There Is No One On Earth Like Beyoncé

Where were you when Beyoncé played Coachella 2018? Maybe you had been camping out all day against the front rail, beginning to question your decision, only to then be touched by her shadow as she grinds on the catwalk during “Partition.” Maybe you were watching the live stream in your living room, shouting at the screen and clutching your friend’s shoulder as the silhouette of Destiny’s Child ascends the stage. Or maybe you found yourself barefoot in the dirt, separated from your crew, trudging uphill in a bottleneck against the current of a 100,000-person hive mind locked on Beyoncé. This is where I find myself as what is arguably the most anticipated Coachella set of all time kicks off on Saturday night.

Barefoot, alone, and with no cell service is not how I had planned to watch Beyoncé. I, like any good disciple, had spent the day conditioning for this moment – napping, hydrating, coordinating fur coats with my girls, and deep stretching while listening to Lemonade on repeat.

In the preceding hour, we are fully squadded, sipping beers and casually debating the merits of Haim as we stake out our spot in the main stage beer garden. Then, naturally, everything falls apart. Spillover from the sentient Instagram feed that is the VIP section quickly overwhelms us. We have to get out of here. I turn a corner, and the straps of my sandal liberate themselves from the sole. I’ve no option but to take my shoes off, and by the time I stand up again, the squad is fractured, somewhere adrift in the current. In the matter of minutes, I go from being Sasha Fierce to That Messy Girl at Coachella.

Then Beyoncé takes the stage. It is a moment two years in the making. She descends from atop a pyramid of lemon yellow and brass, crown atop hair perpetually windswept by the breeze that naturally conjures itself in her presence. Behind her flows a sequinned cape embroidered with Nefertiti, The Great Royal Wife, Egyptian queen known for a religious revolution in which they worship one god and one god only: the sun. There are dozens of people onstage. Dancers, singers, musicians, and for the next two hours, they will play what will is arguably the greatest Coachella set of all time.

The horn flourish of “Crazy in Love” announces the queen’s arrival as I watch standing in the back of crowd that cover every patch of space in my field of vision. That’s when I realise it doesn’t matter where you are, or even who you’re with. Even if you aren’t at the main stage – even if you aren’t at Coachella – you are at Beyoncé’s show.

This show really started years ago, born from life’s unplanned disruptions, when Beyoncé postponed her set due to being extremely with child – two of ’em. Any other woman, and woman of colour especially, facing such a career-defining opportunity would get fired. She’d miss out. She’d be replaced. But Beyoncé made us wait for her, and with the luxury of an extra year to plan, she knew exactly what kind of opportunity she had.

“I got pregnant, thank God,” she said at the end of her set. “So I had time to dream this up.”

What she was dreaming up was the topic of much discussion and rumour in the days preceding the set. I’m told she pulled up with 33 semis in tow, hired an extra hundred dancers, restricted the coveted echelons of Guest Viewing to exclusively Her People, and had spent the week prior levitating above the Merv Griffin Estate while directing the show’s finishing touches through the telekinetic force of her third eye. Most of this proves to be true.

Beyoncé arrives in bombast, changing from her cape to jorts and a sequined yellow hoodie, fur boots, and all the good hair, wasting no time diving into highlights from Lemonade and Beyoncé. I myself am sitting on the ground, getting my shoe taped together by a guy who I later find out gave Bey and Jay a private tour of the festival grounds. It’s the closest I’ve been to Beyoncé all night. “Formation” beckons in the distance. I’m back on my feet and running.

Photo by Kevin Winter

Beyoncé is, blessedly, taking her time. Unlike her last few tours, she gracefully skips over condensed 30-second hit medleys in favour of indulging full tracks, peppering in nods to Kendrick, Sister Nancy, J Balvin, Juvenile, and Nina Simone. She’s serving up lightly chopped and screwed versions of feminine reptile brain bangers like “Formation,” “Diva,” and “Baby Boy” – all galvanised by a fleet of dancers in lemon coloured leotards, their pelvises doing all the talking. Bey penetrates us with her gaze, jumps on a crane and hovers over the crowd, then goes full dominatrix in a black vinyl leotard. The women next to me grain on that wood. I think back to earlier, when some guy friends mentioned they didn’t understand the hype about Beyonce. “Maybe it’s like what rap does for us,” one of them says, and I think there’s some truth to that. Beyonce does for the feminine other what rap does for the masculine: instills self-confidence, solidarity, and swagger for everyone historically denied those things.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie echoes over the speakers:

Women are told to make themselves smaller.
We say to girls you can have ambition but not too much.
You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man.
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual being in the way that boys are.

Over the next two hours, Beyoncé takes us to New Orleans (“Crazy in Love”), to America (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”), to the opera (“I Care”), to middle school (“Soulja”), to the depths of heartbreak (“Me, Myself, and I”), to the top of the charts (“Single Ladies”). It’s a cultural moment, a show for the ages that seems as meaningful to her as it is to us. She thanks us for letting her be the first black woman to headline Coachella. She thanks all the women who have opened doors so she could be here. She keeps it strictly a family affair, the only guests being her husband, her sister and the women who co-authored her rise, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams. It’s a reminder that music has never been about trends or genre, but where you’re from and what you’ve experienced.

In the ecstatic comedown of the hours after the show, I encounter a few others with critiques of Queen Bey. I’m told she’s too bombastic, too over-the-top; I think about the crowdmembers peeling off as the drum line continued playing with fireworks going off over the stage, a polite golf clap compared to what had just happened below. It was too much for some people; too extra. And that, like every detail of the show, was the point: You have no option but to hear her.

My anti-bombast pal tells me he prefers subtlety. But Beyoncé gives us subtlety, too – the way she moves her fingers along with the high hat in “Partition,” the slump of the dancers during Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit.”

Beyoncé is often called too perfect, overly marketed, a polished product perpetually asterisked by the implicit condescension of the term pop star. “It felt too much like I was being sold something,” someone in my camp said this morning.

There’s truth in critiques of Beyoncé’s capitalist feminism. But the harder truth is that the cultural reboot she stands for can only happen if it’s marketed with this glitz, swagger and scale. Beyoncé is a Tesla coil for anyone who has been othered, (except poor Eminem, who at this point is probably just wandering apoplectic around a Safeway in Palm Desert). This isn’t Coachella going pop, this is the amplification of a voice for those who may not otherwise hear it – the kids watching the polished production online because they’re too broke to go to Coachella, the small town fans whose biggest IRL exposure to alternative ideals is Urban Outfitters, to those who can only see a person who looks remotely like them achieving something by tuning into the biggest music festival in the world. It looked and felt like a damn awards show – one for the rest of us. It was music’s biggest night.

Andrea Domanick is Noisey’s west coast editor. She’s on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Noisey US.


Check Also

X Japan’s Yoshiki Speaks on Marilyn Manson and Bouncing Back From Neck Surgery

An appearance by Marilyn Manson at Coachella? Sold. Yoshiki, the leader of rock band X Japan, has pulled it off, too. Not easy, with Manson tweeting that he was previously banned from the festival, but who follows the rules anyway?

The fact that X Japan are one of the few hard rock acts on the bill speaks for itself. With hip-hop recently stealing the No. 1 spot as the most popular music genre in the world, X Japan's headlining set at the Mojave Stage is a big deal. He's up against Beyoncé in the highly coveted time slot, and even Yoshiki admits he'd rather be watching Queen Bey live in person.

On the Wednesday between Coachella weekends, Yoshiki hosted a screening of We Are X, a music film/documentary showcasing the band's journey into near-legendary status. Prior to the event, we caught up with Yoshiki to discuss bouncing back from two neck surgeries, his relationship with Marilyn Manson, and how the band established their own style in fashion overseas.

L.A. Weekly: For a first-timer, how would you describe X Japan?
Yoshiki: Disaster.

Yoshiki, what role do you play in the band?
Maker of the disaster. [laughs]. Leader of the band. I play drums and piano. I compose the music.

This past weekend, X Japan made their debut at Coachella. Can you speak on this experience and what it was like performing in front of the U.S. crowd?
It was so cool. We played at Lollapalooza in Chicago before, almost 10 years ago. Then we did a North American tour in 2010 — only went to seven cities. The last one we played before Coachella was Madison Square Garden, We played in New York in 2014. Since then, a lot of things happened. I got a neck surgery last year. I was almost paralyzed. Coachella wasn't only X Japan coming to the U.S. but it was my comeback also.

How does it feel being one of the only rock acts at the festival?
I think it's cool, we stand out. [chuckles] We are so lucky to be a part of those amazing artists. It's pretty eclectic, even though some people define us as a hard-rock band. But we have some ballads and some songs you can dance to.

Aside from your own set, what was your most memorable moment from the weekend?
I was playing against Beyoncé's slot. Because it was only last week or so, my agent said, “You are headlining the Mojave Stage.” I'm like, “Whoa, that's cool.” Then he says, “You are playing against Beyoncé's slot.” I said, “Noooo!” Because I wanted to see Beyoncé. The time that I was headlining was 10 p.m. to midnight or something, so I haven't really seen any bands or groups yet. Some of the groups we're looking forward to see are on Sunday after our show.

Speaking of, talk about the announcement of Marilyn Manson joining you this weekend.
Yeah, he's been an amazing friend of mine. So we talked about him showing up at Coachella and he said, “I'd be happy to."

I mean, that's a big deal!
I mean, he's just a very sweet person and he kindly tries to support X Japan — or support me. That's wonderful.

How long have you guys known each other?
A pretty long time.

What's the dynamic like in the studio with Marilyn Manson?
I enjoy every single process. I don't feel like we're “working” together. We're just talking, being friends — nobody's like “do this, do that.” Maybe just put this phrase with this melody or something like that. Just enjoying the process. He's very inspirational.

Talk about the making of We Are X. What do you want fans to get from this documentary?
It's not like a normal music documentary, it's more like a crazy drama. If we didn't make it right. that could have turned into a horror film. But somehow we made it right. There were so many deaths — my father's death, my guitar player's death, my bass player's death — then the lead vocalist got brainwashed and joined a cult. It's almost too crazy to be a true story but somehow the band came back and started touring again.

Talk about how the band started a fashion movement in Japan.
Because I didn't know the rule. So even though we were playing super heavy or fast music (or punk rock or whatever), I started dressing up something like a David Bowie — something feminine. People freaked out: “What are you guys doing?!” I came from a classical music background. Classical music is just full of rules. When you play Chopin, you should play this way. When you play Beethoven, you should play how Beethoven thinks. Which is cool!

Then after my father's death — when I was 10 years old — I found out about rock. I thought rock has more freedom to express yourself than anything, but it was not! Divided by all those genres and all those styles, I was like, “Fuck it, I'll do whatever I want!” Eventually that became our own genre.

You were also featured on the cover of Vogue Japan recently and your own fashion line, Yoshikimono, kicked off Tokyo Fashion Week. How does your style define you?
My parents used to create kimonos, a Japanese robe. Usually in Japan, the oldest son takes over the family business — but I became a musician. So I always wanted to do something with like a fashion line. Then several years ago, I met a kimono creator — a very cherished one. They've been doing it for 150 years or something like that. So we decided to do this kimono together. So we have a very traditional version, but we also have a rock & roll version. You know, kimono and wear these kinds of boots [points to knee-high military boots]. That kind of caught attention from Tokyo Fashion Week and they asked us if we can open it. I also did the finale, too. So I headlined Tokyo Fashion Week one year, and I also opened Tokyo Fashion Week.

How does it compare to fashion in the States?
Japan is an interesting place. We have influences from the West as well as the East. Things are mixed into the eclectic way of life. Japan's fashion is sometimes crazy, in a good way. Also we have some animation influence. Compared to the United States, it's almost like Japan's fashion seems somewhat out of control, but in a good way.

You've had much success over the years. What's next? What's your end goal?
I don't think I made it to that kind of level yet.

No, I mean... I'm pretty unknown in the States. I have a lot to do still.

Where do you see yourself down the line?
Another neck surgery? No, just kidding. [laughs]. I already did two. The last time, they put a cervical disc between vertebrae five and six. The doctor told me not to play drums and not to play piano that hard, but it's rock & roll. So whatever works.

One more question. What are some American bands that you love?
I'm not saying it because he's a good friend, but I love Marilyn Manson. Of course, I love Kiss. I love Muse, Slipknot. I love … is Rihanna from America?

YES! I love Rih.
I do like her. And Lady Gaga. Beyoncé. Ah, can't see Beyoncé because we're playing at the same time! But that's the downside of things. I'm very happy, and sad. [laughs] But at the same time, it's cool playing at the same time. It's the same kind of slot. Anything else you wanna let us know? I just wanna thank my fans around the world, I'm in America right now. Because of you guys' support I'm here, and let's rock the world together.

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