Destiny’s Child’s ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’ Turns 15: Backtracking
Backtracking is our recurring look back at the pop music that shaped our lives. Our friends may come and go, but we’ll be spinning our favorite albums forever.
With the tremendous success of TLC and the Spice Girls in the mid-’90s, girl groups from all around the world began popping up like wildfire! Sure, there were acts like Blaque, All Saints, B*Witched, and En Vogue — but the biggest stars in town were the four young girls behind Destiny’s Child. The Houston, Texas-bred group achieved stateside popularity with their self-titled debut album, but it was their sophomore effort that propelled them to superstar status.
After the release of 1998’s Destiny’s Child (which went triple-Platinum), the quartet went back into the studio a year later and dug deeper into concepts of relationships and empowering women, themes that ultimately became the inspiration behind 1999’s The Writing’s On The Wall. Taking notes from TLC’s Fanmail (which was released just five months prior), Destiny’s Child formed this album as a “how-to” guide of sorts, as they taught women how to deal with no-good men and to go after what they want in life. Lead singer Beyonce had a heavy hand in the writing process, but all-star R&B producers and writers like Kandi Burruss, Missy Elliot, Rodney Jerkins and Daryl Simmons played key roles as well.
During this era, there were changing faces in the lineup, tension between members and their manager Mathew Knowles, and media speculation of them possibly going solo (we’re looking at you, King Bey). But throughout the drama, Destiny’s Child was able to create a solid R&B album that sounds just as fresh in 2014 as it did in 1999. In celebration of its 15th anniversary today (July 28th), we take a look back at a record that helped to inspire independent ladies worldwide!
While not completely a concept album, The Writing’s On The Wall is shaped around 14 “Destiny’s Child’s Relationship Commandments.” The girls interweave various mottos like “Thou Shall Not Hate,” “Thou Shall Pay Bills,” and “Thou Shall Not Think You Got It Like That,” which serve as the album’s theme. Kicking it off is the track “So Good,” a cheeky kiss-off to the girls’ haters that is written and produced by Kevin “She’kspere” Briggs and Kandi Burruss (the mastermind duo behind TLC’s “No Scrubs, ” Pink’s “There You Go,” and multiple tracks on The Writing’s On The Wall). There is a thread of independence and confidence throughout the album, and it is evident that Destiny’s Child wanted to be a prime example for their young fans.
Following is the album’s first single, “Bills, Bills, Bills,” the ultimate independence anthem way before Survivor’s 2001 single “Independent Women Part 1.” The song’s video shows the girls working in a sophisticated-ratchet hair salon (a tribute to Mama Tina, perhaps?) while they read their boyfriends for filth!
The visual also includes the unforgettable pre-chorus sung by Kelly Rowland: “You triflin’, good for nothing type of brother/Silly me, why haven’t I found another?/A baller!/When times get hard, I need someone to help me out/Instead of a scrub like you, who don’t know what a man’s about.” YASSSSS Kelly — preach! “Bills, Bills, Bills” proved to be a success, earning the girls their very first chart-topper on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as two Grammy nominations.
Destiny’s Child — “Bills, Bills, Bills”
Despite the quartet constantly throwing shade at the fellas, they were definitely not afraid to own up to their own relationship mistakes. The Missy Elliot-produced “Confessions” paints them in a different light, as they explicitly admit to cheating on their no-good men. Sonically, the track resembles the signature style of TLC (sensual lyricism, Beyonce singing in a low register a la T Boz, the hip hop-influenced production, etc.). But overall, it is a refreshing track that pushed the girls’ boundaries and helped to solidify them as grown women.
Other songs that seemed to be borrowed from TLC’s playbook are “Temptations” (it gives off a sultry vibe similar to CrazySexyCool’s “Diggin’ On You”) and is the album’s second single, “Bug-A-Boo,” where Destiny’s Child have no shame in breaking down their men’s bravado. Looking back at songs like “Bug-A-Boo” is a bittersweet moment, as it was the last video that included former members LaToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson. But pushing the impending member shuffle aside, the fact that it is one of their lowest-charting singles (next to 2005’s “Girl” ) and the mentions of outdated technology like AOL, MCI and beepers, the song is a fan favorite and gets rotated on Beyonce’s solo tour setlists.
Destiny’s Child — “Bug-A-Boo”
The Writing’s On The Wall continues with a string of semi-standard R&B ballads based on love, with songs like “Now That She’s Gone,” “Where’d You Go,” and “If You Leave” featuring late-’90s R&B group Next (how’s that for a one-hit wonder throwback?). But the album gets a jolt of energy, thanks to the club-ready single “Jumpin, Jumpin!” Produced by Beyonce, Chad Elliot and Jovonn Alexander, this buzzy uptempo embodies the futuristic synth aesthetics that artists were furiously experimenting with as they came closer to the brink of Y2K. 15 years later, it’s a definite must-have on any girl’s playlist before they head out to the club and “find the fellas rolling in the Lexus, trucks and Hummers!”
Destiny’s Child — “Jumpin’, Jumpin’!”
One cannot look back at The Writing’s On The Wall without discussing “Say My Name”! Undoubtedly the group’s signature song, it introduced the world to their newest lineup, which by that point included Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin. This introduction was more awkward than seamless, especially when fans found out about the change during the video’s television premiere. (Fun fact: it was filmed shortly after the new members were added and they didn’t have time to learn choreography, which lead to an infamously basic video.) What made it even more of a messy version of musical chairs was that LaToya and LaTavia allegedly weren’t aware of the change and their original vocals remained on the song. Yikes!
But despite all of this, you cannot take away the legendary status of the song. It spent a staggering 32 weeks on the Hot 100 and is the group’s third best-selling single in the United States. From its flawless harmonies to its moody, 808s-driven production (thanks to Rodney Jerkins), “Say My Name” remains a Destiny’s Child classic that is loved by pop and R&B fans of all ages. It is so revered, in fact, that even Drake incorporated the famous hook into his 2013 song “Girls Love Beyonce.” (He has a thing for 90’s girl groups.)
Destiny’s Child — “Say My Name”
Aside from all the songs that dismiss the no-good men in their lives, the ladies of Destiny’s Child made sure to leave an important message for their listeners — especially their female fans. “Sweet Sixteen” is a heart-breaking yet relateable ballad that speaks about young girls who move too fast when it comes to finding men. The first half of the song is actually sung entirely by LaTavia, which is pretty noteworthy!
The Writing’s On The Wall went on to be certified eight-times Platinum in the States alone, and it gained not one, not two, but SIX Grammy nods in 2000 and 2001. It is also the fifth best-selling girl group album of all time, after the Spice Girls’ Spice and TLC’s CrazySexyCool,which goes to show just how much impact the record made worldwide. The album may be considered R&B, but it sits quite comfortably in numerous pop fans’ collections alongside classic chart-topping releases of that year like Britney Spears’ …Baby One More Time, Christina Aguilera’s self-titled album and Backstreet Boys’ Millennium.
The album is representative of a nostalgic era of pure R&B that is currently getting lost in a sea of repetitive EDM beats and flaccid, uninspiring lyrics. Rather than drowning in fuzzy, computerized productions, Destiny’s Child used smooth instrumentation that highlighted, not overshadowed, their velvety harmonies and honest lyrics.
Soon after the album’s release, Destiny’s Child went up in the rankings as one of the biggest musical girl groups of all time. And all the effort, hard work and musicality put into the timeless The Writing’s On The Wall ensured that we’d still be jumpin’ jumpin’ to the ladies’ hits 15 years later.