...If you want people to, like, calm down, get together, have fun, whatever you need, play that song.

LUSE: Do the Electric Slide (laughter).

FITZGERALD: Play that song. So the fact that she played that at the end of her show was already, like, Blackness on a thousand, and then you hear the remix produced by Tay Keith, who was all over everything last year, like BlocBoy JB, Drake, and he started hopping over to some other people. And then you hear, like, the bounce in it, and then you hear Cameo...

LUSE: Cameo.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

FITZGERALD: "Candy." And then you hear an interpolation of Aaliyah, "Rock The Boat," all in one song. And it's Beyonce. I'm like, are you - like, I was emotional. I was overblown. But it was the perfect way to end it.

LUSE: Perfect.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOMECOMING")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Before I let you go. I would never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never let you go before I go.

THOMPSON: Well, she's also - musically speaking, she is giving you her family onstage. You have a guest performance by Jay-Z. You have a guest performance by Solange. You have guest performances by Destiny's Child.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOMECOMING")

DESTINY'S CHILD: (Singing) Tell me who. Say my name. Say my name. When no one is around you - boy, say my name. Say, baby, I love you if you ain't running game. Say my name. Say my name.

MADDEN: Yes. It was totally a homecoming in every sense of the word. Like, she brought her biological family, and then she brought all of these beautiful kids on stage with her. I don't want to say kids; they're all talented musicians. But they were - they brought youth to the stage with her. And Coachella is, you know, one of the most privileged and, like, let's be real, one of the whitest festivals because it's one of most expensive festivals in America, and she showed her commitment to Black culture so unabashedly. And there's a nice quote that she has - I think it's somewhere in the middle of the documentary - where she talks about why it was important to have this much community onstage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HOMECOMING")

BEYONCE: It was important to me that everyone that had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us. As a Black woman, I used to feel like the world wanted me to stay in my little box, and Black women often feel underestimated.

THOMPSON: So I think it's only fair that we give Beyonce the last word. I think that's how she would want it.

FITZGERALD: Absolutely. No question (laughter).

LUSE: No problem with that.

MADDEN: Give B what she wants.

THOMPSON: Well, we want to know what you think about Beyonce's "Homecoming." Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. We will see you all tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUSE: Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All right. We're all set in New York.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: All right.

FITZGERALD: Hey.

LUSE: Hey.

THOMPSON: Hi, everybody.

FITZGERALD: Hey, Ms. Carter.

MADDEN: Good morning.

LUSE: Hey, Ms. Carter.

FITZGERALD: Good morning.

MADDEN: Y'all ready? Y'all ready?

FITZGERALD: Hey, what's...

MADDEN: (Singing) I may be young, but I'm...

SIDNEY MADDEN, KIANA FITZGERALD AND BRITTANY LUSE: (Singing) Ready.

(LAUGHTER)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.