Beyoncé’s Coachella 2018 performance was not only lit as hell, but also woke AF. Following a year-long wait, Beehive members eager to witness their Queen slay (demolish may be more appropriate) were granted their wishes. It just happened to be mad ethnic. There were Black Panther-esque berets, an HBCU-type Homecoming, Egyptian-inspired costumes, excerpts from MLK speeches, the spiciness of Big Freedia and the reciting of the unofficial Black national anthem. Falling in formation with many of her recent high-profile performances, this was another example of how King B’s art is getting increasingly charged, both politically and socially.
“It allows us to attack things in a more creative, artistic way,” said JaQuel Knight, who as show director to Beyoncé, as well as one of her lead choreographers, helped curate the Internet-breaking Coachella performance. “Everyone is not a politician. Everyone doesn’t want to get up at the mic and hold the conferences.”
Tasked with everything from making sure cameras are right to directing dozens and dozens of dancers, his role as Beyoncé's show director is very necessary. “It’s literally just connecting the dots of every department involved with the project,” he said. “Making sure we can execute a show from top to bottom.” He admits that many of the traits that have allowed him to successfully navigate through and direct behind-the-scenes traffic at Super Bowls, massive world tours and epic festivals were first acquired during the humble beginnings phase of his career. “That’s your first hint at being your own creative director, without knowing the terminology.”
Prior to locking in Beyoncé and other superstars like Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Tinashe as clients of his, he was killing it on the dance crew circuit with squads he put together like Tru Style Hip Hop Dance Troupe. “Even now, running rehearsals with over 80 dancers in the room, working with the biggest superstars, helping develop these shows for these massive creatives - these are all of the elements used when deciding what to wear to the local talent show,” he said. “It’s all the same elements, now just magnified.”
Pulling off feats the caliber of Saturday night’s nearly two-hour long set is nothing new for the Atlanta-bred Knight. His historic working relationship with Beyoncé - which now includes helping bring to life tours like I Am…, The Mrs. Carter Show and Formation and special projects like Super Bowl Halftime shows and visual albums like Lemonade - was launched when he orchestrated the now iconic dance routine for the “Single Ladies” music video. “We really inspired a world to get up and dance,” said JaQuel, as he reflected almost ten years later. “It’s crazy the amount of inspiration that leaked into the world from that project.”
Another leading lady he’s managed to make some noise with is Mette Towley, star of N.E.R.D.’s Rihanna-assisted video for their comeback single, “Lemon.” The free-form choreography he blessed the dancer with sparked a viral craze that even inspired the likes of Serena Williams, Justin Timberlake and model Ashley Graham to join in on the fun. “The record screamed, ‘get up and dance, dance, dance,” he said excitedly. “When they played it for me I couldn’t stop moving.” Adamant about spreading those vibes, Knight set out to create something for all people to take part in. “It was super important to me to do something that everyone could do regardless of your level of dance training.”
When he’s not helping to execute performances of epic proportions for the icons of the era, he finds time to provide opportunities for the next generation. Via Instagram, he hosts a choreography battle that’s kind of similar in format to NCAA’s March Madness tournament. “I feel like with social media we could get lost in the fads and trends that come along with it, but there’s also a way to use it to empower, give knowledge and help build others up,” said Knight.
After a decade of making major moves, while also making the world dance, the veteran performer has a new creative lease on life. “In my head I feel like I’m just getting started,” said Knight, who plans on developing films and musicals in the near future. “I’m just now taking a real stab at being able to display my artistry to the world.”
Not long after the smoke clears from the stage Beyoncé just tore down, it’ll be back to work for Knight, who believes that, “performances should evoke some kind of emotion.” He’ll soon be gearing up for the forthcoming On The Run II, B’s joint arena tour with JAY-Z. But before it’s on to the next one, he can rest assured that according to just about everyone who watched Beychella 2018, his mission was accomplished.