'Thank you for allowing me to be the first black woman to headline Coachella."
Those words from Beyonce, uttered midway through her headlining performance at the music and arts festival in Indio, California, at the weekend, were less a humble show of gratitude than a declaration. She interspersed her performance - a homage to America's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) complete with drumline, majorettes and step-dancing - with a Destiny's Child reunion and cameos by sister Solange and husband Jay-Z.
Thanks to the Coachella livestream, which repeated the performance the next day, people all around the world could watch. It became a major cultural event, rivalling her 2016 Super Bowl halftime performance. While Beyonce intended to entertain the live audience in Indio, the performance was also meant to thrill an audience watching from afar.
Coachella has come to be known for an easygoing, boho aesthetic, with the stereotypical attendee a drunk white hipster wearing a Native American headdress and loads of glitter. On the Friday, Vince Staples referred to the main stage as "the white people stage", telling the crowd, "I know y'all don't know who I am 'cause none of y'all look like me, but I don't give a [expletive]." By Saturday, Beyonce claimed that space as her own - a DJ announced this was officially "Beychella." For her Lemonade tour, Beyonce had elaborate sets featuring pools of water and video screens that breathed out fire. At Coachella, her backing of more than 100 musicians and dancers in yellow and black, many wearing berets and placed in a pyramid formation, was just as spectacular.
Beyonce had basically created her own historically black college: the University of Beyonce. The school colours: yellow and black (the yellow, a theme from her album Lemonade, is also the colour of her Beyhive horde of fans). The fraternity brothers' clothes bore the same Greek letters as Beyonce's cropped sweatshirt: BDK, or Beta Delta Kappa. The B and K probably stand for Beyonce Knowles, while the Delta may be an allusion to her favoured number, four.
She had reimagined some of her biggest hits as marching band renditions that could upstage any HBCU halftime show (the backing musicians included former members of Florida A&M University's band, and the drum line was formally introduced as the only one presented by "Queen Bey" and "guaranteed to show up and show out").
Beyonce sang Lift Every Voice and Sing, commonly known as the black national anthem. She played snippets of a Malcolm X speech ("The most disrespected person in America is the black woman," the crowd heard the slain leader say). She even managed to throw in lyrical dancers performing to Nina Simone's Lilac Wine. Later in the show, Beyonce changed to some of her more traditional performance attire (sparkly and formfitting leotards, and knee-high boots). Destiny's Child members Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams joined her on stage and performed the trio's Say My Name and Soldier. Jay-Z showed up for Deja Vu. Solange danced alongside her sister to Get Me Bodied. Les Twins, a dancing duo, appeared throughout. For Drunk in Love, Beyonce stood alone atop a cherry picker.
While Beyonce was the first black woman to headline Coachella, other black performers have graced the main stage, including in 2010 when Bey performed a cameo during Jay-Z's headlining set. She had also been scheduled to perform at the music festival in 2017.
On Saturday night, she told the audience, "I am so happy to be here. I was supposed to perform at Coachella before, but I ended up getting pregnant, thank God," referring to her pregnancy with twins, Rumi and Sir Carter. "This is a very important performance for me tonight. I'm happy to be back on stage." She then went on to explain a bit of the genesis of the grand show.
"I had time to dream and dream and dream with two beautiful souls in my belly, and I dreamed up this performance," she said. "And this is more than I ever dreamed of it being. And thank you, guys, for sharing this with me. I hoped you all enjoyed the show. I worked very hard."
The hard work showed in her fierce dance moves, sweat dripping down her face and, yes, in the control of her vocals. It also showed off in her creativity to celebrate and pay homage to something so integral to the fabric of black American life and history, in the least likely of places.