What Beyoncé’s Coachella Festival ‘Fits Were *Really* Saying

After weekend two of #Beychella, we’re still obsessed with the hidden meaning in Queen B’s lewks

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Beyonce Coachella Fashion: Beyonce in a Nefertiti-inspired look from Coachella's second weekend

(Photo, Andrew White/Beyonce.com)

If there’s one person who can get me to take a nap on a Saturday evening and wake up in time for a 2am livestream, it’s Beyoncé. After pulling out of last year’s Coachella festival because she was pregnant with twins Rumi and Sir, Queen B made history this year, when she became the first Black woman to headline the fest. Over the past two weekends, Beyoncé proved yet again that she’s a master performer. (Whomst among us had any chill following her epic first performance? Not Adele… or me, tbh.) But I also loved her super stylish looks—and how they enhanced her act.

Bey’s creative vision—which included both subtle and obvious references to Black American culture, specifically southern Black culture and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)—showed up in everything from her choice of set list to her choreography to snippets of audio from Nina Simone and Martin Luther King, Jr. But nowhere was it more obvious than in her ‘fits, which were all designed by Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing.

Saw this written above photo and commentary by: Alisa Adamson Profit and thought i would share it with you https://apple.news/AmQP7CFzMQOS7gDDGvfigMw I told Beyonce that i was afraid that the predominately white audience at Coachella would be confused by all of the black culture and Black college culture because it was something that they might not get. Her brave response to me made me feel a-bit selfish and ashamed. She said i have worked very hard to get to the point where i have a true voice and At this point in my life and my career i have a responsibility to do whats best for the world and not what is most popular “ She said that her hope is that after the show young people would research this culture and see how cool it is, and young people black and white would listen to “ LIFT EVERY VOICE AND SING and see how amazing the words are for us all and bridge the gap. She also hopes that it will encourage young kids to enroll in our amazing HIstorically Black Colleges and Universities . I stand corrected

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Of course, none of this was an accident. After she wore Balmain on her Formation tour in 2016, Beyoncé’s stylist, Marni Senofonte, tapped the fashion house’s creative director, Olivier Rousteing, to create pieces for the star’s Coachella performance. “B is a perfectionist—she has such a distinct vision for fashion and for her music,” Rousteing said in an interview with Vogue. “I was able to be in the room with her and she would give me direct feedback about how the lighting should hit the clothes, what the music had to emphasize about each look—I never had to guess what to do next.” The same way she’s known for carefully curating what the public sees and what we don’t (we won’t see Sir and Rumi until she’s good and ready), Beyoncé knew exactly what she wanted to evoke with her fashion—and she wanted the audience to experience various aspects of Black life in all their glory.

Last week, after her first Coachella performance, Bey’s mom Tina Knowles Lawson posted a powerful Instagram post where she admitted she was worried her superstar daughter would alienate the predominantly white Coachella audience with her unapologetically Black performance. But, she said, Beyoncé knew exactly what she was doing. Bey’s goal was to put Blackness on full display, sending knowing winks to those of us familiar with the various elements, and inspiring those who weren’t to educate themselves. As a Black woman who has spent considerable time in very white spaces—from school to the workplace—I’m all too familiar with the internal struggle of navigating cultural expression. Do you need to tone it down and code-switch, or can you bring your full self to the party? It felt freeing to see how Bey chose the latter at her Coachella set. She took a calculated risk in bringing Black history and life to the stage without overt explanation—but for the keen-eyed observer, her outfit choices clearly communicated her message.

Egyptian Royalty

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Fully playing into her royal title, Beyoncé opened the show in an intricate, caped outfit inspired by the Egyptian queen Nefertiti. Wearing a black/gold outfit on night one and a white/silver one on night two, this was an interesting juxtaposition to the promo for her Mrs. Carter world tour, which had her styled as an Elizabethan queen. Nefertiti, whose name means “a beautiful woman has come,” was one of history’s most powerful women, ruling as an equal alongside the pharaoh Akhenaten, with whom she ushered in a cultural revolution. Nefertiti was an artistic game changer, both because she was the first queen portrayed in the same manner as kings, and also because artistic representations at the time clearly showed her love of Akhenaten and their children. Sound familiar?

The more successful Beyoncé gets, the more she’s clarified to her audience that she is undeniably a Black woman who will always portray her art through her particular lens of Blackness—and knowing the values that she places on women’s empowerment, love for her family, and pushing her art form forward, it’s not surprising that she was inspired by Queen Nefertiti. With this opener, Bey let us know it was time to bow down to the Queen of entertainment—and gave us the first clear sign that this was about to be a very, very Black experience.

Collegiate Chic

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Beyoncé’s embellished hoodie/denim cut-offs/sparkly boot look was perhaps the night’s most iconic—it put HBCU and Greek life on display, and when fans began calling for Beychella merch, it’s likely this is the look they were most hoping for. (She delivered, btw.) The use of Divine Nine imagery is a serious matter to members of Black sororities and fraternities, so Bey went straight to the source, getting guidance from her choreographers (and frat members) Jamal Josef and Joe Brown. The outfit wasn’t her only reference to Black Greek life, of course—the marching band was another key indicator. Bey has performed with marching bands in the past (notably during her 2016 Super Bowl show), but this time, it served a different purpose: presenting the celebratory aspects of Black college life. HBCUs were established in response to the rampant racism and segregation that barred Black students from attending existing colleges and universities (commonly called PWIs—”predominantly white institutions”), but they’ve become a vital part of American culture. So much so that Beyoncé announced a set of new scholarships for students at specific HBCUs after both Coachella performances.

Power Player

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After her collegiate/Divine Nine-inspired outfit, Bey came out in a black PVC bodysuit with glittery epaulets, a puffy overcoat and thigh-high boots to perform ‘Don’t Hurt Yourself.’ She removed the jacket as she went into ‘I Care,’ ‘Partition,’ and ‘Yonce’—and it was clear that this outfit was meant to exude power, dominance and sexiness. The PVC ‘fit lent a slight nod to the military look of her 2016 Super Bowl set, but spoke more to the unabashed display of her power dynamic as a Black woman.

Girl Group Nostalgia

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For her last outfit of the night, Beyoncé rocked two different looks on weekends one and two—likely for very good reason. Bey’s final set on both nights included a Destiny’s Child reunion with Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland, and a ‘Get Me Bodied’ dance-off with sister Solange, who co-wrote the song. During her first show, she performed in a camo bodysuit and thigh-high boots, paying homage to the outfits her mom designed for the group’s ‘Survivor’ music video. For the second performance, the trio stuck to a glam silvery theme that honestly wouldn’t have looked out of place on Diana Ross and the Supremes. With the camo sets reflecting Destiny’s Child’s iconic past and the silver set visually referring to the glamour of their Motown predecessors, these Balmain ‘fits gave us a taste of girl group nostalgia and reminded us that Destiny’s Child will always have a place in the archives of Black musical history.

The brilliance of Beyoncé’s Coachella performance was the way in which she boldly presented her perspective of Black life—from ancient history to college life to femininity and beyond—by letting the fashion speak for itself. Whether she was walking regally with Nefertiti’s crown, stepping in a BΔK hoodie or letting us imagine what happens behind the partition in a vinyl bodysuit, her message was clear: she wants to celebrate Blackness and educate her audience on its various elements. And we’d definitely consider this mission a success.

Related:

We Will Never Get Over Beyoncé’s Coachella Performance—and Neither Will Adele
The 5 Wildest Moments from Coachella (That Weren’t About Queen Bey)
Beyoncé’s Amazing GRAMMYs Dress Was Inspired by the Black Panthers

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