Deep into Homecoming, Beyoncé’s doc and concert film from her performance at last year’s Coachella, the artist explains her sense of purpose in creating the show, a celebration of both her decades-long career and a tribute to America’s HBCUs. “As a black woman, I used to feel like the world wanted me to stay in my little box. And black women often feel underestimated,” she says. “I wanted us to be proud of not only the show, but the process. … It was important to me that everyone who had never seen themselves represented felt like they were on that stage with us.” It was integral, then, that she released the performance on the largest stages possible—not just the one in Indio, California.
Beyoncé has always commanded the internet’s attention, always been able to direct its narrative. She did it when she surprise-dropped her self-titled album, and its visual companion, on iTunes in 2013. She did it again in April 2016 with another late-night landmine: Lemonade, the visual album that debuted exclusively on Tidal at the same time as its companion short film aired on HBO. This time around, though, the megastar is out to make sure everyone who wants and needs to experience Homecoming can do so, releasing the concert film on Netflix and an accompanying 40-song, two-hour-long album on—deep breath—Apple Music, Amazon Music, SoundCloud, Deezer, Spotify, YouTube Music, and Tidal, all at once.
Beyoncé’s sneak-attack playbook has become a bit familiar—it all started with the release of Beyoncé, which mysteriously appeared in the iTunes store one December night, no notice, no leaks—but there are a few remarkably different aspects to the release of Homecoming. First, this album wasn’t gated as a Tidal-only exclusive like Lemonade was. Beyoncé and her husband, Jay-Z, are co-owners of the music-streaming service, so when they team up to put her music on Tidal, the service presumably it gets a, ahem, wave of new users. This wasn’t an Apple-only exclusive either, and it is on Spotify, the service that famously didn’t get Lemonade. Just last year Beyoncé rapped that if she “gave two fucks, two fucks about streaming numbers [she] would’ve put Lemonade up on Spotify.” She likely still doesn’t need, or care about, the numbers, but she does want the access to be nearly universal.
It’s also notable that Beyoncé turned to Netflix over HBO. By putting Homecoming on Netflix, she chose to make this performance—a historical document in its own right—available to the biggest crowd possible. (Netflix has 149 million subscribers across the world.) There’s also Beyoncé’s business savvy on display. As one Twitter user pointed out, she recorded her history-making Coachella performance, which had already live-streamed on YouTube, and then turned around and made that video into a Netflix film, effectively minting money several times off of the same performance.
But this wasn’t simply an exercise in capitalism and record sales or streaming views (though it will certainly be downloaded and streamed plenty). This was about Beyoncé knowing the internet will pay attention—and using that attention to tell an important story. The HBCUs, as the artist points out in Homecoming, are an integral part of the American experience. Yet they are also a segment of public life that isn’t celebrated in mainstream pop culture nearly enough. Beyoncé’s performance on that Coachella stage was the largest of her career—second only to maybe the Super Bowl, which gave her far less screen time but also the opportunity to again blow up the internet by releasing “Formation”—and by streaming it, recording it, and releasing it on nearly every platform around, she ensured that no one missed it, or its message of legacy and empowerment.
“Instead of me pulling out my flower crown,” Beyoncé says in Homecoming, “it was important that I brought our culture to Coachella. Creating something that will live beyond me, that will make people feel open and like they’re watching magic.” Homecoming is that—a once-in-a-lifetime performance by one of the world’s greatest living artists that our hyperconnected world allows everyone to celebrate together.