Beyoncé just released a Netflix documentary called "Homecoming."
Beyoncé is undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of our generation. I couldn't stream Game of Thrones, one of the most widely-viewed shows in the world, from Greece (through HBO, anyway) - but I could stream "Homecoming."
I've been waiting for this release since it was first announced. I woke up first thing in the morning (so, around 10 am as usual) ordered English Breakfast tea with croissants from room service and watched it in bed, happy as a clam.
And of course - it was an incredible experience to relive one of the greatest performances I've ever seen. But through the Behind the Scenes shots, she shared several core lessons on mastery, being an artist and what it takes to be excellent. Here are five key takeaways that I learned from the Queen herself:
Dream big. “Creating something that will live beyond me — that will make people feel open and like they’re watching magic, like they’re living in a time that’s super special, a day that they will never relive. That’s what I want.” Beyoncé shared that she spent a year envisioning this performance and how she wanted it to go, the impact that she wanted to make, the people that she wanted to include - visualizing every single detail. Excellence is never an accident. Dreaming big is the first step to creating something magnificent.
Study your history. You cannot build on what you don't know. Beyoncé drew on decades of HBCU performances, Battle of the Bands experiences, and integrated work like Maya Angelou quotes and "Lift Every Voice and Sing." She studied and learned what had taken place before her before creating her own experience, paying homage to her ancestors along the way.
Fall in love with the process and never stop practicing the fundamentals. We often focus on the results and scoff at the work required to get them. You are never too advanced to skip the basics and you must fall in love with the process of creation in order to get the results that you want. Beychella required 8 months of rehearsals to get to those magnificent two hours of performing - and her very first rehearsal started with a basic 8-count. If you don't love the process, you won't ever dedicate yourself to it in the way that true excellence requires. Beyoncé has already cemented her status as a legend. She's worked in (and dominated) this industry for 22 years. Beychella was her first performance since becoming a mother of 3, and following an extremely difficult and dangerous pregnancy - one that required an emergency C-section.
She could've easily given a simple performance with basic choreography and we would've loved her anyway - instead, she spent 8 months rehearsing all day, every day (including her anniversary), to create an experience that was unprecedented. As she said herself, “I respect things that take work. I respect things that are built from the ground up. I’m super specific about every detail. I personally selected each dancer, every light, the material on the steps, the height of the pyramid, the shape of the pyramid. Every patch was hand-sewn. Every tiny detail had an intention.” She met with Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing multiple times for the costumes “so we could understand, Okay, why do we want these colors? What do they represent? I was very adamant that we were well-rehearsed and knew the show front to back. We did a lot of things that were very unconventional for a festival show - it takes a village and I think we all worked to our limit.” That level of detail and commitment is only possible when you truly love the process.
If the Queen herself isn't above 8 months of deliberate practice in her craft - none of us are.
Rehearsal requires humility. "That's why people don't like to rehearse - you've got to be humble. You've got to be willing to look awkward and you've got to study. You've got to be a student." she says in a conversation with her choreographer. To be a student is to start from the beginning - it requires vulnerability. It's challenging to not have the answers, or to "look silly" - but it's also required to develop and grow. If you can't get over the fear of embarrassment or not knowing, you'll remain stagnant - avoiding all opportunities to learn something new.
It will never be perfect - do it anyway. During one part of the film, she discusses how she has pages of notes after every run-through. There is no point in the documentary where she expresses a sense of having perfected the performance - but she performs anyway. It's normal to agonize over every detail to make your art perfect, but the artists who are true masters recognize when their work is "good enough" (which to them is when it's at an incredibly high-level even though it's not perfect yet). Masters don't wait until perfection comes (because it never will). They release or perform or publish and iterate from there (and we saw this through the slight differences between Weekend 1's performance and Weekend 2's performance - the latter of which was featured more heavily in the film).
Witnessing the evolution of Beyoncé - an artist who continuously raises the bar even when you think it can't go any higher - feels like a gift. Homecoming was a timely and inspiring documentary that reminded me to keep working, keep practicing and keep Dreaming and Thinking Bigger.
Thank you, Queen B.
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