Diana Gordon interview: The 'Becky with the good hair' scribe opens up about new music
Diana Gordon has been writing and releasing music since 2004 under her EDM moniker Wynter Gordon, and since 2005, she’s also worked as a hitmaker for artists like Jennifer Lopez (2011’s “What Is Love”) and Flo Rida (2009’s “Sugar”). This year, she scored her most high-profile writing credits yet: the 30-year-old teamed with Beyoncé to pen tracks for her surprise album Lemonade, including “Sorry,” which features perhaps the most talked-about, controversial, and meme-able couplet of 2016: “He only want me when I’m not there / He better call Becky with the good hair.”
Last week, the Queens-born artist dropped “The Legend Of,” her first song as Diana Gordon, which melds gospel choirs, synths, and spooky bass drops. It’s a far cry from her 2010 No. 1 dance track, “Dirty Talk,” but it shows an exciting new direction she’s planning to take when she releases more singles later this year.
“I turned my pain into stories/ And my stories into songs/ And sold them to the highest bidder,” she wrote in a poem when debuting the track on The FADER. “I had the most famous people in/ The world telling my story/ Meanwhile nobody knew who I was including me.”
With 20 new songs under her belt, a brand new live show to premiere, and a co-sign from the Queen B, Gordon is excited for her future. “The one thing that I know is concrete that I will be continuously releasing music,” she tells EW. Below, Gordon explains what it’s like to shed her Wynter persona, how she collaborated with Beyoncé, and what fans can expect from the real Diana Gordon.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The poem you shard when you released your single is really moving.
DIANA GORDON: I did have some dedicated fans who grew with me from MySpace, who knew I did more than just dance music. I think they would have questions. To the world, I was pretty much this girl who did dance music, very easily forgotten, so I wanted to just be real. I wanted to start this new chapter, like f— it, this is who I am and here I am. No more playing, no more sugar coating stuff. Working with Beyoncé has allowed people to shine a light on me and has given me a platform to say, “Okay I’m great, you should pay attention. I’m going to redo this again and we’re going to do it in a way where I don’t have to dance around who I am anymore, dance around the fact that there are real issues going on.”
Why did you decide to use your given name Diana now, in 2016?
I’ve always wanted to change my name. When I was given that name [Wynter] by people that I used to work with when I was very young, I didn’t really know who I was. I don’t associate myself with them anymore. I felt like I did a lot of things out of necessity, maybe because I needed money, because I was told that I was this person and I had to continue just to survive.
I had a breakdown a year and a half ago. It was the deciding factor. I was like, “I have to let everything go because I’ll either die or my life’s going to be ruined or I have to change everything.” As Wynter Gordon, I felt like I did a lot of things that weren’t my truth. I didn’t speak up on topics I knew I should have spoken up on. I didn’t talk about things that were bothering me. I wore a lot of things I hate now. I look back and I cringe. They didn’t seem authentic to my being. I spent the last three years trying to not wash it away, but trying to be myself. No one was really paying attention that much. When you put out a big song like “Dirty Talk,” they’re paying attention to one thing until you as an artist trump the music. Until you do something in a new light, people are always going to go back to it. That was bothering me.
We’re living in a time of wokeness and that’s what’s on my mind. I had an anxiety attack and I let go of everything, things like, “You should be married, you should have a kid, you should have money or a 401K.” I was freaking out about all these things like, “What am I going to do with my life? How can I save face?” I just lost my mind. When I finally got over that, it literally took me going away to another country, taking medication for a while.
Where did you go?
Nicaragua with my friend. We went for three weeks and we just took a van and drove. We did chanting on the beach. I also took a sleeping pill for, like, a month. I don’t remember what it was called but it put me to sleep. I felt like I was in the Caribbean. [Laughs] It was like I took a little vacation. I was like I’m going to write down my ideas and my goals in a notebook. Then after a while nothing that I was scared of mattered. When I let that go, the only thing that would come out in my songs were the things I was dealing with.
What do those songs sound like?
I have songs about anxiety. I have one song called “Ships” that’s just about the ship as a metaphor for slave ships, for ships coming over to bring technology, to rape the land. I have a song called “Fences” and that’s the only love song I have about myself. One day, I was 20 songs in. With “The Legend Of” I wanted to tell my story. If you don’t know me, today’s the first day you’re going to hear Diana. Here’s what I am.
The line, “I just got a fat check from Beyoncé,” made me laugh because you’re basically like, “I’ve been here all along and now people want to talk to me.” It’s funny and true and you’re using it to your advantage.
I respect Beyoncé but I’ve been working with legendary artists since I was 19 years old. I was like I’m going to put this in a song because I know that’s what you care about and that’s what’s going to get me to be able to continuously put out music.
There are also very clear threads between that song and the songs you wrote for Lemonade. Did you come to Beyoncé with those songs or did you collaborate with her?
Beyoncé is a scientist of songs. I’ve never seen anyone work the way she works. She definitely changes the song structures. She can take two songs, say, “I like two lines, I like the melody then let me use that for a verse and a bridge and write the whole middle.” It’s more of a collaboration. You never know what she’ll like. I came to her with a bunch of songs and she was like, “I like that verse, I like the idea.” But she definitely doesn’t take things as is, at least not from me. I came in on the Jack White song [“Don’t Hurt Yourself”] and helped finish it.
What did you think about people’s reactions to the “Becky with the good hair” line in “Sorry”?
I laughed, like this is so silly. Where are we living? I was like, “What day in age from that lyric do you get all of this information?” Is it really telling you all that much, accusing people?
Did you and Beyoncé ever talk about the response?
No. I don’t think she expected it. I saw her at her Formation tour. She had a pajama party; we laughed, we danced, we hugged it out. But I didn’t say much about it at the time because I wanted to give her space. The idea started in my mind but it’s not mine anymore. It was very funny and amusing to me to watch it spread over the world. If it’s not going to be me saying it, and the one person in the world who can say it is Beyoncé, I was f—ing happy. With Beyoncé, I feel like the songs we worked on were specifically for her. I didn’t have a dad growing up, so “Daddy Lessons,” that was more of a fantasy for me. I felt like I was very strong in helping to raise my brothers and sisters but that really was her story.
You’d written that whole song before you worked with her?
When I played it for her, I was like, “This is one of my favorite songs.” She was like, “This is my life.” I told her, “You know what, take it, do what you want with it.” She went and re-produced it, she changed some words, added the bridge, it’s hers. She didn’t talk to me about her father. We didn’t go into details. I see their relationship in the media just like everyone else. I watched the HBO special just like everyone else. When you do work closely with an artist they touch on things and she touched on it. Beyoncé’s been in our homes for nearly 20 years. I’ve loved her since she was in Destiny’s Child, so yeah I know her story.
I was having anxiety and I told her that I felt like I hadn’t gotten to a place I wanted to get to in my life and she talked to me about things that I wanted for my life. She entrusted a lot power into me. She made me [Parkwood signees] Chloe x Halle’s performance coach. She’s the perfect person to help me tell my story.