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Beyoncé's 'Homecoming' shows us how to be the greatest version of ourselves

Kelsey Bradshaw
This image released by Netflix shows Beyonce in a scene from her documentary "Homecoming: A Film by Beyonce." (Parkwood Entertainment/Netflix via AP)

Somewhere in the bowels of Facebook, there is a video of me wearing Ed Hardy sweatpants and dancing to Beyoncé’s viral hit “Single Ladies.”

I wish I still had the camouflage tank top I wore to camp when my friends and I got really into Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” in the fourth grade.

Beyoncé has been omnipresent in my life since I was little, and for the last 10 years, I’ve found myself trying to nail down her famous choreography in my friends’ living rooms, out of breath from whipping my head back and forth and waving my ringless hand in the air.

But when Beyoncé gazed over the Coachella crowds last spring, I sat still.

On Wednesday, Beyoncé dropped her documentary “Homecoming” — which she directed, wrote and executive produced — on Netflix. It is both a concert film and a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to put on her massive 2018 headlining Coachella performances, or “Beychella,” as we've collectively decided to call the event. She also dropped a surprise live album called “Homecoming,” which is made up of 40 tracks from the live show, spoken interludes and two bonus songs.

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The opening scenes of the documentary show us what we know — it is April 2018 again, and Beyoncé is about to appear from behind a line of dancers and drummers and waltz up to a cascading stage plopped in the desert of Southern California. She’s dressed like an Egyptian queen, and honestly, I’m about to lose my mind.

For the next two hours, audience members and those streaming the performance online watched as Beyoncé performed her own homecoming halftime show, inspired by historically black colleges and universities. She slapped a marching band and an orchestra on her body of work and mashed them all up together for a remastering that reached the top of the iTunes charts on Wednesday. The documentary is sprinkled with the words of Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, among others.

She talks about growing up in Houston and rehearsing at Texas Southern University.

“I always dreamed of going to an HBCU, but my college was Destiny’s Child,” Beyoncé says. “My college was traveling around the world and life was my teacher. I wanted a black orchestra. I wanted the steppers. I needed the vocalists. I wanted different characters. I didn’t want us all doing the same thing.”

Halfway through her first Coachella set, Beyoncé says, “Coachella, thank you for allowing me to be the first black woman to headline Coachella,” and then after a beat, “Ain’t that 'bout a bitch?”

It is absurd to think that Beyoncé is the first black woman to headline perhaps the biggest music festival in the country. But Beyoncé knows that. She had to create a space for her community where there was none and elevate voices and talents that have been historically overlooked.

The documentary shows how she brought the black college experience to life and the diligence it took to pull off. From surveying stones sewn onto leotards to having her crew perform without music behind them, she watched over her creation the way her fans watch over her — obsessively and carefully.

“Instead of me pulling out my flower crown, it was more important that I brought our culture to Coachella,” Beyoncé says in the documentary.

She showed us that this level of success and history-making-ness can’t be done without your people around you. She brought out her rapper husband Jay-Z, her sister Solange and the women that helped her rise — Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child.

The documentary also shows us what we probably already knew — Beyoncé is the hardest working person in her field, she’s a perfectionist and she’s a damn athlete.

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In the documentary, she is candid about having high blood pressure, toxemia and preeclampsia during her pregnancy with twins Rumi and Sir, a surprise that had prevented her from headlining Coachella in 2017.

She had to have an emergency C-section because one of the twins’ hearts paused a few times, she says. After giving birth, she spent eight months crafting the show by both restricting her diet and working through choreography and staging. In between rehearsals on three sound stages, she’d run back to her trailer to breastfeed.

She wanted the performance to be a culmination of her more than 20-year career and it was. She was fun and political and cheesy and damn it, she sang. Her voice sounds like honey and smoke and it didn’t deviate the whole time.

Even if, like me, you haven't lived experiences like these, or do not claim the identities that Beyoncé claims, you cannot help but feel admiration for the way that she has lived them.

I’ve been toiling in my head trying to figure out what it is about Beyoncé that stops and makes me still. I think it’s because she provides a lens through which I can remember my life with my family and friends, and through which I interpret my experiences.

I watched Beychella from my blue couch in my studio apartment in San Antonio. It felt like we were both in transition — Beyoncé into some greater form as an artist, and me soon to move to a new city for a new job in Austin. And some moments, as big as they are, deserve quiet attention. I think of Beyoncé and her music when I remember driving around my college town with my best friend Imani, and dancing with my friends Nicole and Brittney. When I think of moments with my mom. I try to find her power when I’m insecure about my body. She reminds me to be strong in my convictions.

I know that Beyoncé isn’t from Austin, and she doesn’t typically tour here. I know that she isn’t our Matthew McConaughey. But this moment is too big to not say something.

It’s not often that a person can immerse you in their art like Beyoncé can. I thought she’d done it all when she literally shut down the Mercedes-Benz Superdome during the 2013 Super Bowl, or when she dropped an entire self-titled album in the middle of the night, or when she gave us "Lemonade," which chronicles her working through the stages of grief after Jay-Z's infidelity.

The "Homecoming" documentary shows us an artist making a cultural moment. It was Diana Ross performing in that orange jumpsuit as it poured in Central Park. It was Prince at the Super Bowl and Queen at Live Aid. And it was a performance I got to be here for.

Beychella and the ensuing documentary start with the 2003 hit “Crazy in Love” and brings us through it all — the joy of being part of a community and of being a woman, and the exquisite pain and happiness of working on your marriage. Beychella is also straight up fun. I spend more time than I’m willing to admit hypothesizing about what Beyoncé wants me to learn or see, but sometimes I just want to dance.

The show ends with her 2011 song “Love On Top.” It serves as her ode to her fans, and it sits outside of her sermons on romantic love and familial love and self love. Beyoncé loves her fans, and with this documentary, she gives us a window into the greatest version of what we can be.