Photo by Victoria Stringer
I remember the sound. It was a low buzz that ran through your body and moved over the entire grounds of Coachella, electrifying you from head to toe. I remember it pulling everyone to the main stage, a hundred thousand people moving as one driving force. Beychella was starting.
As I watch Beyoncé’s documentary, “Homecoming,” I feel that same electric buzz I felt a year ago as I was sprinting across the polo fields to see the queen. But I feel something else again as well: the fact that Beyoncé’s performance was ultimately not meant for me, a white woman. I am a die-hard Beyoncé fan, but I must recognize that her music and her art are made first and foremost to recognize and empower the African-American community. To disregard this significance in her work would be to not truly appreciate it in all of its depth and to only experience it at a superficial level.
“It’s crazy to think that after all these years, I was the first African-American woman to headline Coachella. It was important to me that everyone who had never seen themselves represented feel like they were on stage with us,” says Beyoncé in a voiceover in Homecoming. Her historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)-themed performance was born from a history of discrimination based on skin color that white people have never experienced. Her art was not intended for our experiences, and because of this, we are spectators only. I believe that it is extremely important to recognize when something is not made for you while still honoring the incredible work of art that it is. I will always sing along to Beyoncé’s music at the top of my lungs, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really have anything to do with me — it is not my culture. In a world where so much is produced for and by the white experience, recognizing and honoring that which is not without attempting to appropriate it is so important. Appreciation, if you will, without appropriation.
Beyoncé claimed Coachella for herself that night, repossessing music and festival culture in a powerful way that demanded attention and asserted power. She spent 15 months creating a show that celebrated the education of African-Americans and then performed it at the biggest live music event in America in front of a mostly white audience, because her performance was for the minority present and that was what mattered. The editing of the documentary even re-emphasizes this message by only showing black audience members singing and dancing along to the show. “I feel like music can definitely be enjoyed by other people,” said sophomore Triniti Lemmons, “but by watching Homecoming alone, it was very obvious that her goal is to always highlight black excellence through her music.”
I recognize my privilege in being able to witness the piece of history that was Beychella in person, and I acknowledge the irony that said privilege is what allowed me to be there for a show not intended for me in the first place. I will always, always love Beyoncé; she makes some of my favorite music, and I appreciate her as much as I possibly can based on my own experiences. However, her art remains something I will not ever be able to understand in the way she meant it to be understood. Appreciation without appropriation is enjoying the music anyways, but refraining from claiming that you experience it in the same way that the intended audience does.