Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ 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.
Let’s scale the clock back all the way to December 1999. Promotion for Destiny’s Child sophomore effort, The Writings On The Wall, was in full swing when rumblings of internal conflict started emerging in the mainstream media. Reports soon surfaced that group members Letoya Luckett and Latavia Roberson had filed a lawsuit against dadager Matthew Knowles for withholding the group’s profits and unfairly favoring daughter Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland. By the time the video for their second single “Say My Name” rolled around, Luckett and Roberson (and many die-hard DC fans) were shocked to discover that two new members, Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin, had replaced them, effectively eradicating their long-standing status as band members.
And so began a trend that spilled over to many of our favorite girl groups at the time: TLC became embroiled in their own bouts of drama, with rapstress Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes at the center, while the Spice Girls were busy putting the finishing touches on their final album, Forever — sans departed member Geri Halliwell. This, along with the commercial decline of acts like SWV, En Vogue and 702, begged the question: Was the age of the “girl group” becoming antiquated ?
Fast forward to November 2000: Destiny’s Child’s Charlie’s Angels soundtrack contribution “Independent Women” had begun an 11-week streak atop the Billboard Hot 100. Only this time, there were still some lineup changes. Farrah Franklin had already departed the group, and from then on, the fearsome foursome was a trio. The question of whether the newly formed lineup of Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle would be able to recapture past success was a hotly contested debate.
They had their detractors. A small portion of the record-buying public clung to the idea that their much-anticipated follow-up would be a comedown from the cache of cheeky tunes that effectively put “trifling, good-for-nothing type of” men on blast. Eager to prove their naysayers wrong, Destiny’s Child’s follow up, the aptly titled Survivor, arrived less than two years after its predecessor and quickly vaulted to the top of the Billboard 200, eventually going quadruple platinum less than a year after its release.
Conceptually speaking, Survivor can be looked upon as the antithesis to The Writings On The Wall. Largely devoid of the “how to curb deadbeat men” playbook angle of its predecessor, Survivor was lined with R&B-infused pop songs that spoke of independence, sisterhood, female-to-female dynamics and the feeling of triumph that can only come after that occasional bump in the road.
First single “Survivor” was Destiny Child’s ode of redemption after overcoming the career woes that plagued them a year earlier. Built around an abrasive hip-hop instrumental, the song saw the girls abandoning the “scorned women” angle of their previous album in favor for some post-career woe-jubilee: “Wishing you the best, pray that you are blessed/Bring much success, no stress and lots of happiness.” Amidst all the reconciliatory vibes, the girls also afforded some time to sneak in a subtle jab at their naysayers (fictional or otherwise): “Now that your out of life, I’m so much better/ you taught that I’d be weak without you, now I’m stronger.” Needless to say, the tactic paid off and the single peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
But don’t get it twisted; the newly revamped trio was not afraid to get blunt. With songs like “Nasty Girl”, the girls of DC3 were quick to chin-check scantily clad women who were keen on using their bodies to get ahead: “These men don’t want no hot female that’s been around the block female, you nasty girl.”
All jokes aside, a trove of the album’s lyrics were crafted by Beyoncé, with some production assistance from J.R Rotem, Cory Rooney, Anthony Dent, and Rob Fusari (pre-Lady Gaga). Destiny’s Child were not afraid to experiment with different sounds and textures, incorporating elements of rock and gospel in their music catalogue.
Hook up your seat belt, it’s time for takeoff
We’d be remiss if we strolled down memory lane without mentioning “Bootylicious”, undoubtedly the group’s signature song post-Y2K. Built around a guitar riff lifted from Stevie Nicks’ iconic “Edge Of Seventeen,” “Bootylicious” was the go-to anthem (and catchphrase) for curvaceous women on both sides of the Atlantic, at least in the early 2000s. Hard to believe, the single remains the last song by a girl group to top the Billboard Hot 100. (Yes, you read that right). Its success is further punctuated by the fact the single’s name was included into the Oxford English Dictionary.
Overall, the sonics on Survivor stride seamlessly between buoyant tracks (“Happy Face”) and soft balladry (“Dangerously In Love”). The virtue of sisterhood that binds the trio together is amplified in what is perhaps the album’s low key moment: A cover of the Bee Gees-penned Samantha Sang classic, “Emotion.” Peaking at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, the single perhaps is memorable for the girls hushed vocal performance (almost akin to a lush lullaby) over a simple guitar arraignment. In particular, the soft vocal timbre of then-recent group inductee Michelle Williams remains an impeccable standout.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Survivor is that it has aged beautifully. A tightly knit hodgepodge of post-’90s R&B rooted in pop regalia, it stands as an intimate portrait of young women’s ability to exude sisterly vibes amidst the growing pains that often come in the throes of adulthood, turn pain into passion and dare we say, lemons into lemonade.