Diana Gordon just got a fat check from Beyoncé. This is factually true: Gordon co-wrote three tracks on Lemonade and earned that money. But it's also a lyric from Gordon's brand-new song, the first she is releasing under her own name (she previously recorded under the stage name Wynter Gordon). "The Legend Of" is the story of the singer-songwriter's life up to this moment, telling the tale of how she went from being a middle child in a struggling family of six to a Queen Bey collaborator ready to make music on her own terms. “I put this project out as myself, and it’s not like I have Drake or Beyoncé or Rihanna tweeting it for me or anything,” Gordon tells Refinery29. “This is me telling you the story to catch you up on what I’ve been doing.” That story — which she makes clear “ain’t no myth, ain’t no fable” — includes co-writing Beyoncé’s first country song, “Daddy Lessons,” along with “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and “Sorry.” (She also earned a co-producing credit on that last one.) Oh, and Gordon had a hand in crafting that now-iconic "Becky with the good hair" line. But instead of Becky, she originally suggested Jolene with the good hair, a nod to Dolly Parton's classic 1973 song about one woman begging another to back off her man. Sorry, Beyhive, but the lyric was never aimed at one particular person. Instead, Gordon explains, it was for any Black woman who has ever felt demeaned because of her hair.
“In our community, even in our houses when we were growing up, it was like, ‘You’ve got good hair,'" Gordon adds. "Our parents slather us with relaxer to make it straight when we’re like, 4. So [that line] was just a cultural reference: It was like, ‘Go call the girl you think is better than me.’" Gordon wasn't surprised when fan interpretations took on a life of their own after Lemonade was released, working their way onto T-shirts, baby onesies, and even into a joke told at President Obama's final White House Correspondents' dinner. She's proud of the impact her lyric has had. "I know that I affected the world this year," she says proudly.
Gordon made the liner notes for that song, but that doesn't translate to the world knowing her name — a fact that, as a songwriter-for-hire, she's gotten used to after composing tracks for other artists for more than a decade. She actually penned the song "Gonna Breakthrough" for Mary J. Blige back in 2005, and has continued writing for others since, including Danity Kane, Ciara, Flo Rida, and Jennifer Lopez. If you're looking for the meaning behind many of those musicians' songs, Gordon may have some insight: She says the songs she writes for others are just as personal as the ones she sings herself. In a poem on her website, Gordon wrote, “I turned my pain into stories and my stories into songs and sold them to the highest bidder.” Some of that pain came from her struggles with anxiety: She says that throughout her career, she’s put too much pressure on herself to be the perfect artist. It wound up making her feel like she wasn’t accomplishing anything. “I just think I was feeling a lot of pressure. I won't say regret. But resentment,” Gordon says of watching others rise to a level of success she wanted to achieve herself. “I just had to get over that.”
It wasn't until a year and a half ago, when she took a three-week trip to Nicaragua with her best friend, that Gordon finally caught her breath and changed her attitude. With a newfound outlook on life, she insists that she started to attract more positivity — including working with Beyoncé, who not only recruited her for Lemonade, but signed her up as the performance coach for Chloe x Halle, the teenage sisters signed to Bey's management company, Parkwood Entertainment. But despite all that she's achieved this year, Gordon is by no means resting on her laurels; that big check from her work on Lemonade is getting channeled back into her solo career. "I’m getting an opportunity to really put music out, to be on stage again," she says. "I can’t wait to do that. When I’m on stage I have the spirit of Tina Turner inside of me. I just want to break free and dance and yell and scream. Just get it all out. I couldn’t do that before.”
Right now, Gordon says she has 20 songs written — but she doesn’t plan on releasing an album any time soon, if ever. Instead, she plans to focus on performing and showing off those Tina Turner moves of hers. The first stop? The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, where she'll debut her new single, “Woman,” a feminist anthem with a funky, Pam Grier feel, inspired by a male-centric writing session. “I was with these guys, and every song was about sex and ‘I want to fuck you in the club,’” she recalls. “I walked into my last room and I didn’t know them. But I was like, 'Today, we’re not fucking writing a song about sex. We’re writing about women.'” She’s hoping that a song like this, with its strong, in-your-face message, will help other women find power in themselves. But for Gordon, these new songs are a sign of her own resilience: She picked herself up and started over at a time when it would have been just as easy to give up. “Sometimes I felt like the bad parts of me were too bad to show before, but not so much anymore,” Gordon says. “That’s one thing: I’m not trying to apologize anymore. I don’t want to. I’m very happy saying I’m amazing and that I’m somebody to pay attention to.”