After two albums, an ever-changing cast of characters and an ever-spinning rumor mill, it’s almost too apparent why Destiny’s Child came to the consensus to name their third musical opus Survivor. Much like the reality show in which contestants willingly live on an island and attempt to outwit, outplay and outlast their competitors, the spunky trio of Michelle Williams, Beyonce Knowles and Kelly Rowland made a concrete effort to prove they were an R&B force that you couldn’t vote off just yet.
While the May 1, 2001 release wasn’t DC’s best album in terms of lyrical content, it was a seminal force in the female empowerment trend of the 21st century, serving as a love letter to body-positive, independent and fierce women all over the globe. Additionally, Survivor serves as the pièce de résistance in the group’s opulent-yet-turbulent few years in the limelight. While the group seemed to finally be set in stone, a brief hiatus soon after the album’s release signaled some major changes to come.
The album’s title track serves as a kiss-off to the group’s former members, La’Tavia Roberson, LeToya Luckett and Farrah Franklin. To critics and fans alike, it seemed as though DC’s ship was sunk after yet another line-up change in 2000. However, the song “Survivor” proved that negative notions and odds stacked against the girls only made the newly-solidified group more secure in their bold sound and look. As sung in the song, the three ladies planned on working harder and making music that could survive the industry and the test of time.
The album’s overall purpose, however, was to do what most girl groups aim for- to empower other women to be confident in their personal independence, individuality and femininity. “Independent Women Part I” celebrates the women who can buy their own diamonds and can pay their own bills sans man. It was so powerful, in fact, that it served as the theme song to the film centered around strong and confident women, Charlie’s Angels. “Fancy” discusses how certain women (who “know who they are”) need to stop swagger jackin’ in order to find their own sense of identity. “Bootylicious” turns the distinct rock riff from Stevie Nicks’ “Edge Of Seventeen” into a call-to-action for women to own their sexuality, curves and jelly.
Aside from the lusty serenades about irresistible men you’ll likely hear from an all-female act, the album also highlights DC3’s flexibility in experimenting with R&B, pop and gospel infused-sounds. The ladies put their spin on the timeless Bee Gees track “Emotion,” while “Gospel Medley,” acts as a modern take on the hymn “Jesus Loves Me.” “Independent Women Part II” is (lyrically) almost the same song as the album opener, however, different background music gives the song a whole new flavor, showing the group’s versatility within the genre.
Although the album was commercially successful (it was certified 5x platinum in the U.S.), there were rumors that things were still not copacetic behind-the-scenes. Beyonce had song-writing credits on almost all of the songs and had many of the lead singing parts, which allegedly led to jealousy among Kelly and Michelle. There was no denying that Bey was the star of the album, so it’s understandable why the group focused on individual music careers before re-uniting for 2004’s Destiny Fulfilled. Although the latter attempted to give each member their shine and was more advanced in terms of production and content, it was inevitable that the trio had to go their own ways in order to truly have their own musical and personal freedom.
Survivor is the kind of album Destiny’s Child needed to produce to catapult them to girl group superstardom. It was the kind of album they needed to produce to change the conversation about feminism in the music industry. It was the kind of album they needed to produce in order to showcase that they were “independent women” capable of being on their own as musicians. All three had different styles as singers and performers, so they needed to capitalize on their strengths in their own ways. It was bittersweet to see Destiny’s Child disband, but we got several solid albums amidst the closeted chaos. If they could survive the tumultuous early years of being in a girl group, they could surely survive the industry, and as time has shown, these ladies are surviving in their own right.