“Flawless”

Beyoncé’s creative director on how the pop star revised a track for her latest, boldest album
More

Last December, Beyoncé rioted against pop-music conventions with the surprise midnight rollout of the 14 tracks and 17 music videos on her self-titled, sonically adventurous, recorded-in-secret “visual album.” But Queen B’s rebellion had actually begun seven months earlier. That’s when she, sans forewarning, released “Bow Down/I Been On,” six disorienting minutes of the ultra-coiffed diva sounding like a swaggering rap kingpin as she commanded her audience to “bow down, bitches.” Reactions ranged from delight to scorn. Some said she’d disrespected women; Rush Limbaugh even took the time to misconstrue the lyrics on his radio show. But by the time Mrs. Knowles-Carter rereleased the song on her album—revised and renamed “Flawless”—one thing was clear: it signaled the ascent of a more aggressive, more self-assured superstar.

Here, Beyoncé’s creative director, Todd Tourso, describes how her team reworked “Bow Down” into “Flawless” and its accompanying music video. The interview has been edited for brevity.

On bookending the song with clips from a 1993 Star Search competition: “Flawless” was meant to give some reason for the bravado that defined “Bow Down.” A big part of it was the struggle to become a champion. She homed in on her Star Search moment: she lost and thought that was the end of the world, and now looking back that’s just a funny asterisk in her biography.

On sampling the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk on feminism: That was something Beyoncé found at, like, 4 o’clock in the morning on YouTube. I think that she feels confident in representing what feminism means in 2014, but she struggled a bit with how to articulate why she feels how she does and how it enabled her to be who she is. When she stumbled upon that clip, it felt like exactly what we were trying to say.

On setting the scene for the video: In Paris, we rented a monastery that we art-directed to feel like a shitty underground club. One of the specific things we said was “When you look at it, you should smell urine.” [Shooting in] black-and-white helped with the lo-fi yet fashion-y vibe.

On casting skinheads: [Music-video director] Jake Nava immediately saw a correlation between the visceral energy of old-school punk rockers and the idea that a lot of things you perceive people to be are not what they really are. So he came back with this idea of a moshing party, with this multicultural group of skinheads. If you really look [at the cast], you can tell: the ones with scabs on their faces and black eyes are the real skinheads, and the ones who have chiseled jawlines and cheekbones are models.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Spencer Kornhaber is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he edits the Entertainment channel. More

Before coming to The Atlantic, he worked as an editor for AOL's Patch.com and as a staff writer at Village Voice Media's OC Weekly. He has also written for Spin, The AV Club, RollingStone.com, Field & Stream, and The Orange County Register.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? The storytellers behind House of CardsThis American LifeThe Moth, and more reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In