#291: The Writing’s On The Wall, Destiny’s Child
Destiny’s Child broke up when I was in the sixth grade, a time in my life during which I listened to 50 Cent and the Indigo Girls almost exclusively. As RS puts it, they were the “last gasp” of the vocal group genre. (In the words of *NSYNC, Bye, bye, bye.) I was so ensconced in my weirdo phase that I almost missed them completely. Luckily a college roommate introduced me to all the things I was too cool for in high school.
I often talk about lore. When there’s good lore behind an album, I fall into it much harder, (hence my love of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!”) and the lore behind this record is the stuff of legends, according to this Texas Monthly article from 2004. Destiny’s Child was, in some ways, a collaboration between a large group of music industry suits and performers, the two largest players being Mathew Knowles and his so-talented-she-might-be-a-freak-of-nature daughter. What started out as a kiddie-ensemble group called Girls Tyme morphed into a platinum-selling R&B quartet, which morphed into a power-pop trio, which then died and gave birth to BEYONCE who you have probably heard of.
On your sophomore record, you’ve earned the right to both stretch your musical limbs and become mildly bragadacious. Bey & the rest of the quartet (Kelly, LaTavia & LeToya) take advantage of these rights immediately on the “Intro,” where they all put on gravelly accents to play pretend as Mafia Dons.
The schtick for this record is that each song is associated with a “Commandment of Relationships.” There are a whopping fourteen of them, some of which I didn’t think were all that great. “Where’d You Go” has a fun backbeat, and “If You Leave” with Next is a nice change-of-pace, but as for the extremely dated “She Can’t Love You,” “Stay,” and “Sweet Sixteen,” well … maybe there could have been eleven commandments.
You might not know the filler, but you definitely know the hits, “Jumpin, Jumpin” and “Bills, Bills, Bills.” Which are not just great fun, they’re songwriting accomplishments. I know it’s cheesy but please, appreciate the stuttering vibrato Bey is doing — that stuff is HARD.
I was mildly surprised that there were so many songs about cheating on your boyfriend, since, you know, about fifteen years later she released another landmark album scorning cheaters around the world. Missy Elliott shows up to be a bad influence on “Confessions,” and Beyonce breaks out the vocal acrobatics for “Temptation.”
I would say my favorite brand of Destiny’s Child song, though, is the I-Rock-And-Nobody-Else-Ain’t-Shit song. See: “So Good,” a snarky retort to a former friend that didn’t want DC to succeed, and “Bug a Boo,” a song that you just WANT to relate to. “Now That She’s Gone” and “Hey Ladies” are more of the same, but that’s why they work. I could listen to songs about how great I am for forever.
I’ve written about how Kanye West’s unflagging belief in himself is part of what gives him a public image problem. Beyonce seems plagued by a similar issue. The otherwise excellent Texas Monthly article I referenced earlier concludes that Beyonce is “treating the making and selling of music like the making and selling of soft drinks, … It’s bad, ultimately, for music. But it’s good for business.”
Is it, though? Bad for music? How do you judge the purity of music? Or a musicmaker?
Sixteen years after Beyonce “Bad For Music” Knowles released Destiny Child’s second album, she released Lemonade, which some believe is the 32nd Greatest Album of All Time and is also one of the most carefully planned albums of all time. Surprise release date. Visual album. Confessional lyrics that make Emily Dickinson look like she’s holding her cards close to her chest. Can you think of a single music critic that wasn’t forced to acknowledge that Lemonade changed every single thing about music? Even Robert “Miserable” Christgau gave it an A-.
To say that Beyonce’s strategic approach to the music business is “bad for music” fundamentally misunderstands what music is. Go sing in your shower; go outside and listen to some birds. Beyonce can’t be any worse for music than an airplane can be bad for gravity. Some things just don’t go bad.
Fun Fact: “Outro (Amazing Grace…dedicated to Andretta Tillman)” was performed for woman who co-managed and invested in Girls Tyme. (And have you ever heard a more creative cover of this song?)
Not-So Fun Fact: The release of the music video “Say My Name” marked the exit of LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson, who basically accused Beyonce’s dad of favoring her, which I’m sure had no basis in reality at all.