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.