In a new video for SK-II, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles defeats her trolls — soundtracked by a John Legend original.

By Tessa Petak
May 03, 2021 @ 2:46 pm
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John Legend SK-II Film Series
Credit: Courtesy of SK-II

It's a tale as old as the internet: Unencumbered access to our favorite celebrities means we can speak to them, hear from them, feel like we know them — but it also means haters can dump all over them in increasingly cruel ways.

Online bullying is something U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles knows a thing or two about. "I feel like anybody in the public eye deals with that on a daily basis," the four-time Olympic gold medalist tells InStyle. "I try not to look at comments. I also feel like — they wouldn't say that to you in person, so I just brush it off because, at the end of the day, I'm here." She's here being the most decorated gymnast of all time.

In order to help other young people adopt a similar positive attitude, Biles teamed up with cult skincare brand SK-II as a part of their SK-II Studio "VS" Series, a collection of six animated short films based on the real-life experiences, challenges, and animosity faced by six different Olympic athletes preparing for the Tokyo Olympic games this July. And the original score for this project? It's produced by none other than smooth-singing EGOT-winning John Legend himself.

Simone Biles SK-II Film
Credit: Courtesy of SK-II

Legend's song "Take a Look" is an empowerment anthem for anyone who has experienced trolling in some shape or form, which is a topic that hits close to home for him given his wife, Chrissy Teigen, recently deleted her Twitter account due to the negativity she constantly faces there (she's back, don't worry). Throughout the short film, the song's message and music build to a powerful moment that sets the scene for Biles' character to overcome and defeat her trolls.

"[It] explores, I would say, unfair and impossible beauty standards society places on us as women, as athletes, as just people in general," Biles says. "But we shouldn't listen to trolls because beauty is how we see it, not how anyone else does."

No stranger to the social media world and some of it's negative effects, the La La Land star felt a draw to be a part of SK-II's anthology series. During a phone interview, Legend told us about the inspiration behind the song, how he and Chrissy navigate teaching their kids about societal standards, and which beauty products his wife shares with him.

How did you get involved with SK-II and the "VS" series?

Well the first time I worked with the folks at SK-II, we did a beautiful campaign around the Pitera [Essence]. It was funny and really cool, we worked with James Corden. When you're working in skincare, you can [either] talk about only the attributes of the product, or you could tell a bigger story that draws people in and connects them with the brand even more. And I think that SK-II has done a really good job of using filmmakers, musicians, comedians, and different people to help them tell their story. And now, of course, with the Olympics coming to Tokyo they're integrating athletes into that story as well.

What inspired you when writing the song "Take a Look?"

I really love working with filmmakers who have a point of view and know what they want to say. It's easy for me to write when they have a vision of what they want to present, and I'm able to use that vision to help drive my own creative process for songwriting. 

So of course I've written for major, Oscar-nominated films, and all these other things, but this short film was trying to tell an important story. We talked about Simone's experience being celebrated on one hand, being this incredibly gifted, once-in-a-generation athlete, and then also dealing with trolls who criticized her, picked her apart, and made her feel terrible. And despite all of that, she found a way to not only thrive, but to be the greatest gymnastics champion we've ever seen. 

Did your wife, who is so authentically herself, despite having dealt with the negativity of social media and trolls, inspire you when writing the song?

Absolutely. I think I was particularly aware of the fact that women have to deal with this more being married to Chrissy and seeing the negativity she deals with. Generally speaking, men's appearances don't get picked apart in the same way that women do, and I'm particularly aware of and sensitive to that because I see what Chrissy, and other female friends of mine, have to go through. So I wanted to make sure I did that story justice because I understood what that experience is like. To see my wife go through it, I could understand how Simone might feel. 

What really makes me mad is she is this world-class athlete, and it's not her job to prove herself or measure up to your standards. For people to spend so much time picking her appearance apart when the headline should be on what she signed up to do, which is to be a triumphant and transcendent athlete that deserves to be celebrated.

Is this something that you and Chrissy teach your kids?

It's interesting because occasionally the topic of people's appearance comes up, and sometimes Luna will ask me who I think is prettier between two people. And I try to let her know that it's not for me to say. There's all kinds of ways to be pretty and all kinds of ways to be beautiful. We don't have to compare ourselves to one another. It's interesting that even at age five, they're already getting that message, so I'm trying to dissuade her from even thinking that's an area where she should be thinking about competition. But of course, the world is out there and you're not going to be able to protect them from all the other messages that they get bombarded with, even if they're not explicit, but the implicit messages they get just from who's valued more or who's celebrated more. Hopefully, we continue to teach them that, but it's hard to completely protect them from it.

What does your skincare routine look like? Does Chrissy give you tips, and do you borrow any products from her? 

We always swap products. I learned about SK-II through Chrissy. We love SK-II — the moisturizer, the Pitera [Essence]. I think in general, that's probably a common story for couples, [especially hetero] couples; a lot of times the guy is getting tips from their girlfriend or their wife, and we're influenced heavily by their choices.

There's a lot of pressure and focus on women aging in Hollywood. Do you feel that same pressure?

I think it's different. There's clearly more pressure on women to look a certain way than men. I'm sure plenty of male actors will probably differ with me — as a musician, I think it's a little less about our looks. So I imagine that side of Hollywood is even more focused on looks, but I still think it's harder for women than it is for men in that regard. Men are allowed to age more gracefully or allowed to let themselves go in a way that women usually aren't allowed to. 

I guess if you want to be a Marvel superhero, there's probably a lot of pressure on the male body, but I don't have to deal with that. [laughs] I think in the music business there is an emphasis on youth, and it's hard to be a successful artist, making new music that people celebrate and get excited about into your forties and fifties. I'm 42 now, and I'm keenly aware that at some point people are just gonna move on to younger artists.

No, never!

[Laughs] It's just a part of life, that's how it is, you know? I think it tends to be the case throughout show business. There's something exciting about new and younger, and it's not always appearance driven, but it's what is able to get the most attention.

Speaking of music — and you still got lots left in you — what's next for you? Do you have any new music coming out soon?

Oh, I truly do have a lot left in me, no doubt about that! I've been writing so much. I'm in our studio office right now, and I've been in this studio for almost every weekday of 2021 writing and collaborating with some brilliant people. And I cannot wait for people to hear this new music. It really feels so good, exciting, sexy, soulful and joyful. I can't wait for people to hear it.