Album Review: Destiny's Child - Survivor

Album Review: Destiny's Child - Survivor | Random J Pop

At the time of Survivor's release I didn't like the album at all. But I told myself that it wasn't that bad, because I didn't want to admit that my expectations following the The Writing's on the Wall were shattered. But I could only do that for so long.

This album isn't good y'all. It's a mess.

Album Review: Destiny's Child - Survivor | Random J Pop

Following the release of "Independent Women" and the Survivor album, the Destiny's Child machine had become what Mathew Knowles had always intended it to be. There was no way in hell he was going to let the departures of LeToya, LaTivia and Luggage fuck up the vision. Whilst Destiny's Child were built on the foundations of groups such as The Supremes, EnVogue and also TLC, many beats of their career seemed to follow that of Mariah Carey. Having Beyoncé be credited as a songwriter on every song, working with Jermaine Dupri and the Trackmasters, a Christmas album and their approaches to remixes. But one thing Mariah never would have done is put out an album as messy as this. Never. She also actually writes all of her own songs.

Survivor wasn't about creating a great, everlasting album of quality music. It was Mathew Knowles just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks for hits, with a bunch of eggs in a bunch of baskets, all belonging to Beyoncé.

Survivor was an album of agendas. Destiny's Child were always going to release a third album following the success of The Writing's on the Wall, no matter what the line-up was. There had to be something put out to show that the group could continue in spite of two line-up changes within the space of weeks. But Survivor was also a vehicle for Beyoncé, as you could argue Destiny's Child always was. Survivor was a statement that the group could continue because of her. But it was also Mathew starting to build Beyoncé's portfolio. On The Writing's on the Wall, writing credits were split pretty evenly between the members of Destiny's Child. But on Survivor, Beyoncé is listed as a songwriter on all but one song, with Kelly and Michelle only being listed as songwriters for the album outro, where the girls literally just recite the Thank You's which are printed in the inlay.

Much of the Survivor press included Beyoncé talking about how she wrote all of these songs and how she came up with some of them, with stories and claims surfacing since that she was lying through her lacefront. Beyoncé not writing any of her own songs has been a long on-going thing. I don't believe that she does. I'm not precious about an artist writing their own songs. But claiming credit for doing so when they haven't. That's messy. But I'm not getting into all of that here, because it doesn't really have a bearing on the quality of this album. But Survivor is the origin story of Beyoncé's career as a songwriter and producer for those who are interested.

Album Review: Destiny's Child - Survivor | Random J Pop

With Destiny's Child now being a three-piece, and Beyoncé doing the press rounds talking about how better the group is as a result and shadily saying how it's great to have a line-up of members who can all sing. Michelle couldn't be played how LaToya and LaTivia were in the wake of this. So Survivor is notable for being the first Destiny's Child album where each member gets their own solo moment on songs. It's very much still about Beyoncé, but those other two get their seconds in the spotlight. Albeit  a spotlight with far dimmer bulb than Beyoncé's. Although Michelle still gets the short end of the stick, she gets more of a stick than LeToya or LeTivia got, and she gets more airtime on songs on Survivor than Kelly got on The Writing's on the Wall. Michelle is usually relegated to a short bridge or just ad-libs near the end of a song, but some of her moments on songs are actually my favourites. Her verse on "Survivor" coming right after going toe-to-toe with Beyoncé was a great introductory moment to hearing her sing. Bitch. I thought that shit was an delay / echo of Beyoncé's vocals until I watched the music video and saw it was Michelle. And even with all the screaming, runs and crazy high notes Beyoncé hits on "Emotion", Michelle's ad-libs on the chorus are my favourite part of the whole thing. It's a shame she didn't get bigger parts on songs, but I'm sure even Beyoncé and Mathew wondered if Michelle would stick it out the way she did, which may be why she wasn't given anything substantial.

Album Review: Destiny's Child - Survivor | Random J Pop

The sound of Survivor was different to The Writing's on the Wall in every single way. The Writing's on the Wall was an R&B album. Survivor is a pop album. There are R&B moments littered throughout, but all in all, Survivor is absolutely a pop album. And not even a good one. Your love for Destiny's Child is what this album hinges on, because the whole thing is so lacklustre and light on what you were hoping for from a follow up to the slick The Writing's on the Wall. So if you were coming into this album expecting another a "So Good" a "Confessions" or a "Hey Ladies" then you may as well catch a cab or  get on the bus, because this album ain't the one.

"Independent Women (Part 1)" was a very clever and somewhat deceptive lead single, because it carried through the narrative of a song like "Bills, Bills, Bills" and also shared similarities with its sound. But it was also incredibly clever, because it perfectly straddled the line between pop and R&B to a point where it sitting on a pop album doesn't feel any weirder than if it were sat on an R&B album. If Survivor turned out to be an R&B album, it'd make sense between the song and Destiny's Child's previous material. But if it turned out to be pop, it would also make sense because "Independent Women (Part 1)" at its core is pop. The thing with "Independent Women (Part 1)" however is that you can't base Survivor on it. Even though at one point the album shared its title. With The Writing's on the Wall you could say that if somebody liked "Bills, Bills, Bills" then they'd really dig the rest of the album. But with "Independent Women (Part 1)", you can't say either or. There's nothing else on the album which sounds or feels even remotely like it. Even "Independent Woman (Part 2) sounds absolutely nothing like it.

Survivor in many ways feels like a reboot of Destiny's Child, which they were afforded, because they weren't the same group that they were when "Bug-a-Boo" or "Say My Name" came out. So it granted Destiny's Child a chance to try something different and edge into a market where pop was dominating, at a time when there was no other girl group at the time for them to complete with. Even with how raggedy I think Survivor is, I can't say that Mathew and the girls blew it, because Survivor and its singles were all huge successes and did exactly what they intended to. 

But, this shit is pretty rough though. Especially coming off the back of an album where the song structures were so tight and the production was so clean. Some songs genuinely sound like unfinished demos. Songs like "Nasty Girl", "Sexy Daddy", "Apple Pie a la Mode" and the Bulk & Skull sounding-ass "Independent Woman (Part 2)" all sound like incomplete songs. They do slap and will make the cheeks jiggle. But there is no real finesse to any of them. They are just noise and Destiny's Child's vocals don't shine on all of them. I don't even know why we got an "Independent Women (Part 2)" when it's nowhere near as good as Part 1. It completely drops the ball on what made Part 1 so good, and there is a complete disconnect between the music and the lyrics.

Album Review: Destiny's Child - Survivor | Random J Pop

There are some finessed and fitting moments on this album though. The song "Fancy" is great. Slick production. Catchy hook. Great vocals. It woulda made a damn fine single. This is one of the few and possibly only moments on the album where we get any semblance of the Destiny's Child we got on The Writing's on the Wall, which is probably due to production coming courtesy of Tony! Toni! Toné!'s D'wayne Wiggins who also has production credits on the Destiny's Child album that I can't stop mentioning. Then there's "Emotion", which is a cover of a song written by the Bee-Gees, originally released by Samantha Sang and then released by the Bee-Gees themselves. It's a beautiful cover with a completely different vibe to the versions which came before. For the 3 minutes and 56 minutes of this song, you almost forget the nonsense you've been listening to for the past half an hour. It truly is gorgeous and a defining moment for Destiny's Child on this album.

Depending on which version of this album you're listening to, you also get the songs "Perfect Man" and "Dance With Me", the former having featured on the Romeo Must Die Soundtrack. It's an anybody song, but it's a cute and it's fun. It fits in so well with some of the other songs on the album that I'm surprised that it wasn't made part of the standard tracklist for all editions of the album. Especially given how big the Romeo Must Die soundtrack was off the back of the success of Aaliyah's "Try Again". "Dance With Me" was originally a duet featuring then fellow Columbia artist Sygnature. Lord knows what happened to him. But this was a song I'd heard with him on it long before Survivor came out. I may have even heard it before the song "Survivor", as my local radio station used to play the shit out of it. "Dance With Me" is a really nice song. As per "Perfect Man" it fits the album so well that it should have been a part of the standard tracklist, although they should have retained a male guest feature. If Sygnature was no longer a viable fit for whatever reason, they could have gotten someone else. Usher would've been a great fit. "Dance With Me" is also one of four songs on Survivor which is pretty much a solo Beyoncé song. I know we could joke that all Destiny's Child songs are Beyoncé solo songs. But Kelly and Michelle aren't even doing background vocal duties on some of these songs. "Dance With Me", "Brown Eyes", "My Heart Still Beats" and "Dangerously In Love" are all solo Beyoncé songs. Mathew wasn't even trying to hide who the Child of Destiny was. Y'all remember when I mentioned that Mariah Carey was a template for Destiny's Child? I wasn't blowing steam outta my ass. Because "Brown Eyes" and "My Heart Still Beats" are written and produced by Walter Afanasieff, who is known for his work with Mariah Carey, having produced for 8 of her albums, including her Christmas album and the eternal hit "All I Want for Christmas Is You". Both "Brown Eyes" and "My Heart Still Beats" are really, really nice songs, and two of the few songs on this album that I still listen to, and are in my Love Songs and Bitch, I'm Alone playlists. "My Heart Still Beats" is another song which isn't on every edition of Survivor though.

Album Review: Destiny's Child - Survivor | Random J Pop

My issue with Survivor isn't that it's pop or that it isn't The Writing's on the Wall. It's that there is no cohesiveness and that the brand of pop that we get on this album is so fourth rate. There are so many producers that Mathew and Teresa LaBarbera Whites could've hit up to have given Destiny's Child great pop songs. This shit was released in 2001. Great pop producers were in abundance. And yet we got *gestures* this. "Bootylicious" has its charm, but the "Edge of Seventeen" sample is so damn catchy due to it sounding so similar to "Eye of the Tiger", that it pretty much carries the song. "Happy Face" is cute, but I really didn't need to hear Destiny's Child singing over the Moo Moo Farm music from Mario Kart 64.

Survivor is all over the fucking place and there is no quality control. There are songs on it which are really nice. Songs which could have been great. And songs which are just plain terrible. It also feels like some of the songs were recorded during different periods and points when nobody really knew what the group line-up was gonna be when this album came out, or the shape that it was going to take sonically. And rather than really focus on the latter, Mathew and Columbia Records said 'Fuck it' because "Independent Woman (Part 1)" was such a massive hit and the line-up change drama was still causing big enough waves for them to ride with the album title track to then be a single.

Survivor wasn't an album about creating a musical legacy with Destiny's Child. It was about seizing opportunities and starting the groundwork to secure publishing for Beyoncé. The music was an after thought, and you can hear it in this album as a body of work.

In retrospect, as messy as this album is, I don't think we would have gotten an album like Beyoncé's 2006 B'Day without it. The loudness, the brashness and the boldness of B'Day, the origins of all of that is in this album in songs like "Sexy Daddy". And the tenderness of songs such as "Emotion", "Brown Eyes" and "My Heart Still Beats" carried through to the I Am... disc of Beyoncé's 2008 album I Am... Sasha Fierce. But regardless of the musical impact this album may have had, on its own, it is far too unrefined and unfocused.

Destiny's Child were too damn talented and had worked with too many fellow talented folk prior to this album to put out something this basic and messy. There are so few stand out moments on this album to make it stick. Songs which are okay, but could have been better. Songs which are good, but could have been great. Songs which just go absolutely nowhere and have me wondering how they ever made the album, and if there really wasn't anything better to take their place.


■ Independent Woman (Part 1)
■ Fancy
■ Dance With Me
■ Emotion 🏆 J's fave
■ Brown Eyes