A year before Destiny’s Child released Survivor, my mom found and quickly confiscated Lil Kim’s Notorious K.I.M. album from my room. She hadn’t heard it, but with a tracklist that included titles like “Suck My Dick” and “How Many Licks?,” she could deduce pretty quickly that the rapper’s M.O.—combined with her snarling, topless, and unnaturally orange pose on the album cover—had no place in my still-developing psyche.
What was approved-listening, however, was Destiny’s Child’s Survivor. These were the girls who had, sure, delivered mixed messages—between their previous album’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Bug-A-Boo,” did they want homeboy to pay for their phone, or did they want MCI to cut its calls? Which is it?—but had done so over such catchy hip-pop beats that parents somehow felt strangely comfortable with their daughters chanting “Say my name, say my name…”
Anyway, this was Survivor, released May 1, 2001. The ladies had finally dropped their dead weight (see: LaToya, LaTavia, and Farrah), solidified their lineup, and were feeling reinvigorated after months of catching media flack. I printed out the album’s lyrics, made a packet, gave it to equally-obsessed friends, and fell down the all-encompassing black hole that is Beyonce—which, these days (all praise be to her secret album releases), feels hella normative but, back then, was a brand-new experience, guys.
Now, what an adolescent-me could easily recognize while listening to Survivor, with tinges of commiserating pity, was that Kelly was clearly second-lead and that Michelle had been demoted to truncated third verses and arguably out-of-tune adlibs, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that 19-year-old Beyonce had finagled her way into the writing and production credits of every damn song on the album—save for their cover of the Bee Gees’ “Emotion,” even though you know Papa Knowles probably tried—ultimately foreshadowing for us her unmatched, even if cut-throat, work ethic for years to come.
Listening today, intact on Survivor are messages that Bey still slings. The entitled and whiny “Can you pay…?” request from 1999’s “Bills, Bills, Bills” was replaced with the sassy brag “I bought it!” on the 2001 album’s opening track “Independent Women, Part I.” And it’s a sentiment that we’ve heard as recently as, like, this morning on her latest album Lemonade; just listen to “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” its most threatening of tracks, when she spits: “And keep your money, I got my own.” Her, uh, self-awareness remains, too; Survivor’s PG-rated euphemisms like “jelly” from “Bootylicious” have since graduated to adult-only demands like “You can watch my fat ass twist, boy” on Lemonade.
But the most glaring changes from Survivor become evident soon. For an artist who just released an all-too-true album for the everywoman, based on their “journey of self-knowledge and healing,” Survivor’s “Nasty Girl” comes across as a tone-deaf slut-shaming anthem that borders on hypocrisy when Bey, who wore an ass-less onesie on her last tour, sings: “Swore you look cute, girl, in them dukes / Booty all out lookin’ trashy / Sleazy, put some clothes on.”
And considering Lemonade is laden with uncomfortably vulnerable confessions about her own insecurities, it’s hard to believe Bey would mock another woman now like she did then on Survivor's “Fancy”: “Baby, where’s your self-esteem / Find your own identity.” This taunt, from a woman who not only willingly admits to “going through your call list” on the latest LP, but passive-aggressively encourages her lover to call #BeckyWithTheGoodHair. And who, additionally, pleads with anxiety for answers to questions like: “I always paid attention, been devoted / Tell me, what did I do wrong?” and “If I wasn't me, would you still feel me? / Like on my worst day? Or am I not thirsty, enough?”
Survivor certainly captures its zeitgeist, but it’s mostly in the form of embarrassing slang like “celly” and “heezy.” In the long run, I prefer the Beyonce that most resembles every woman I know. (And I don’t mean physically because what the hell are those measurements, Bey? How?)