Before we get into it, I again must implore any fans and members of the now infamous Beyhive to not come for me. This is a journey, my loves. Where I begin is not where I end (for the most part).
With that in mind, I’m going to unpack my complicated relationship with one Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.
Of course, as with everyone else who’s on this train, my journey began with Destiny’s Child. Somewhere in the early parts of 1998 …. Wait… Damn … it’s been 20 years?! Good lord, we’re old, y’all!
Ahem, anyway. There was suddenly this group on the radio with great harmonies and I was instantly invested. The lead singer’s voice was … interesting to say the least. An overabundance of vibrato and a thin tone that I just wasn’t feeling. But the song was a tune. You know there are just some voices that you’ll abide for the amount of time it takes the song to end, especially if the track slaps like this one did. The song …?
Now, at the time I was a very huge Fugees fan. Needless to say, anything Wyclef Jean attached himself to I was all for it. That, more than the group initially, is what piqued my interest. I wasn’t really all that interested in the vocal that was up front. She didn’t do much for me. But I adored the dynamic of the group, at least in terms of how their differing ranges played off each other. There was something distinctly old-school about the makeup, something pure and unfettered by a lot of the same over-the-top drama and power dynamics I’d seen in a lot of the groups I’d loved in the past (Xscape, SWV). Of course, what did I know about the inner workings of the groups — particularly since not long after their first couple singles, the original lineup would shift. But more on that later.
“No, No, No” definitely had flare, something that grabs your attention and holds on to it, at least until the next bop on the radio swings through. However, it didn’t leave too much of a lasting impression on me.
Then, “Bills, Bills, Bills.” (they certainly had a love of repeating words several times, didn’t they?)
From the same album (“The Writings on the Wall,” and yes I still have my copy of the CD), “Bills, Bills, Bills” was an anthem in the time of anthems. In that same time frame we got the iconic “No Scrubs” from the legendary TLC. In fact, there were whispers among many that Destiny’s Child was in line to take over the helm of bad-ass, girl power groups at what was a tumultuous time for their predecessors in both TLC and the Spice Girls (who’d gone mostly silent since the departure of Geri Halliwell). The young group was still in its infancy, but they proved to have an uncanny ability to produce hits, songs that women could relate to, see much of themselves in. They were independent females who had no time for the whims of ne’er-do-well lovers, and they kicked any wannabe lothario to the wayside all while doing hair and going to the clubs.
All this, and the one they were pushing as the lead singer still did absolutely nothing for me. Her voice was … decent. I was more invested in the dark-skinned vocal goddess that was apparently the second lead, one Ms. (at the time) Kelly Rowland. However, as I’d soon learn at the wise age of 13, dark-skinned girls were pushed to the side or all the way to the back to make more room for their light-skinned bandmates (I’m looking at you, 3LW, real hard). Despite all that, no one could deny the catchiness of all their tunes. Between 1998 and 2002, Destiny’s child would lose founding members LaTavia Roberson and LaToya Luckett, recruit small-town church singer Michelle Williams and release hit after hit after hit, culminating in the undeniable jam “Lose My Breath.”
Clearly, this was a group meant for great things. However, as happens with groups, there’s always the one in the center, the one the record company (or manager father) pushes up front. It was obvious very early on that Beyoncé was meant to fill that particular role. It became clear to anyone paying attention that the group, at least as far as those in control were concerned, was just a means to an end.
I still didn’t get it. She was cute — they all were. She could strut around in cute midriff-baring costumes, as could they all. But her voice was just unimpressive to me and left me a little confused. How in a group with as dynamic a vocal as Rowland is this one the standout? You mean the one with all that the unnecessary and overerxaggerated vibrato? So, okay, understanding the inner dynamics of the black community, I get it. The one with the fairer skin is the one that appeals to the wider audience — black enough to obviously be part of the community but light enough for white folks to accept and buy what she’s selling. Of course, within the black community, Beyoncé was regarded as the pinnacle of black beauty, what every black woman should aspire to be. That coupled with what I perceived as just mediocre vocal ability left a bad taste in my mouth, a sour funk that I wouldn’t be able to scrape off for years.
It’s unfair to say Beyoncé had anything to do with that implicitly. But it did nothing to endear her to me.
When Destiny’s Child inevitably fizzled out to make way for their “shining star,” I quickly lost interest. I wasn’t of the mind to give my attention to someone I wasn’t even invested in from the start. This would be my mindset for the next several years following the group’s last album.