An unprecedented move in the luxe festival’s 19-year history, one-third of this year’s lineup is comprised of female artists – and at the helm of this progress is none other than Queen Bey herself. Generations past once looked fondly on Woodstock 1969 as a crucial turning point in American culture; but in 2018, our Woodstock, our Monterey Pop, our Isle of Wight, is definitively Beyoncé’s headlining set at Coachella.
After postponing last year’s Coachella appearance due to her pregnancy, this year’s Coachella marked her first live performance since giving birth to twins Rumi and Sir Carter last June. “I was supposed to perform at Coachella before, but I ended up getting pregnant,” she explained to the crowd of diehard fans who exchanged knowing laughter and cheers. “So I had time to dream and dream and dream with two beautiful souls in my belly,” she continued, “and I dreamed up this performance.”
Besides making a fantastic case for paid maternity leave, Beyoncé’s comeback show was a spectacle well worth waiting for. Preparations for Saturday night’s show were made with a doggedly Spartan discipline – and who would expect any less? According to TMZ, Beyoncé hired up to 100 new dancers one week before her Coachella debut. Reports also said she’d rehearsed 11 hours a day and required dancers and crew to sign non-disclosure agreements. Rumors abound of guest appearances – and to the satisfaction of 125,000 Coachella attendees, as well as 458,000 global viewers streaming live on YouTube, a generous leak in Page Six confirmed the Destiny’s Child reunion. Otherwise, Bey and her team maintained a sphinx-like enigma surrounding her performance. Here are the most noteworthy moments of her spectacular 27-song set:
1. Beyoncé U: Bow Down, Freshman Bitches
Don’t get it twisted: Beyoncé may have taken a year-long sabbatical, but class was back in session Saturday night – and the queen of pop came prepared to school the masses. She emerged onto a catwalk as Queen Nefertiti reincarnate, donning a flat-topped black and gold headdress. The formidable drum line rumbled behind her to opener “Crazy in Love,” slowed down to the tempo of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
2. The Buzz: Beyoncé’s Personal Marching band, Orchestra and Dance Team
At first glance, joining Beyoncé’s team of 100 seems as likely as winning the lottery. But make no mistake: this crew earned it. Decked out in yellow and rhinestones, Bey’s dexterous marching band The Buzz does it all: they shred, they rumble, they step, they twerk, and they’re definitely making the year-round beret happen again. Also, the return of Beyoncé’s favored twin dancers, “Les Twins” Laurent and Larry Nicolas Bourgeois, was met with much fanfare from the most devout members of the Beyhive.
3. Set and Costume Design: Flawless
What started off as a brutalist, metal pyramid structure split in two, revealing a functional set of contemporary bleachers for the gold-clad brass band. A flashy take on campus fashion, Beyoncé wore an original school crest, bedazzled with a black panther, a bust of Nefertiti, a black power fist and a sparkling bee. Swathed in clouds of pink smoke, Beyoncé stood atop a crane at least 20 feet over the crowd, serenading them all with 2013 hit “Drunk in Love.” After the rosy haze had dissipated, the pyrotechnics were out in full force for “Don’t Hurt Yourself” – Beyoncé emerged a femme fatale in patent leather, flames streaming towards the sky as she yowled, “Who the fuck do you think I is?” It wasn’t the fire that had us all sweating.
4. Killer Queen Vs. the Bugaboos
In what’s best described as a PG-13 humiliation play, the “Bugaboos” – aka lowly male Greek pledges of Beyoncé’s sorority Beta Delta Kappa – were put to the test in a refreshingly funny skit. “Bugaboos,” commanded Beyoncé, sorority domme par excellence, “Make me laugh.” The Bugaboos wriggled and buzzed, meeting a cold reception from Beyoncé and her sorority sisters. The men dropped down on all fours.
“Ladies,” she addressed the crowd, “Are we smart? Are we strong? Have we had enough?”
She paused as the crowd roared.
“SUCK,” she growled, stomping with every syllable, “ON. MY. BALLS.”
5. DJ Khaled Dubs “Beychella” the New Coachella
A moment of sympathy for next year’s headliner – Beyoncé will be a hard act to follow, and this festival might as well belong to her now. Although famed hypeman DJ Khaled was not in attendance this weekend, his voice rocked the main stage with a novel idea: “Coachella gotta rename Coachella the Beychella,” he proclaimed, “NEW NAME ALERT!” Where DJ Khaled goes, a procession of dancehall airhorns follows, and comedy ensues.
6. Beyoncé: A Genealogy in Song
Bey’s Saturday night set was a glowing retrospective of a 20-year pop career that remains on a steady crescendo. This was not just a crash course in her own catalog, but in that of the black musical tradition: She followed her 2016 battle cry, “Freedom,” with the Black National Anthem, James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Recent Rock Hall honoree Nina Simone’s “Lilac Wine” and Fela Kuti’s “Zombie” made for striking interludes; and plus a saucy New Orleans brass rendition of “Single Ladies” sent the crowd rollicking happily through the night.
7. Deep Cuts Galore
When Beyoncé wasn’t flaunting her greatest hits, she was hooking in ride-or-die fans with some rare additions to her set list. “I Care” was a tender statement to the Hive, while her mashup of “Sorry” and “Me, Myself and I” had the audience abuzz. She then chased a remix of her daughter Blue Ivy’s favorite – J Balvin and Willy William’s “Mi Gente” – with a double-decker mashup of “Mine” and “Baby Boy.”
8. All in the Family: Cameos
Speculations of potential celebrity cameos circulated for months – but it was decidedly a family affair on Saturday night. Solange stopped by to share a blazing dance number with her big sis to their co-written 2006 hit, “Get Me Bodied.” And in spite of Bey’s righteous rage earlier in the night, she and hubby Jay Z were a united front on stage. The two made supersize heart eyes at each other while regaling the crowd with “Déjà Vu” – teasing their upcoming On The Run II tour. (She also made sure to draw attention to her wedding ring on the big screen during a sultry rendition of “Partition.”)
9. Destiny’s Child Reunites
Two decades since the release of the self-titled debut by Destiny’s Child, it seemed only fated to have the three muses come together for their emerald anniversary. Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams rose like Charlie’s Angels on either side of Beyoncé as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech, “We Should All Be Feminists,” resounded across the field. The trio delivered a blissed-out medley of “Lose My Breath,” “Say My Name,” and “Soldier,” after which the bedraggled, festival-worn crowd instantly gained a second wind.
10. Finally: “Love On Top” Comes Full Circle
Following her performance of “Love On Top” at the 2011 VMAs, Beyoncé initially stunned fans worldwide when she revealed a very pregnant belly under her purple sequin jacket. “I want you to feel the love that’s growing inside of me,” she told the audience then. Seven years later, Beyoncé extended the same loving vibes to her loyal fans at Coachella, her passion amassing with her every consecutive note of the grand finale, “Love On Top.” If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that there is no topping this year’s Coachella, just like there is no topping that final key change.