Why Beyoncé’s Performance Is a Step Toward Changing Coachella Culture

Beyoncé proudly declared herself as the first Black woman to headline Coachella in its nearly 20-year history. Her statement, music and fashion motifs are perhaps helping turn the whitest festival—known for its cultural appropriation—into a modern festival that celebrates diversity.

Coachella 2018 was fueled by Black Panther love. Beyoncé herself wore a black fishnet outfit with a bedazzled crest on the front. Among the images? A bee to thank her Beyhive of fans, alongside a black fist and a roaring black panther head.

Perhaps it was her Egyptian Queen outfit that best symbolized her impact. The Telegraph described it as “a head dress, bodysuit and cape inspired by Queen Nefertiti and embellished with thousands of black and gold sequins. The head of the Egyptian Queen, wife of the pharaoh Akhenaten, was embroidered onto the back of the cape while the front of the bodysuit was bejewelled with crystals.” It honored Egyptian royalty and placed Beyoncé in the light of the leader and change-maker she is; her set proved that.

Her song choices seemed to be an ode to women, not only with her hits like "Single Ladies" and "Who Run the World (Girls)," but also with "Bow Down," which she said is for her queens in the audience. With her unbelievable dance routine and fierce facial expressions, Beyoncé dominated the festival and is already being called one of the greatest headliners of all time. 

Detroit natives Liz, Charity and Jessyka attended the festival on Weekend 2 and could not wait to see their Queen Bey perform. Liz said this year, the lineup is more urban, noting how many Black artists are performing. "I love it," she says. 

Jessyka was sure to point out how Beyoncé is the first female Black headliner and how important that is for the culture. She agrees that Beyoncé is the cherry on top of the great weekend. 

It's a step in the right direction for Goldenvoice to host Beyoncé as a headliner, but America’s top music festival is also known for its fashion, not just its music. And that area also needs some improvement. Understanding Coachella's past with uneducated fashion decisions places this year's lineup in an even more crucial light when it comes to changing festival culture.

Each year, some attendees engage in cultural appropriation—trivially wearing items from another culture without fully understanding or appreciating their meaning. One issue with cultural appropriation is that the traditional attire is usually mocked or discriminated against by white mainstream culture. Now, only later, are mainly white people sporting pieces like Bindis and henna to “play the part” of someone “hip,” “cool” or “foreign.” They usually aren’t fully appreciating the cultural value, a degrading experience for minority groups who have been discouraged from donning such attire in society, only to see it worn inappropriately by white people at music festivals.

This is why it's perhaps especially important for Coachella to become more inclusive, given its history with insensitivity toward people of color when it comes to outfits and fashion. Some common issues at Coachella: Bindis, which have cultural meaning in India for women, and Indian bridal jewelry called tikkas, otherwise known as “head jewelry” or “hair jewelry” at Coachella.

Cornrows and boxer braids also can be appropriated, as some schools forbid their students to wear the Black hairstyles and people in the workplace may see Black hairstyles as unprofessional. Yet many white festival-goers decide to pull their hair up with cornrows or other tight braids, instead of using their privilege to speak up against the double standards in beauty.

While these are only a few examples briefly explained, the Coachella culture of wearing gold flash tattoos, tribal prints, braided hair, feathered headpieces and the like have led to its reputation as a white festival that can be clearly offensive to people of color.

This history of the festival makes Beyoncé’s headlining performance and all the Black Panther love so vital in addressing the privileged attendees and some potential ignorance about hip hop culture, Desi culture and Native American culture, to name a few.

Other artists also confronted Coachella’s whiteness head on. When Vince Staples performed on the main stage, he referred to it as the “white people stage,” a reference to many white headliners and A-listers that typically perform there, from Lorde to Lady Gaga to Radiohead in 2017. Staples also said, “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].”

He spoke about what many already know about Coachella: it’s mainly about white culture. About 100,000 people descend upon Indio, California in the Coachella Valley to experience a glammed up Woodstock, creating $704 million of economic activity during Coachella and its country partner Stagecoach.

But 2018 seemed different for some fans, and change is slowly coming. Rapper Cardi B took the main stage on Sunday—after she was called breakout artist of the year in 2017—to an enormous crowd that rivaled that of the headliners. Even rapper Nicki Minaj joined in on the panther power during Weekend 1, posing for photos with DJ Khaled, The Weeknd, Shania Twain and Timothee Chalamet (yes, it’s a true crew) while she wore a cheetah print bodysuit, tasseled cheek jewelry and a belt depicting black panther silhouettes.

Since Coachella 2017, film has also been a part of paving the way for a more inclusive festival. The summer comedy Girls Trip was the first film produced, written and starring Black artists to surpass $100 million, according to Forbes. Jordan Peele won the Oscar for best original screenplay with the ingenious horror film Get Out this March. Then of course the groundbreaking film Black Panther smashed all the records. It rocked the desert during Weekend 1, too, with SZA performing her hit “All the Stars” off the soundtrack alongside its curator Kendrick Lamar, who just this week was the first rapper to win the Pulitzer Prize for music.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to combat racism, appropriation and discrimination, but it’s looking like the entertainment industry can help through music and film. Guests should also be willing to learn more about the significance of inclusivity, writes Teen Vogue.

After this year and Beyoncé’s stunning tribute to historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), The Los Angeles Times is announcing that the Coachella culture is “disrupted.” The prestigious music festival is no longer just for rock and roll legends, but proudly stars hip hop artists—even at the “white people stage.” 

How do you think Coachella should be more inclusive? Tell us on social media @HerCampusUCLA.