Ten years since their split, the divas’ impact is everywhere (and we don't just mean the Bey-hive)
A lot of things have happened in the last ten years. We started owning phones that might explode at any moment, London was bought by Foxtons and transformed into a phallic skyline of wealth, and emojis overtook words as our preferred mode of communication. Most importantly, though, we’ve had to get used to a life without Destiny’s Child (prayer hands emoji), the American R&B girl band that ruled the late 90s and early 00s, shaping the music that now dominates our Soundcloud choices (or mine, at least).
What was once the soundtrack of a shared youth has now become a major influence on what that same generation is singing, rapping and dancing about. Without a hint of rose tint, Destiny’s Child legitimately transformed the sound of R&B forever, especially in the years following their disbandment, when the Tumblr-hungry generation devoured the every move, style and sound of Beyoncé, Kelly, Michelle, LaTavia, LeToya and Farrah.
It’s now been ten years since Kelly Rowland announced the group’s split on stage at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, before the band confirmed the news in an exclusive statement to MTV. To mark this time-stopping occasion, we’ve pinpointed the ways that Destiny’s Child changed the game, and why their distinct influence can be found peppered all over today’s pop landscape, from Tinashe to Ariana Grande.
THEY PIONEERED YOUR FAVOURITE DOUBLE-TIME VOCAL STYLE
"Question: Tell me what you think about me, I buy my own diamonds and I buy my own rings." That line from the Charlie’s Angels mega hit "Independent Women" can only be sung in one way: a smooth, in-and-out double-time that we have come to associate with the late 90s and early 00s. It's a style that still dominates the airwaves: crank up Tinashe's Aquarius to 100, and you can hear the exact same intonation on lines like "I’m-a blow your mind, take it out on the floor like that" in "All Hands on Deck" or the half-sung, half-rapped flow ("If we pretend that I’m happy when I’m really not, pretend that I give you everything I got") on "Pretend" featuring A$AP Rocky.
Jon Pareles described this vocal style in The New York Times following the band's split. "The sound that defines Destiny's Child is the way its melodies jump in and out of double-time," he wrote. "Above brittle, syncopated rhythm tracks, quickly articulated verses alternate with smoother choruses."
Parales speculated that the trick was introduced to the music because Queen Bey couldn’t do it any other way. "The secret hidden by studio production is that Beyoncé can't keep up with the complex rhythms," he said. "Onstage, she kept falling behind. But given a wordless moan or a chance to swoop through a phrase, she was superb." Yeah, whatever.
THEY CLOCKED ON TO OUR DIGITAL ANXIETIES
In 1999, TLC released FanMail, a pioneering album that aestheticised internet loneliness and honed in on the very real problem of too much communication. Destiny's Child addressed those fears just as plainly in the same year: "Have AOL make my emails stop," they sang on "Bug A Boo", a track about some guy and his non-stop digital pestering.
The song speaks to the post-internet generation louder than ever. "It's not hot that when I'm blockin' your phone number, you call me from over your best friend's house", they sing over bass thuds and sample-lifted string patterns. "It's not hot that I can't even go out without my girlfriends, without you tracking me down". It's a line that sounds almost throwaway, but holds real weight in the era of cyber stalking, revenge porn and pervasive social media giants.
Post-internet sadness is, of course, now beautifully commonplace among our favourite R&B-ers, from the dead-eyed, autotuned Sad Boys mastermind Yung Lean, to the scrawled, Tumblr-hating words found on Drake’s Blog and the (anti)social media in the glossy effervescence of a Rae Sremmurd vid. It’s worth remembering that Destiny’s Child did this first, right before the clock swung to Y2K and we stepped through the internet looking-glass definitively.
The divas’ second album The Writing's on the Wall made superstars of the group back in 1999, becoming one of the biggest-selling R&B albums of all time. Behind the smooth-as-cream choruses of "Confessions", the drum-laden "Get on the Bus" and the slow-jam rework of "Say My Name" were long-time collaborators Missy Elliott and Timbaland, who produced and wrote some of Destiny's Child's fiercest creations and were instrumental in shaping the R&B landscape of the time, from Aaliyah's One in a Million to Missy's own Miss E… So Addictive.
I miss Destiny's Child so much.— Ariana Grande (@ArianaGrande) November 7, 2012
THEY PERFECTED THE ART OF A TIGHT HARMONY
When V Magazine observed a connection between Ariana Grande and five-octave falsetto queen Mariah Carey, the pop singer shut them down, saying: "When you hear my entire album, you’ll see that Mariah's sound is much different from mine." Instead, she name-checked Destiny’s Child as her prime source of vocal inspiration. "That's where I discovered my range. I grew up listening to Destiny's Child. I would try so hard to mimic Beyoncé's little runs and ad-lib things. They are so precise. It's like math. Remember the Destiny's Child version of ‘Carol of the Bells’? I took it apart, put it in GarageBand, and dissected it all. That's how I learned about harmonies and runs and ad-libs. Thank you, Destiny's Child!"
These precisely harmonised vocal arrangements are exemplified on their third album Survivor, where they all take turns at lead vocals. "Everybody is a part of the music," Beyoncé told MTV ahead of the release. "Everybody is singing lead on every song, and it’s so great – because now Destiny's Child is at the point vocally and mentally that it should be at. It's just great to be a part of this group."
DC's honey-dripping harmonies are, in turn, indebted to Motown pioneers The Supremes – and, later on, the silvery and sultry runs of Janet Jackson, but it was the Beyoncé and co that wrapped these arrangements in a fresh, millennium-friendly packaging and delivered them to a generation raised on MTV and Kiss FM.
"INDEPENDENT WOMEN" BECAME A 00s MANTRA
While feminism has become a spiderweb of threads over the past ten years, turn-of-the-millennium R&B was all about third-wave feminist ideals centred around uber-capitalist power and not relyin' on no man (see also: TLC's "No Scrubs"). Nowhere is this idea more prominent than in Destiny's Child's "Independent Women", where the sweepingly infectious chorus goes: "All the women who are independent, throw your hands up at me / all the honeys who makin' money, throw your hands up at me."
Putting aside for a second the fact that this arguably propagates heteronormative stereotypes – and also that it acted as the lead soundtrack to Charlie's Angels (a film based on three women who work for one, unseen male millionaire) – the track still holds up as a mantra of female strength, vocal assertiveness and closing the gender wage gap.
"'Independent Women' continues an argument expressed in an earlier Destiny's Child song, 'Bills, Bills, Bills', which harangues a gentleman for not paying his way in a relationship," Laura Barton commented in The Guardian in 2007. "(But) 'Independent Women' goes further, explaining that a woman should not require a man to buy her shoes, house, automobile or the 'rocks' she is 'rockin'' but should instead head out to find gainful employment and, therefore, financial liberation. (The bit about Charlie's Angels and Lucy Liu is pretty superfluous and should probably be ignored.)”
THEY HAD A DANCE BATTLE WITH THEMSELVES
There's a moment in the video for militaristic 2004 banger "Lose My Breath" where Beyoncé dances as if she’s applying make-up with a compact mirror, like a reincarnation of Paris is Burning legend Will Ninja, before blowing what looks like white powder into the face of another version of herself. It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment that encapsulates the over-the-top, enduring brilliance of DC at their best.
And this is without mentioning the premise behind the visual, whereby some mid-00s visual effects make it look like there are three differently styled versions of Destiny's Child ('sassy', 'classy' and 'street') battling against each other in a back alley, dropping down low and bump-'n'-grinding up against muscle-clad onlookers. While dance battles have always been a fixture in the traditional R&B music vid, we've yet to see one executed with such eclipsing style.