Flawless (Beyoncé song)

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Song by Beyoncé featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from the album Beyoncé
Released December 13, 2013 (2013-12-13)
Recorded Kings Landing, Bridgehampton, NY,
Jungle City Studios, New York City,
Oven Studios, New York City[1]
Length 4:10
Beyoncé track listing

"Flawless" (stylized as "***Flawless") is a song recorded by American recording artist Beyoncé from her self-titled fifth studio album, Beyoncé, released on December 13, 2013. It was co-written by Knowles together with Terius "The-Dream" Nash, Chauncey Hollis and Rey Reel, with production handled by Hit-Boy, Knowles, Rey Reel Music and Boots.

The song was received positively by music critics who particularly praised the use of samples from a speech "We should all be feminists", delivered by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at a TEDxEuston conference. The track also contains a large portion of "Bow Down / I Been On", a song released by Knowles in March 2013. "Flawless" is a trap-influenced song, with a dirty groove and a clattering beat. A music video for the song was directed by Jake Nava, and includes choreography by Les Twins and Chris Grant.


On March 17, 2013, Beyoncé released an audio track titled "Bow Down / I Been On" as well as a picture of herself as a child standing in a roomful of trophies on her official website.[2][3][4] Hit-Boy produced the first half of the track, "Bow Down", while the second half "I Been On" was produced by Timothy "Timbaland" Mosley.[5] A sample of "I Been On" was also prominently used in an advertisement for O2 and The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour in February 2013.[5][6] The release "shocked fans and fellow singers alike," as the song caused some controversy over its lyrical content.[7] Kyle Anderson of Entertainment Weekly commented that Beyoncé seemed "to be attacking straw women a generation behind her who dismiss her as little more than Jay-Z's wife."[8] The song was criticized by Rush Limbaugh[9] and Keyshia Cole,[10] among others.

In December 2013, Beyoncé explained the idea behind "Bow Down" on iTunes Radio: "The reason I put out 'Bow Down' is because I woke up, I went into the studio, I had a chant in my head, it was aggressive, it was angry, it wasn't the Beyoncé that wakes up every morning. It was the Beyoncé that was angry. It was the Beyoncé that felt the need to defend herself. And if the song never comes out…OK! I said it! And I listened to it after I finished, and I said, This is hot! I'mma put it out. I'm not going to sell it. I'm just going to put it out. People like it, great; they don't, they don't. And I won't do it every day because that's not who I am. But I feel strong. And anyone that says, 'Oh that is disrespectful,' just imagine the person that hates you. Imagine a person that doesn't believe in you. And look in the mirror and say, 'Bow down, bitch' and I guarantee you feel gangsta! So listen to the song from that point of view again if you didn't like it before."[11][12]


"Flawless" contains samples of Beyoncé's song "Bow Down / I Been On", and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's speech "We should all be feminists".

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"Flawless" was written by Beyoncé Knowles, Terius "The-Dream" Nash, Chauncey Hollis and Rey Reel. The song was produced by Hit-Boy and Knowles, co-produced by Rey Reel Music, with additional production by Boots.[1] It is "a staccato, trap-flavored track"[13] with a dirty groove[14] and a clattering beat.[15]

The song begins with a sample from a televised talent contest Star Search, with Ed McMahon announcing the performance of Knowles' girl rap group, Girl's Tyme.[16] Then, the song incorporates a portion of "Bow Down / I Been On",[17] with Knowles singing about "the pressure women feel to be perfect and to think of marriage as the main goal of their life"[16] — "I took some time to live my life/ But don’t think I’m just his little wife."[13]

The song features a speech delivered by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (pictured).

A series of samples from "We should all be feminists", a speech delivered by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at a TEDxEuston conference in April 2013, starts at 1:24 and forms the second verse of the song:

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, 'You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.' Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support. But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors – not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.[16][18][19]

The third verse features lyrics such as "You wake up, flawless/ Post up, flawless/ Ride round in it, flawless/ I woke up like this/ I woke up like this."[20] The song ends with another sample from Star Search, in which McMahon announces that Knowles' group lost the competition.[13] In a video commentary to the album, Knowles explained that in her mind [as a nine-year-old], she would have never imagined losing as a possibility, and it was the best message for her. "I feel like something about the aggression of 'Bow Down' and the attitude of 'Flawless'—the reality is, sometimes you lose. And you're never too good to lose, you're never too big to lose, you're never too smart to lose, it happens. And it happens when it needs to happen. And you have to embrace those things," she added.[21]

Critical reception[edit]

The use of Adichie's talk in "Flawless" was praised by music critics. Los Angeles Times's Carolyn Kellogg wrote that "Superstar Beyonce did two astonishing things Thursday night: Release a complete album without any promotion or advance notice, and sample Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie."[22] In a video review of the album, Rebecca Nicholson of The Guardian commented that by using Adichie's TED talk as a feminist spoken word interlude in the middle of "Flawless", Knowles put "Bow Down" into a different context.[23] Andrew Hampp and Erika Ramirez of Billboard magazine wrote, "When we first heard the Hit-Boy produced track in March it didn't contain the content of the full-version, only to come off abrasive. 'Flawless' though, with the insightful commentary of feminism by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, carries power and highlights camaraderie amongst women."[24]

The Guardian's Mikki Kendall wrote, "In 'Flawless' (a track that leaked as 'Bow Down' over the summer), Beyonce quotes from author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TedX talk 'We should all be feminists', adroitly addressing the idea that she is somehow anti-feminist for not fitting into the boxes others project onto her. It's clear that like a lot of black American women, the mainstream middle class white feminist narratives with which we are so familiar aren't necessarily compatible with Beyonce's view of herself. This album makes it clear that her feminism isn't academic; isn't about waves, or labels. It simply is a part of her as much as anything else in her life. She's pro-woman without being anti-man, and she wants the world to know that you can be feminist on a personal level without sacrificing emotions, friendships or fun."[25] Chimanda Ngozi Adichie praised the song, stating that she "likes the idea that Beyonce's song might make girls feel that they can ask to try to do these things" and further said "I have had young people in Nigeria who probably would have never heard of my TED talk without Beyonce and who are now talking about feminism."[26]

However, Catherine A. Traywick of Foreign Policy magazine criticized the singer, commenting that "Beyonce is just full of surprises. In the past 24 hours, she dropped an album, joined Weibo, and — to our particular delight — paid tribute to one of Foreign Policy's 2013 Global Thinkers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (...) On a track called 'Flawless', Beyonce samples Adichie's April 2013 Ted Talk, which is a thoughtful, amusing examination of subtle sexism in everyday life. Beyonce bookends Adichie's words with distinctly less thoughtful lyrics of her own: She shallowly trumpets material wealth and physical beauty and, working in a few lines from her spring single, advises others to 'Bow down, bitches.'" She continued, "Beyonce gives us a heavily-edited, watered-down version of Adichie's speech that aligns with the singer's banal brand of beginner feminism: She reduces Adichie's powerful message to an overly simplistic, inoffensive pro-girl anthem that does little to challenge trenchant gender ideals."[18]

In the annual Pazz & Jop mass critics poll of the year's best in music in 2013, "Flawless" was ranked at number 72.[27]

Music video[edit]

Jake Nava directed the music video.

A music video for "Flawless" was directed by Jake Nava. It was released on December 13, 2013 on the Beyoncé album, containing a music video for every song. The video features original footage from Star Search, with young Beyoncé and other members of Girl's Tyme losing to reigning champions Skeleton Crew.[15][28] Shot in black-and-white, it also shows Beyoncé "headbanging and moshing with a bunch of punks,"[29] and dancing with a team of street dancers in a graffiti covered alley.[30] Beyoncé worked on the choreography for the video with Les Twins and Chris Grant.[1] "We had done half the video, and we watched it, and Beyoncé knew that it needed a dance moment that would be iconic, that people could pick up on. And then we went back and reshot that part. Because after seeing the video, and after the song coming together, she was like, 'This needs a cool dance that anybody can do,'" said Beyoncé's creative director Todd Tourso.[31]

Nate Jones of People magazine commented that the lyrics of the song were "best performed with the hand gestures seen in the video."[32] Brandon Soderberg of Vice noted that "black punk faces in 'Flawless' correct the rockist white boy narrative around punk rock."[29] Jenna Wortham of The New York Times wrote that the release of the album had created "a social media class of its own, generating a sort of ripple effect that is keeping the album front and center in the Web’s ephemeral consciousness," and identified shots from the "Flawless" music video as some of the most shared among fans: "A recent hashtag search for Instagram photos and videos tagged 'I woke up like this,' a reference to one of the catchier songs on the album, turns up close to 7,000 photos."[33]

Live performances[edit]

The song was added to the setlist and performed live during the second European leg of The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour; with the first performance taking place in Glasgow at the SSE Hydro arena on February 20, 2014.[34] "Flawless" was part of the set list of Beyoncé and Jay-Z's co-headlining On the Run Tour (2014).[35]


Credits adapted from Beyoncé's website.[1]

  • Beyoncé – vocals, production, vocal production
  • Hit-Boy – production
  • Rey Reel Music – co-production
  • Boots – additional production, additional arranging
  • Stuart White – recording, mixing
  • Jordan "DJ Swivel" Young – recording
  • Ramon Rivas – second engineering
  • Rob Suchecki – second engineering
  • Tyler Scott – assistant engineering
  • Tony Maserati – mixing
  • Justin Hergett – mix engineering
  • James Krausse – mix engineering
  • Derek Dixie – mix consultation
  • Tom Coyne – mastering
  • Aya Marrill – mastering


Chart (2014) Peak
Ireland (IRMA)[36] 77
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[37] 157
US Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles (Billboard)[38] 13
US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs (Billboard)[38] 32


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