It’s one thing to impress us, the people who don’t do it for a living. It’s another when the people who actually do it for a living are not only impressed, but also living for it. Because they know, not just the hard work that went into putting on Beychella, the human cost of it, but the also the material cost. This is why celebrities stan just as hard for Beyoncé as we do. This is why celebrities themselves do not consider her at their level. They have already, long ago, conceded that there’s Beyoncé…and then way below, there’s everyone else.
Here’s a great example:
Man I’m not even a Beyhiver & I gotta say that was the most amazingest thing I’ve ever seen & ive seen every great perform in concert.— T'Questlove (@questlove) April 15, 2018
Like I watched that WHILE I WAS ONSTAGE doing my OWN show (flawless no mistakes)—-didn’t hear sound til last 3 songs but ISH COT DAYUM—-forget the songs/performance/entertainment value—I just wanna see the patch bays— T'Questlove (@questlove) April 15, 2018
How. in. The. Fuh. Did. She. Pull. That. Shiii. OFF!!!!??? It’s like 170 musicians onstage. I mean the stage plotting. The patch chords. How many monitor boards were used??! Bandleading that shit woulda gave me anxiety. Hats off man. Jesus H Christ.— T'Questlove (@questlove) April 15, 2018
The reason I’ve included Questlove’s tweets over others is because of how he specifically references the tech that was involved in making Beychella happen. He’s talking about all the microphones that had to be balanced, how the levels on each microphone and on the instruments would have had to be managed so that the sound was as perfect as it was. On top of the choreo. On top of the lighting. On top of the set, and all those moving pieces, the pyramid sliding back and forth. And that’s the simplest way of describing it. At a MUSIC FESTIVAL. Remember, she’s not doing this night after night on tour. She’s doing it for TWO NIGHTS ONLY!!!
It’s a monumental achievement, you cannot overstate this. And that is what Questlove and so many other artists are acknowledging. They are recognising that even they wouldn’t know where to begin to manifest that kind of inspiration and ambition.
If you were watching the Coachella livestream before Beychella began, you would have had to endure the last part of Post Malone’s performance. And you would have seen that the audio and the visual were not synched. You would have also observed that the camera work was pretty standard. Wide shot, followed by a close-up from the stage, back to another wide shot – basically the same cameras that were shooting performances through the festival. Beyoncé, as we know, is not just any performer. And when Beyoncé comes to perform, she brings her own cameras.
I mentioned this in What Else a couple of weeks ago – that Beyoncé choreographs performances to the audience but also to camera, that she always takes over the camera whenever she shows up. This is exactly how Beychella went down. As soon as Beychella started, that audio-to-visual off-synch disappeared, right? It disappeared because it was Beyoncé Time. Nobody’s f-cking around now. Immediately the camera work became much more specific. She had them shooting from precise angles to capture precisely the right angle. She made sure that even the smallest gestures were documented. Every time she rubbed her fingers together (“best revenge is your paper”) the cameras were close, close enough so that we could see what her hands were doing. Look at the layers and layers of pyramids upon pyramids in this shot here – simple, sure, but timed to perfection to get right at that image:
And, of course, this moment:
Your basic, generic Coachella cameras aren’t going to hit that silhouette– this is Beyoncé-ordained. Sasha asked me yesterday if I thought that “all the camera ops get kicked off their peds and positions as B’s camera team sweeps in”. 100%.
Because you can’t shoot like this if it’s not rehearsed. And we know she’s been rehearsing for weeks. A production of this scale doesn’t happen without extensive rehearsal. The thing about rehearsals though? Is that they’re expensive. The space costs money. The manpower costs money. The wind machines cost money! The nail change cost money!
You saw over a hundred dancers and musicians on stage with her. What you can’t see is the how many people worked behind the scenes. And all of those people would have been paid from Beyoncé’s account. I’m not sure, considering the lead time necessary to pull off Beychella and the size of the village that Beychella involved, that Beyoncé actually made any money from it. But we know now that money wouldn’t have been an immediate motivation for her, at least not a direct paycheque from Coachella proper. She was investing in her legacy, she was spending to cement her status as, well, the Greatest Of All Time.
None of that matters though without the music. Kathleen wrote earlier about how Beychella was a tribute to Beyoncé’s musical influences, honouring the artists that made her possible. Beyoncé is a student master. She has studied jazz and reggae and funk and soul and hip-hop and big band and her music at Beychella was presented as a showcase for the homework she’s been doing throughout her career and her life, really. You could hear that reflected in the musical arrangements. Because you can’t build upon it and sew it all together without a profound understanding of the inspiration, the original.
Last summer, upon the release of Jay-Z’s 4:44, his producer No I.D. talked about Beyoncé’s input on the album, and he described it as “genius-level”. Beyoncé’s business genius is generally accepted. What isn’t talked about as much is her musical genius. Back in 2013, Noah Berlatsky, in a piece for The Atlantic, wondered “why don’t more people call Beyoncé a genius?” The piece concluded, in part, with the assumption that perhaps it hasn’t been Beyoncé’s focus, at least not up to that point. Coincidentally, at the end of that year, in December, Beyoncé released self-titled. Then Lemonade two and a half years later in 2016. It’s not that she’s only just now leaning into her musical genius, it’s that she’s finally decided to flaunt it. The arrangements on Saturday night during Beychella were the bragging, swaggering stomp of a musical genius. There are those who won’t give her credit for that, though, because she doesn’t fit the mold of what a musical genius is supposed to look like, guitar in hand, talking about chord progression and sh-t. Or they’ll credit someone else for putting the arrangements together since, culturally, it’s what we do to women in art – we find someone else to wear their achievements, often men. But as Beyoncé continues to excel, as she continues to top even herself, because she is her only competition, eventually they’ll run out of ways to diminish her abilities and/or attribute them to someone else. Because it’s undeniable this level of talent, this once-in-a-generation combination of talent and resourcefulness and WORK.
What is the work that came before not just Beychella but Beyoncé? This is what we’re deep-diving on the next episode of Show Your Work (to be posted soon). And while we’re doing that, you know what Beyoncé is doing? Almost immediately after the show on Saturday, even though by all accounts it was as flawlessly executed as anyone could have ever imagined, she was reviewing tape, she was examining every shot, she was giving notes to the camera crew, the dancers, the musicians, the stylists, and she was writing notes for herself. Because she’s always improving – even from what most others couldn’t improve. By next Saturday you’ll see. It’ll be even tighter, even sharper, than it was this weekend.