How FLO’s Throwback TV Takeover Debut Tour Came Together
Creative Director Amy Bowerman breaks down how FLO made their delightful debut tour happen.
On the morning of FLO’s first-ever, sold-out show in New York City, fans started lining up outside of Webster Hall before noon. When the girls took the stage later that night, the audience was enraptured, dancing and singing along to every word with the same fervor displayed by fans at global arena tours. The UK R&B girl group’s buzz had successfully made its way across the pond.
When FLO appeared on the scene in 2022 with their debut single “Cardboard Box,” an assured, satiny throwback about cutting off a bad relationship, the internet went wild. There were comparisons to other three-piece acts that had shifted culture in the past, talks of how they were the new coming of Destiny’s Child or TLC. The girls had the aesthetics down pat, glossy vocal harmonies, and the charisma to bring it all together. Since then, it’s been all but a full-blown FLO takeover; this year alone, the group won BBC Sound Of..., the Rising Star Award at the BRIT Awards, and Best Push at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
FLO’s surge of popularity and critical acclaim inspired their Creative Director Amy Bowerman — who’s worked with massive acts like BLACKPINK and Dua Lipa — as she ideated their debut tour. What if FLO really did take over, and what if we loved every second of it? Under Bowerman’s creative eye, FLO’s live show centered around FLO TV, a channel-hopping journey through FLO’s pirate TV program. “For me it felt like, what if you sat down to switch on your TV and every time you flicked through the channel, they've just taken over,” she explains to NYLON from London. “But it's a huge celebration of this FLO takeover.”
Ahead, Bowerman discusses her creative dynamic with FLO, balancing ‘90s inspiration with contemporary stylings, and bringing the energy of stadium tours to intimate venues.
How did you begin working with FLO? How did you and the girls connect?
I've worked with Island, who they're signed with, quite a lot before. They have a really great group of in-house creatives that I've worked with, and I was connected with their management quite early on. I think we were chatting at the start of last year, and they had a Jimmy Kimmel performance. I was actually in Korea at the time on a different job and had to do everything remotely. I was overseeing that, and then when they started to do this round of touring — their first shows that they've ever actually done — as soon as they started planning for this, I came in and sat down with the girls, spoke to them about what they wanted to do, and then brought that to life with them.
How did you come up with the concept for this FLO TV image that we see during the show? Did you have any inspirations behind that?
I think that the girls have a huge connection and presence with their audience. As we were going through the songs, there was such a different dynamic. Every time that they were explaining things it was like, "Oh, this is a different story, and this is a different story." And it's like, how do you bring something together for each of them, especially with them being three members? Obviously within there, there's different stories for each person. I sat there and I was like, "Okay, I've gone away from that meeting and I've heard everything that they put into all of this and there's so much information here. There's so many different ways of presenting this."
And especially things, as we see with “Summertime,” that has its own little microcosm, and especially “Feature Me” and “Fly Girl.” The only way to put this together is to have these extreme flips through their world. This is kind of a crash course through the FLO world; I think as well for artists as a group and their infancy, they have this rich story already of their experiences, what they want to put out in the world, how they want to tell their story. It was so exciting when I was speaking to them and there was just so much to pick through. The TV concept was really an easy way to be able to have those major flips in such a short period of time that could bring the audience with us into all of these different dimensions.
I recently watched a documentary about Nam June Paik and that sounds like one of his earliest dreams: a TV where every channel was a different artist. Seeing FLO TV on stage felt like it captured that essence in a way.
The whole thing that I was thinking of is that, similar to their trajectory, where for this past year every single new artist or anything that has been completely about FLO, that's been the big group and it's like everywhere you look is FLO. For me it felt like, what if you sat down to switch on your TV and every time you flicked through each channel, they've just taken over? But it's a huge celebration of this FLO takeover. And that's how I perceived that channel flicking, because if you look around everywhere at the moment, the Brits Rising Star was FLO, they were on the BBC Sounds list, et cetera. So it seems like this year has been a FLO takeover.
To see the energy that they got in New York was really special, too. I enjoyed FLO TV’s graphics quite a bit. They felt nostalgic without being cloying. Were you trying to evoke a certain era with them?
I have some designers that I work with super closely, and the reason I did that is because I found that with this one there was a super fine line — especially with the evocative sound that they have and the comparisons that people have made between the group and other groups of different eras. We were all very conscious of it not looking like a huge throwback, that we weren't just going straight to the jugular on a very naughty '90s look. I think that on that same level, this TV takeover still had to have a VHS texture. It still had to have a grain to it. I was thinking about it, how would I do this with any other artist, and how a VHS texture sits in every world. I think that everybody thinks that that looks cool.
I was like, "Okay, I can do a certain amount, but as long as we're not going too far." We spent a lot of time staring at the computers going, “Is this too much, or can we take this a little bit further without it being too on the nose?” I'm really glad that it didn't come across in that cloying way, because it just also has to remain current. I think when you speak to the girls, they're super young, they make me feel ancient. Everything that they're into is super cool, super current.
Everybody loves a throwback; the '90s have come through, the ‘00s have come through fashion again as well. How do you do that hark back, but also pushing forward? Keeping them in the position of having it be an extension of them because they are young and they are very current and everything that they are is very much on the nose of what is cool and what is here right now. Often in content, I don't opt to use so much representation of the artist's actual image, but I think that having the image there as well also helps these new audiences. Although I've been completely shocked that there are mega fans out there, so maybe we didn't need it so much, but also having being able to see a representation of the artist within the concept as well.
You've worked on these mega tours. BLACKPINK is one of the biggest acts right now, Dua Lipa took over during lockdown. Outside of the obvious budget, what are some of the biggest differences between tour size from a creative standpoint?
Honestly, the next biggest difference is space and size, because I think the aspirations remain the same. It's like, "What can we do? What can we do to maximize what we've got here?" Even when you work on these big mega tours, I think that people think that artists have endless amounts of money, but you are still creating within a budget. And budget always gets you, no matter how big it is. But I think you're adapting and trying to make the most of what you have. I think, especially with these smaller-venue tours, it's like, "How do we use them for the absolute Nth degree?"
I think what's really interesting is that all of the elements they're the same. We had staging, we had choreography, we had lighting, we had a quite sizable band as well, like a four piece band, which is the same with BLACKPINK — they have a four piece band, so that stays the same. Most of the elements and the amount of work that you need to do to pull that together and make it a show that feels cohesive is roughly the same. It's about how much of it that you have to play with, how can you maximize it to make it feel as big as possible or even as small as possible. I think the issues with some of the larger tours is that you have this vast amount of space. It's great having that a lot of the time, but sometimes you want to make it feel really intimate. It's quite funny, because especially coming off the BLACKPINK tour last year where they're in stadiums, you have a ridiculous amount of space to try and compete with. And I would definitely say that the words “compete with” because it becomes another challenge. Then, coming into a smaller venue, they did their first show Outernet, in London, and it's a 2,000 cap room, but I still looked at it like, "Oh, there's a lot of work here to be done, because we have to make absolute most of this space."
This is so interesting. How do you go about making a small space big?
With this show, when we have the full lighting, we have this sketched outline opening that curves around the girls. Essentially, it's trying to draw the eye in to make it look as wide as possible and as open as possible. We are using a lot of lines that create angles. If we want to make something look like it has a lot of depth, a lot of artists use this in their content where you have that endless kind of vanishing point, or you create rooms within the content behind the artist to feel like the stage is longer. You use visual lines with the lighting so that it feels like there's this endless and cavernous space.
With the girls, we try to make it feel as wide as possible. The band are sat, so they're in a downstage and upstage position, which usually you'd see band flat across the back, but that then gives the girls depth to play with because they have the full stage front to back. There's a bunch of tricks that we've used, and I think that that was the first one that we went for, the band orientation, because they have a four piece band, which takes up a lot of space on the stage. We push them to the side, open up the central position, and then they have a way to have full choreography.
As you mentioned earlier, there are these obvious correlations between FLO and other nostalgic acts. In terms of choreography, how did you balance that with feeling fresh and contemporary?
I was very lucky. Their choreographer Cash just gets the vision. He is perfect. FLO have these incredible vocal harmonies, so they're striking that fine line between how much they move versus how much they need to allow space to these vocal harmonies. I think that Cash did an incredible job there, having that nice balance of not being in full choreography all the time, and also allowing them to have the space for a bit of personality as well. There's times where they're just freely moving around the stage, and that's when they start to interact with each other and interact with the audience, and that's when their personalities really come to shine. It becomes a really funny and nice moment with the audience.
I think that what was always at the forefront of all of this is striking up that balance, especially while they're finding feet with how they come across and what is a FLO show. You look at a K-pop show and there's going to be lots of talking, because they just love to have a moment with their audience. You look at an Adele show, she doesn't stop talking. And then some shows you get people who don't talk whatsoever. We had no idea walking into this what it would be like. Even the girls, they were like, "Oh, how much do we talk?" They have a huge connection with their audience, so they definitely want to have that back and forth. That was all striking up the right amount of choreography, the type of choreography, the style of choreography, and then still being able to deliver a show that contains personality, has these great vocal moments, et cetera. Luckily I had Cash and I think he did amazingly with it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.