“Flawless”

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

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.

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.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

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

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In