Directed by Melina Matsoukas, the video has Beyoncé playing a beauty pageant contestant who does everything in her power to look flawless — but still can’t achieve perfection.
“Well I think we definitely wanted to speak to as many women as we could and all the pain and struggle that we go through as women to maintain this impossible standard of beauty,” Matsoukas explained to MTV News. “We wanted to give it a darker edge and take it there and not give you the Disney version of that struggle. And Beyoncé was more than willing to go that far with it. And I applaud her for that.”
At one point, a frustrated Bey knocks down her wall of trophies, which is supposed “to represent knocking down those beauty standards and falling into a victim of that.”
There’s also a scene where Bey’s character, Miss Third Ward (a nod to her Houston roots), meets with a plastic surgeon which added an “otherworldly aesthetic.” “What’s also interesting about that scene, which you don’t really see, is that she’s wearing a white straight jacket,” Melina revealed. “So I thought that was interesting, like being confined by society standards.”
The video features several real-life beauty contestants, who helped serve as experts on set. Harvey Keitel plays the pageant’s host.
“He didn’t take it lightly; it was definitely a part of his method,” she said of Keitel. “And we talked about some of his experiences growing up in New York and I think maybe he dated a pageant girl before, so I think maybe it hit home a little bit. He really brought it to life.”
In the end, even as hard as Miss Third Ward tries to beat out her competition, she loses. That idea came straight from the pop star.
“[Originally,] I had her win and I had it mean nothing,” she said. “And then she didn’t want to win. And then, actually, the woman who wins is an albino woman. And we thought it was really important and interesting to break those ideas of what the classic beauty standards would be and to do this with this beautiful albino woman, I thought was really great. And to show ‘Yeah she’s not perfect, she doesn’t always win and you put your best foot forward and you may still lose.’ ”
“To have this black woman make this mark in the industry and to show it in this way and to create this album that’s just gorgeous [it shows] she’s not one-sided. She’s a multifaceted artist. She is all of these things,” she said. “She is a mother and then she is sexy and then she is a victim and then she’s strong and she’s powerful and she’s a feminist and she’s a sex bomb. And showing as a woman, and not even a woman but as an artist and as a person, that was really important for her to show [that on this album] and she’s really made her mark.”