As Beyoncé plans to “switch things up a bit” for her second Coachella set, the festival’s first weekend was a stark example of Beyoncé Knowles Carter’s and Colin Kaepernick’s very effective form of public yet enigmatic resistance. Both of them tend to eschew or push the boundaries of traditional media, and from the stage and from Instagram they each addressed societal issues.
Kaepernick has yet to grant a full-length interview; it is, without question, the most coveted interview in sports media. The former San Francisco 49er posted a picture of baseball icon Jackie Robinson with a quote that is rarely celebrated when discussing the baseball legend’s legacy. He’s not standing for the anthem. He’s not singing the anthem. Nor is he saluting the flag. Kaepernick’s upload put an entire league on notice and answered the question for any prospective team even remotely interested in Kaepernick’s talents under center.
The truth is, in lifelong NFL exile, Colin Kaepernick will be far more impactful than he was on the field. This includes the 49ers team he nearly led to its first non-Joe Montana or Steve Young Super Bowl. Had it not been for the concert quite literally heard around the world, it would have been the weekend’s biggest line in the sand.
Beyoncé at Coachella is already cultural curriculum: The two-hour moving montage of black history marked her return to the stage. With guest appearances from her sister, Solange, and husband, Jay-Z, and a Destiny’s Child reunion with Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, the moment only further cemented her place among music’s all-time great performers.
The performance was a testament to the machine that is Beyoncé. She is a mother of three and is one-half of one of the highest-profile couples in the world. She put in 11-hour days and altered her diet. She then harnessed the leading role in a performance that celebrated some of the most authentic elements of black life, including historically black college and university (HBCU) culture, fraternity and sorority life, African royal garb, quotes from Nina Simone and Malcolm X and, for good measure, swag surfing. The only element missing was a random uncle in open-toe sandals grilling on the side of the stage with a red cup in hand. She also stepped up with a $100,000 donation to HBCUs, doubling down on her 2016 investment into women attending HBCUs via her Formation Scholars initiative. In 2018, it’s perplexing for Beyoncé or any black person to still be “the first” anything. And the distinction of being the first black woman to headline the famed festival seemed to both honor and perturb her.
Notoriously guarded, the Lemonade singer has never been the most media-available artist, especially in recent years. She’s never seemed totally comfortable with that job requirement — unlike, say, her husband, who is naturally personable and engaging in interviews. Even her Instagram pictures are largely without captions. She says very little outside of a recording booth or off the stage. Yet — through her music, increasingly more personal on 2014’s self-titled album and 2016’s Lemonade, and actions — she has carved out an image of a shadowy, even hooded figure very much in tune with the conversations and temperature of society. Her performance — coming on the heels of Stephon Clark’s killing by police in Sacramento, California, the Philadelphia Starbucks racial profiling incident and Brennan Walker, a 14-year-old shot at after asking for directions — was more coincidence than intention. But it felt fitting.
“I have worked very hard to get to the point where I have a true voice,” Beyoncé “said,” actually being paraphrased by her mom, Tina Knowles, on Instagram. “At this point in my life and my career, I have a responsibility to do what’s best for the world and not what is most popular.”
The performance resonated far more than a press release or exclusive interview ever could. She proved that at 36 she, like LeBron James in his craft, is only getting better with the wisdom that age brings and a work ethic that can only be defined as obsessive but unparalleled. She’s as comfortable musically as she has ever been. Her creativity is only getting sharper and more poignant as the stakes elevate — a telling sign as she prepares for a world tour this summer with her husband. Her performance April 14 became its own living, breathing and gyrating exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It not only moved the culture. It became part of the decade’s DNA.
When Beyoncé and Colin Kaepernick speak, the world listens. When they move, the world watches. When the weapons of societal perspective and human empathy are placed in an introverted person’s hands, the results are telling. They don’t feel the need to have to explain themselves.