Finding My Destiny in Destiny's Child
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Destiny’s Child's eponymous breakthrough album. I for one am still basking in the afterglow of Beychella, but even more than her performance there, the songs of Destiny’s Child have marked times of growth for me. Three songs in particular influenced me deeply, so it's time to dive deep into my formative years and share the majesty of these queens.
No, No, No
I remember the first time I saw the music video for "No, No, No." My cousin was visiting from New Orleans, and my brother and I were with him as he broke past the parental locks on our TV to watch BET. There they were, hidden on the other side of the media’s tracks, the gorgeous teen queens who could sing and dance and guest star on Smart Guy. They were everything I wanted to be. They were telling boys no and exerting power. "No, No, No" is slow, and the lyrics are good, but as a single it underwhelmed. So they released a remix with Wyclef Jean, and that move took them to number one on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts: their first Top 40 hit.
But what this song really meant to me was more about how it connected me to other Black people. My neighborhood, my church, and my school were filled with people who didn’t look like me. I was surrounded by images of others as the standard. No one like me (besides MLK) got held up as someone worthy of imitation, no one like me shown as something other than a slave or victim.
Yet for the three minutes watching these queens on the screen, I got to see Black women celebrated. The visual was fascinating to me. It captured my imagination, and it gave me a vision of world that embraced positive and beautiful representations of Black women of all shades. It made me feel like maybe there was a place in this world for my Black body, too; that maybe I too would survive long enough to make a diss track that stunts on my haters while still keeping that “Bless their heart” Texan Christianity in it. "No, No, No" inspired me to dream of making a world where people don’t have to fight just to survive, but from the start are treated with the dignity and humanity that we all deserve.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my body. On the one hand, my immune system has always been good to me. I’ve never had the flu, I’ve never had strep, I have no food allergies, no asthma, my blood pressure is great, and my blood sugar levels have always been good.
But also, meanwhile, I've almost always been chubby. I played flag football for my private Christian elementary and middle school. Although I was great at defense, I was even better at eating snacks, joking and singing. I only played sports for two reasons: I wanted the attention of my dad, and sports might help me man up (read: "look more straight"). What’s funny is that it really just revealed my Queerness. One of the referees joked about how I belonged more in a comedy club than on a football field. Another referee once complimented my singing voice, because I’d get bored playing football and would start singing "Say My Name" or the refrain from "Bootylicious:" I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly…
Naming Black women is important in a world where Black women are often erased.
I had always thought my jelly was something to hide, to cover up, to make disappear. Being overweight meant being last in the pecking order. It was something to overcome, not to love and respect. But here, my patron saint Beyoncé had written a song that put the onus not on the jelly but on the beholder; it is the world that isn’t ready for the goodness jelly contains. She was right. Only a few years after Beyoncé was shamed in the media for being too fat, her thick physical features made their debut on reality TV: on White women from Real Housewives of Generic Rich White Person Town, to Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Society was finally ready for the jelly, just a “lighter” version of it.
Because Beyoncé learned to love her body, I learned to love mine. My desire to lose weight to appear more acceptable or more attractive dissipated. I feel at home in my body, and my feeling at home is in no small part due to Destiny’s Child. They used the attention they had, the visibility, the weight of their music to uplift bodies that too often are only used as comedic sidekicks for the skinnier or more muscular stars. With "Bootylicious," Destiny’s Child gave us another option, declaring that thicker people have been the stars of the story of humanity the whole time. Surprise!
Personally, it meant the world to me. It still means the world to me. I still think the lyrics to myself every time my mom comments about how much weight I’ve gained since high school. Sometimes when I’m on Tinder or some other dating app where I delicately try to sell myself on a dating market that is both oversaturated and lacking in substance, I remind myself that the people at Oxford have declared that “bootylicious” is a real word.
“After all of the darkness and sadness, soon comes happiness. If I surround myself with positive things, I’ll gain prosperity.”
I don’t subscribe to the name-it-claim-it theology hinted at in this song. I don’t believe that if you just ask God and believe, then good things will start happening. But this song got me through some tough times. I can't even list all the things I’ve survived, from depression to suicidal ideation, but I will always remember what it felt like to stand in an arena with other DC3 fans shouting the lyrics to "Survivor" while Beyoncé declared, “If you’ve survived racism, sexism, cancer, people being haters…this song is for you. You’re a survivor!” Just like that, after all the darkness and sadness, happiness came as I was surrounded by the positive energy of other stans.
It’s a life-changing thing to be in a room full of strangers you feel like you know because of a shared purpose. Some people find this feeling in temples, churches, synagogues, mosques, or other places of communal worship (as have I as a Christian in some churches) but I felt it most tangibly in that concert while this particular song played. Here we had a woman whose career and marriage and body had survived much, and she turned her pain into an anthem so others could survive too.
I think the most powerful thing about Destiny’s Child is that they’re still here. They genuinely love each other. Kelly has had the girls on her album, Talk A Good Game. Michelle had the girls on her album to sing the song "Say Yes," and when they performed it live at the Stellar Awards in Vegas, it brought the crowd to their feet. Sure, Beyoncé never has the girls on her albums, but she gave them cameos on the self-titled visual album and has brought them out for the Super Bowl, Coachella, and her Beyoncé Experience tour.
Destiny’s Child is still relevant today. It seems like "Bills, Bills, Bills" will never stop being a bop, and "Jumpin Jumpin," "Say My Name," and "Independent Woman Part 1" are all great songs that have transcended their place in time. Yet their staying power is found in the underlying message of Black women supporting other Black women. I want to be specific here because specificity is important: naming Black women is important in a world where Black women are often erased.
This group found its purpose in giving music to Black women that actually centered Black women, and they found themselves in a crowded field of contemporaries like Aaliyah, Lauryn Hill, India Arie, EnVogue, Diana Ross, Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, and 3LW, all of them presenting strong Black women in music and showing the world incredible new expressions of womanhood.
The last two decades have been harsh to Black women in music–from the scapegoating of Janet Jackson to the death of Aaliyah to the decline of Ms. Lauryn Hill–but DC3 is still standing, after the scandals, the rumors, the constant media scrutiny. They’re still here. They’re survivors. They remind me that we are survivors too. They give hope that Janet will get justice, that Ms. Lauryn will have her moment of restoration, that India Arie will get the radio play she deserves, that Jazmine Sullivan will be recognized for the superior vocal performances she delivers, that day Janelle Monae will be given her propers.