The Provocateur Behind Beyonce, Rihanna, and Issa Rae

How the director Melina Matsoukas helps female artists reinvent themselves.

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Photo: A.RICARDO / Shutterstock.com
Media Outlet: New Yorker

Alexis Okeowo wrote for the New Yorker about the provocateur behind Rihanna, Beyonce, and Issa Rae:

Melina Matsoukas, a director of music videos and television shows, had just returned home from a trip to Cuba when she got a call from Beyoncé, asking her to direct a video for a song called “Formation.” Matsoukas had directed nine of Beyoncé’s videos, and considered her “family.” But this assignment was unusually demanding. Beyoncé was working on “Lemonade,” a deeply personal “visual album” that touches on betrayals in black marriages—her parents’ and, reportedly, her own. “Formation” would be the first single, and an introduction to Beyoncé’s new aesthetic: both vulnerable and political. She wanted to release the song the day before she performed it at the Super Bowl, which meant that Matsoukas would have to submit a video within a few weeks. “It was the fastest delivery I had ever done in my life,” she told me.
When I visited her loft in Hollywood recently, Matsoukas opened her rose-gold laptop and pulled up the video. The brassy opening beats began as Beyoncé crouched on the roof of a police car, wearing a red-and-white blouse and a matching skirt: evocative of the rural South but made by Gucci. Matsoukas, who is tall and thin, with dark hair and high cheekbones, radiates a disconcerting hyperassurance. (She’s a Buddhist, with a fluctuating practice.) She is, as she says, “very loud and New York,” but her apartment projects an almost hermetic cool: Africanist art, a golden skull on a shelf, a tar-splashed vanity mirror.

Author:

Alexis Okeowo was a Class of 2016 & 2017 New America Fellow. She is the author of A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa and a staff writer for the New Yorker.