Oct 15


Popular66 comments • 6,246 views

#895, 28th April 2001

dc_survivor For a song that seems simple and repetitive, “Survivor” is rammed with hooks. Perhaps the least-remembered but most telling one comes a couple of minutes in, moments before Michelle Williams attempts to wrap a positive homily around the song’s unfettered will to power. “Whoa-oh” sings Beyoncé, and the other girls replicate it, and then pass little melismatic drills back and forth, repeating one another precisely. It’s a segment of abstract but perfect vocal choreography that works as a ritual of unity, a demonstration of the unbreakable closeness of Destiny’s Child. Which needs demonstrating, of course, since the song is generally taken to be a massive fuck-you to the band’s former members.

Its origins are the least attractive thing about “Survivor”. So far as we know, LeToya and LaTavia quit the group because they were sick of the dominance of the Knowles family onstage and behind the scenes. No doubt it pissed the remaining members off, but whether you frame the split as a bid for freedom or (as here) an act of sabotage, the departed pair were achieving no very great success afterwards. And once you know “Survivor” is about them, it can sound grossly disproportionate, a hellstorm of self-righteous fire unleashed for the pettiest of reasons. The song takes some pains to be transferable – “Now that you’re out of my life I’m so much better” could easily be aimed at a friend or lover. So could the rest of the lyric – most of it, anyhow: by the time Beyonce gets onto her sales figures the mask is slipping. And “Survivor”’s route to healing also fits a broken contract better than a broken heart. As the music falls away, we’re left with the backing vocals and their Stakhanovite chant: “WORK…WORK…WORK…WORK…”

As Laurie Anderson put it, when love is gone, there’s always justice. Not much justice here, you might say. But when justice is gone, there’s always force. And “Survivor” has force to spare. The track’s ever-cycling synth riff sets the tone – half church organ, half get-in-the-ring intro music. Behind it a newton’s cradle of snares is set in motion, an incessant, trebly, treadmill of percussion set over the beat. The impression is of relentless discipline, and the vocals confirm it. This era’s singles – “Independent Women” and “Bootylicious” too – are as churchy as modern R&B gets, building songs out of pulpit-ready rhetoric and aerobic call-and-response routines. “Survivor” is the finest example. The constant lyrical pattern, the chain of “thought I…but I….” is overwhelming. Even if a couple of the individual pieces lack inspiration (“Thought I couldn’t last without you, but I’m lasting”) it hardly alters the crushing effect. This is Beyoncé at her steeliest, her imperious side coming to full view. In future she’ll use it as part of her public persona, showing it on record only in flashes and glints. Here it powers the song.

What does this emergence mean for the other members of Destiny’s Child? They’re caught up in the flood: there is no space left by the vocals on “Survivor”, no moment to breathe, no gap for the beat. Kelly Rowland gets to play the superego to Beyoncé’s unleashed id, turning fury into deliciously insincere forgiveness. Her words are pure smarm – “Not gonna compromise my Christianity” – but the venom is all in the way she sings them, tight, purse-lipped runs of syllables punctuated by a barked “I’m better than that!” from her bandmates. It’s hilarious, and the contrast between Beyoncé’s wrath and Kelly’s poisoned graciousness is a perfect synopsis of how people act when they cut off a friend.

(Plus, it’s capped by the record’s funniest line. “Diss you on the Internet” sounded awkward then and now, but older media rarely manage to acknowledge newer media gracefully: besides, the Internet returned the compliment by turning the phrase into a meme.)

A point of comparison: for Gloria Gaynor, surviving was a decision you take, a positive choice in the face of abuse or adversity. For Destinys Child, survival is that too, but it’s also innate: a survivor is what you are, not what you do. The idea of “the fittest” hangs over the song (and not just because it’s becoming ever-clearer whose band this is). “Survivor”’s cyborg gospel takes this Darwinian impulse and wreaths it with an implied morality: Beyoncé survives because she is in the right. In this, the song reflects the emergent politics of its time as well as “I Will Survive” chimed with the liberation philosophies of the 1970s. You’re a survivor, because you’re gonna work harder. Survival is always deserved. As for the others? Let God sort it out.

Through that lens, “Survivor” is a horrible song. Sometimes it makes me flinch. But it’s also magnificent. There’s so much life to it, such drive – especially set against the will-this-do dreariness of British pop at the time. And that movement and life makes “Survivor” transcend its bitter inspiration and work not just as an intra-band kiss-off but as a cold blast against any false friend, liar or abuser who might cross your path. What pop does better than anything else does is to take feelings and situations, and crush and simplify them, making them immediate and thrilling and useful. It applies no moral filter. People feel self-righteous and wrathful, and so ultimately pop will product songs that are diamonds of self-righteousness and wrath. This is one of them: a church-inspired song that celebrates the dark joy of excommunication.



  1. 1
    Cumbrian on 16 Oct 2015 #

    Things worked out OKish for LeToya – I mean she’s not a multi-platinum music star but she was in Treme and has a small role on HBO’s Ballers (opposite ends of the quality spectrum perhaps but Ballers will be around for a bit by the looks of things), so she’s building her acting career nicely. Don’t know much about what happened to LaTavia though.

  2. 2
    mapman132 on 16 Oct 2015 #

    Peaked at #2 in the US. Even though it was just a coincidence of timing, I always equated this song with Survivor the TV show, which everyone in America except me seemed to be watching at the time. This coincidence did not endear me to the song, but 14 years later I can give it a fair shake and go 6/10.

  3. 3
    JLucas on 16 Oct 2015 #

    A forceful record indeed, and one that I find a lot easier to admire than to love. It’s so breathless, so titanium plated and completely lacking in vulnerability that it’s almost overwhelming. But once the initial impact has receded a little, the clunkiness and total lack of warmth start to become more apparent. Survivor is a blunt instrument of a pop song, and while it packs a heavy punch, the effect is ultimately heavy and inelegant.

    Not all pop music has to be warm and fuzzy of course, and Beyonce is at her most effective when she’s allowed to let militant and imperious tendencies run rampant. But I just don’t like her on this song – not (just) because she’s being mean to her ex-bandmates, but because she doesn’t sound like she’s having any fun whatsoever. She’s bristling and defensive, and while the chorus is a pretty effective call to arms, I don’t really want to be in Beyonce’s gang here, nor would I ever want to be as mad at anyone as she appears to be.

    Kelly’s smarm is almost as vicious in its own way, though it provides a much-needed break from her bandmates’ vengeful raging, and the internet line is indeed a classic.

    But my favourite part of the record is the brief contribution of Michelle Williams. By some distance the thinnest vocalist of the three, her two-line interjection sounds desperate and, frankly, a bit scared. In a break from the aggression (or passive aggression in Kelly’s case), she borderline-pleads “If I surround myself with positive things, I’ll gain prosperity”. She doesn’t sound like she’s contributing the note of forgiveness that would have considerably softened this record, so much as she does that she’s singing to reassure herself that she can get through this rancorous nightmare of a song. Her vocals sound half-buried, and her last line feels interrupted by the chorus just a couple of seconds too early, as if the song is telling her to shut the hell up. In the video she’s depicted clinging to a lifeboat in a raging storm, which is a pretty apt representation of both her place in the group at this point and her fate on this effective, but ultimately cold and unpleasant record.


  4. 4
    lonepilgrim on 16 Oct 2015 #

    In ‘Great Expectations’ Jaggers the Lawyer shares his cynical view with Pip: that there are two types of people: ‘the beaters and the cringers’. Beyonce and pals are determined not to be the latter so opt for the former. You think they might have decided that success was the best kind of revenge but the desire for retribution appears to have won out. The brittle fierceness of their rage supercharges the song with a compelling and irresistible energy. Musically, it is as precisely organised and directed as a Leni Riefenstahl movie; ugly sentiments choreographed with a steely will to power.

  5. 5
    Tom on 16 Oct 2015 #

    #3 On the LP version (which is the most accessable one now), the song ends with an intra-song skit which relieves the hammer-blow effect somewhat – “I will survive being sexy…” etc. Phew, now that’s all out of our system, let’s get on to “Bootylicious” (just as relentless in its way, of course).

    The extremity of it is part of what appeals to me, obviously. I’m not expecting anyone to be having fun. I don’t really like metal, so perhaps stuff like this is my metal substitute.

    (On the Survivor LP, there’s also the dreadful “Nasty Girl”, which is an example of DC being mean that absolutely falls flat, not least because it makes absolutely no sense after Bootylicious. Nice Tarzan Boy swipe, though.)

  6. 6
    JLucas on 16 Oct 2015 #

    #5 For angry songs to work for me, they have to be leavened either by an undercurrent of sadness or humour. Even most metal songs (in my limited experience) seem to come from a place of pain. As this exhibits no trace of either, all you’re really left with is malevolence, which is only really fun for me at its most cartoonish.

    I remember Nasty Girl as it was a radio single. Utter dreck. Bootylicious is much more in line with what I enjoy about Destiny’s Child – plus the Edge of Seventeen sample is always welcome. But it was heavily overplayed and never quite recovered in my affections.

    This is actually the last of the group’s #1s to date, so I’ll say that my favourite song from them post ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’ is Lose My Breath, which manages to rival this song for sheer energy, but is also a lot more fun.

  7. 7
    Ronnie on 16 Oct 2015 #

    By some distance one of the worst hit songs of the year, and possibly of all time. It’s an ugly, joyless, bullying song, backed with some of the thinnest, worst production I can remember in a hit song. Beyonce eventually ascended to godhood, and it is only this newer version of her that I can really appreciate, which I don’t hear on “Survivor.” The horribly dated backing track and a very young Beyonce’s callow vocals remind me only of a spoiled rich kid talking about things she knows nothing about. I legitimately enjoy Limp Bizkit’s stupid, stupid, ungodly stupid but at least energetic “Rollin'” more than this. [1]

  8. 8
    flahr on 16 Oct 2015 #

    Big big playground hit (probably not its intended audience), probably because it’s so repetitive. Funnily enough even though I’m certain there must have been some childish chorus alteration I can’t actually remember how said alteration went. Made marginally more amusing by me mishearing the chorus as having the lines “I’m not a skiver/I’m gon’ work harder”.

  9. 9
    Mark M on 16 Oct 2015 #

    I’m not too keen on the sentiment, but I think my problem with it is more the shoutiness. I also think of it as stompy, but that might just be due to the video. The Kelly bit is easily the highlight – much closer to the nimbleness of The Writing’s On The Wall singles.

  10. 10
    AMZ1981 on 16 Oct 2015 #

    As with Independent Women before it I don’t have a problem with this, I just don’t particularly like it. Perhaps more tellingly I can’t really think of anything interesting to say about it. I suppose the most notable thing about it is that it has aged a lot better than the number one singles around it. Also that Destiny’s Child would never top the chart again although Bootylicious came close and in 2004 Lose My Breath was one of the unluckiest number two singles of the decade.

    Survivor was at the helm of a top four of new entries, marking the end of an unusually static phase that began with Whole Again. Without it we’d have to discuss Ronan Keating’s risible attempt to rock out on Lovin’ Each Day with Liquid Dreams by O’Town at three and Missy Elliot at four with Get Ur Freak On as she entered the most fertile phase of her career.

  11. 11
    Revelator on 16 Oct 2015 #

    A reminder of the terrible quality of the radios I (then 12 and fast switching my attentions to classical) tended to listen to pop music on at the time: I honestly had no idea until least 5 years later what they were singing in the verses. (Thanks, YouTube.) Seen as an anthem, as I saw it at the time, it sounds pretty good, with the mock-classical strings and sizzling vocals. Seen up close, a classic case of punching down being less attractive than punching up: it’s a lot of fun, but it seems to anticipate cyberbullying more than anything else, unconvincing denial and all.

    Also worth seeking out: a contemporary live performance on Letterman with a full band and a very aggressive guitar sound, surely the closest this group ever came to hard rock?

  12. 12
    Ed on 17 Oct 2015 #

    Where Independent Women Part 1 was casual and half-arsed, a great chorus in search of a song, this is fully realised in every detail, from the wintry string intro to the tension-breaking segue into Bootylicious. And form follows function, because where that song was about enjoying the fruits of success, this is about how you get them.

    “Stakhanovite” is the word I was going to use, too. The intro sounds like something a cowed Shostakovich might have written to celebrate a hero of Soviet labour, but repurposed to celebrate individual rather than collective fulfillment. And while the lyrics sites suggest the backing vocals are asking “what, what”, like Tom I hear “work, work”.

    It’s an amazing song made even more amazing by the video, which accentuates its brutality. It references the game show, certainly, but with its helicopters and camouflage, and the eldritch temple in the jungle, it reminds me mostly of Apocalypse Now: the darkness at the heart of the capitalist dream.

    A 10 for me.

  13. 13
    GLC on 17 Oct 2015 #

    Speaking of ‘Nasty Girl’, that song is pretty darn jarring in the face of Beyoncé’s feminism nowadays. “Nasty put some clothes on” indeed. (I remember people commenting on that line when Bey started her solo career, with the video for a certain future bunny).

    ‘Bootylicious’ is memorable to me because the producer (Rob Fusari) would later produce Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’. (Incidentally, I cannot wait until Popular gets to 2009. I love me some Gaga).

  14. 14
    Paulito on 17 Oct 2015 #

    I agreed with pretty much everything about Tom’s review of this song up until the mark he awarded – which, for me at least, jars with the preceding write-up. While ‘Survivor”s sledgehammer competence commands respect, its ungraciousness and aggression leaves one cold. Tom’s narrative suggests that he sees this track for what it is – relentless corporate muscle-pop driven by Beyoncé’s egotism and petty enmity rather than by any sentiment with which one could truly empathise. And yet his rating suggests nothing less than a beloved classic. Another puzzling score.

  15. 15
    Paulito on 17 Oct 2015 #

    FWIW, I was expecting a 7 based on Tom’s commentary (I’d go no higher than a 6 myself).

  16. 16
    Idris on 17 Oct 2015 #

    This one is utterly exhausting to do in karaoke. It’s exciting, breathless and relentless and tends to end up sounding somewhere between awful new metal and good 80s hardcore.

  17. 17
    Regina on 17 Oct 2015 #

    Totally agree with Ronnie @ 7.
    This is tedious, repetitive, graceless, humourless, self-serving dross from the 19 year old survivors. “You thought I wouldn’t sell without you, I sold nine million” is surely one of the worst lines in a song lyric ever and it all just made the group and especially Beyoncé appear unlikable, petty and vindictive – just as all the rumours had indicated. Papa Knowles was still heavily involved and credited which made things even worse.
    And while the shrill, staccato production sounded dated at the time, it’s almost unlistenable now.
    Of course the group immediately redeemed themselves with the magnificent Bootylicious (US No. 1 but only UK No. 2 – they wuz robbed) and, later, Lose my Breath and Soldier.

  18. 18
    Tom on 17 Oct 2015 #

    #12 Phew! I’m glad someone else hears the song I’m hearing. I anticipated (given many disparaging asides on the Independent Women thread) this one would get a rough ride, and so it’s proved.

    #14 The review is me talking myself down from giving it 10, obviously.

    Only joking, I know what you mean about the disparity. I think in a less generally supine year this would have got an 8, maybe? I loved it at the time and still love it but I’m inclined to rate it high because it’s jagged in a way that most of the stuff I’m covering at the moment utterly fails to be, even if some of it has other fine qualities.

    I also think nothing else, even in modern R&B, sounded quite like this – there’s been lots of criticism upthread of the production, which I can understand but I don’t agree with. In a lot of R&B tracks, even around this time, the bottom end is prominent and relatively static and there’s a load of interesting stuff happening in the top end – Timbaland tracks, for instance, with their galleries of blips and bloops and found noises. In “Survivor” the drum track is actually quite broken up – it doesn’t really settle on a beat – the bass is there to anchor things but is mostly just waves of supporting low-end – so all the rhythm and momentum is coming from the vocals (and the keyboard riff and snares, which on reflection may be hi-hats). And the vocals fill up all the available space, and are designed more as incantations or chants than as anything melodic – which again is unusual for R&B, it’s a much more hip-hop approach to vocal sound. Which is appropriate because this is basically a diss track (and now you can find it on the Internet OH NOES) and its concerns (I am successful: you are not) are the same as any hip-hop diss track since forever. But transposing it to R&B makes it way starker – and more interesting, in my opinion.

    That stuff should probably have gone in the review. OH WELL.

  19. 19
    Ed on 17 Oct 2015 #

    The range of views on this one reminds me of the heated debate about it at the time. Destiny’s Child never really had an Imperial Phase when everybody loved them: this was their period of greatest commercial success in Britain, but some critics had already got off the bus. People grumbled that after the sophistication and precision – both musical and lyrical – of The Writing’s On The Wall, they were disappointed by the cheaply bombastic sloganeering of Survivor and Independent Women.

    I can understand those complaints, but I can’t feel them. I love TWOTW, but I listen to Survivor more often. If you grew up on Led Zeppelin and Rush, as I did, or liked any hip-hop from Spoonie G to Jay-Z, how could you not respond to the same excitement here?

    It’s the beginning of what I think of as Beyonce Derangement Syndrome: the tendency of some critics to be both fascinated and appalled by Beyonce for reasons that are never adequately explained. I remember Lord S writing here about becoming tired of some critic because everything he wrote came round in the end to an attack on Beyonce. At least, that’s the point I remember him as making: I can’t find it at the moment. Anyway, although I didn’t know which individual he was referring to, I definitely recognised the pattern of behaviour.

  20. 20
    Ed on 17 Oct 2015 #

    @18 I love that bassline: like the exhausted footsteps of someone who is always on the verge of collapse, but is continually steeling herself to take just one more pace through sheer determination. “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

    @3 Haha great point about Michelle Williams!

  21. 21

    haha did i? i would like to reread it also if so

    (if i have time tomorrow i will write up my fairly extensive thoughts about this)

  22. 22
    Tommy Mack on 17 Oct 2015 #


    I thought Beyonce/DC would be such firm FT favourites that I was preemptively scared to voice any dissent from the uniform applause I predicted. Now I find out everyone thinks Beyonce’s an unhinged tyrant, I rather like her. What I found uncomfortably overbearing from someone I assumed was a hero to almost everyone I find intriguing in someone who turns out to be an anti-hero character or apparently, a villain to loads of you.

    Survivor always less than IW pt1 or Bootylicious though I never twigged from my dancefloor encounters with it that it was a kiss-off to bandmates departed. “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s Destiny’s Child…”

  23. 23
    Ronnie on 17 Oct 2015 #

    Speaking as someone who is pretty much the opposite of a Destiny’s Child fan: I am very very happy to see so much praise for “Lose My Breath.” Untouchable, that one is.

    > If you grew up on Led Zeppelin and Rush, as I did, or liked any hip-hop from Spoonie G to Jay-Z, how could you not respond to the same excitement here?

    Excitement is the opposite of what I hear — it’s very loud, but plodding and dull. Beyonce, above all else, sounds like a kid — compare it to her post-2009 stuff where she actually is pretty much a full-time rapper and the difference is stark.

  24. 24
    thefatgit on 17 Oct 2015 #

    Not too shabby, this one. “Survivor” as a song, survives collapsing under the weight of its own, and DC’s own pragmatism, simply by being packed full of hooks, and not adhering to anything as formulaic as turn-of-the-millennium R&B. So yeah, I’m with Ed & Tom here. (8)

  25. 25
    Ed on 17 Oct 2015 #

    @21 Hmm.. I had a bit of a scroll through old comments, and couldn’t find it. It would have been within the past couple of months or so.

    It was something like: “I used to like this one critic’s writing, but nowadays everything he does seems to come round in the end to an argument for why Beyonce is terrible, so I’ve given up on him.”

    Doesn’t ring any bells?

    My mental construct of you wrote that, anyway, and it made me laugh.

  26. 26
    flahr on 17 Oct 2015 #

    I keep trying to rerun this in my head but the backing track keeps becoming Cry Me A Bunny instead.

  27. 27
    edwardo on 18 Oct 2015 #

    This is an exhausting slog. Also at the time I remember people going “omg lol amazing” about the “I’m not gonna dis you on the Internet” lyric when it is embarrassing. The beats on this are so anaemic and that synth string sweep just makes me cringe. Even Beyonce can’t make this work for me; her tone on this makes her sound like a megalomaniacal bully, not a wronged party who rises above it. Which could be fun, but not here.

    “Bootylicious” is a 10 if not a scale-breaker, but this is like a 3.

  28. 28
    Ronnie on 18 Oct 2015 #

    Surprised no one’s made reference to how the reality show spawned the song; specifically the common, too-obvious-not-to-make joke that Destiny’s Child was voting members off the island. The song is a direct riposte to that.

  29. 29
    flahr on 18 Oct 2015 #

    #26: er, or Cry Me Not A Bunny, as it in fact is. Gosh how appalling. Plenty of time to talk about that later though.

    Maybe you had to be there for “Bootylicious”. Good thing pop’s an eternal present eh

  30. 30
    swanstep on 18 Oct 2015 #

    Nathan Rabin, the Onion AVClub writer most famous for inventing the ‘Manic Pixie Dream-Girl’ label, wrote a series of articles, ‘Then! That’s What They Called Music’, reviewing the Now! volumes. Beyonce features regularly in that series under the moniker ‘Mrs. “Fuck You, I’m Awesome”’. ‘Survivor’ which led off Now! 7 (US version) prompted the following review from Nabin introducing and and explaining that moniker. Here’s that explanation and review:
    The theme of most of Beyoncé Knowles’ hits, as both a solo artist and the lead singer of Destiny’s Child (otherwise known as “Beyoncé and two random women in the background”), can be reduced to “I’m awesome. Fuck you.” That theme courses through such monster hits as “Bills, Bills, Bills” (“Hey, fuckface, would it kill you to pick up your own checks once in a while, instead of scamming money off my superior earnings and credit rating?”), “Say My Name” (“If you aren’t a lying, cheating douchebag, loudly proclaim your love for my infinitely terrific self”), “Irreplaceable” (“I could so fucking replace you in a heartbeat”), “Independent Women (Part 1)” (“I can buy my own shit, asshole”), “Bootylicious” (“My ass is more than your fragile system can handle”), and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” (“If you weren’t such a dick, you would have married me, given that I am an awesome superwoman.”) 
    “Survivor,” the Destiny’s Child’s smash that opens the seventh installment of NOW That’s What I Call Music! represents the purest, most intriguingly hypocritical manifestation of this recurring motif. In a staggering act of chutzpah only Beyoncé could get away with, she lashes out at her luckless former band-mates, LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson, for, um, being annoyed that she and her dad/manager Mathew unceremoniously kicked them out of the group for asking if maybe having their lead singer’s father as a manager was a conflict of interest. Incidentally, Luckett and Roberson discovered that they were no longer in Destiny’s Child when they caught the video for “Say My Name” and noticed they’d been replaced by Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin. Seriously. They were not pleased, and filed the requisite lawsuit. 
    Beyoncé obviously couldn’t tolerate such insolence on the part of her former collaborators. It’d be as if you were kicking some losers in the face, and they had the unmitigated gall to be all, “Please stop kicking me in the face. You win.” That would piss me off so much! I would kick twice as hard if they pulled a stunt like that. So in a mind-boggling act of bad winnerdom, Beyoncé wrote and performed a song in which she rubbed her phenomenal success in her former bandmates’ faces, boasted that her winning streak would never end, and crowed that she would never lower herself to disparaging her former collaborators in a song that does nothing but disparage her former collaborators! “I’m better than that!” Beyoncé and those two other people crow with ferocious, wholly unmerited self-righteousness.
    “I’m not gon’ blast you on the radio,” Beyoncé sang, as she blasted Luckett and Roberson on the radio. She similarly boasts, “I’m not gonna compromise my Christianity.” Heaven knows, there’s nothing more Christian than antagonizing people you’ve fucked over, while also bragging about your incredible success.
    Yet “Survivor” is a great pop song. Beyoncé is fierce and committed to the point of seeming borderline possessed, while co-producer Anthony Dent whips up an infectious synthesizer symphony. “Survivor” is an incredibly forceful, empowering song, assuming you aren’t Luckett or Roberson. Ah, but isn’t that what pop music of the NOW That’s What I Call Music! variety is all about: making something wrong feel strangely, exquisitely, irresistibly right? 
    Anthony Dent, Beyoncé, and Mathew Knowles are credited as songwriters on “Survivor,” but I think a fortune cookie must have ghost-written the lyrics “After all of the darkness and sadness / Still comes happiness / If I surround myself with positive things / I’ll gain prosperity.” I understand there’s an extended version that also includes the couplet “A stranger will bring good tidings / Keep yourself open to new business opportunities.”

    Or go to http://tinyurl.com/oh8k2t5 for the full sprawling article.

    Will be back with a few thoughts of my own later (I think Nabin literally misunderstands the song but he does very entertainly capture what ‘Survivor’ *seemed* to be saying partly as a matter of implication at the time).

  31. 31
    Ed on 18 Oct 2015 #

    I’ll see your Nathan Rabin and raise you a Greil Marcus. Here he is on Complete Control by The Clash, which is the closest precedent for Survivor.

    “Oddly, it’s about the Clash’s career, at least on a literal, lyric-sheet level: their label-sanctioned protest single about their label committing the atrocity of releasing an earlier single without the band’s permission. Big deal. Yet from this flimsy soapbox they leap musically to a dramatization of autonomy, community, personal identity and social contestation, and with a few scattered slogans (“THIS MEANS YOU!”) make those usually abstract notions as real, as dangerous, as any moment governed by love or money, hate or war. Across more than 10 years of listening to “Complete Control,” one reaction has always come first: disbelief. Disbelief that mere human beings could create such a sound, disbelief that the world could remain the same when it’s over.”

    That works pretty well as a description of my feelings about Survivor. There’s just one word you would need to take out: “community”.

  32. 32
    Chelovek na lune on 18 Oct 2015 #

    Basically the sound of intelligent and competent Texas Black Christian Thatcherism with an aggressive beat, unreflective self-righteousness, assertion of the will (but tempered by the Christianity) and demanding and in-your-face backing music. Just awesome. 9

  33. 33
    Phil on 18 Oct 2015 #

    #31 – closest precedent? There’s “me and the band say ‘screw you’ to our management and the label, and we rub it in by doing it on a single approved by the management and released on the label” – and then there’s “me, the band and the management say ‘screw you’ to the ex-members we’ve just kicked out of the band, and we rub it in by making $$$, bitches”. Bit different.

    Haven’t re-listened to this one yet, and right now I’m more inclined to listen to “Complete Control”.

  34. 34
    Mark M on 18 Oct 2015 #

    Re19: ‘or liked any hip-hop from Spoonie G to Jay-Z, how could you not respond to the same excitement here?’

    You’re making the contestable argument that what people like about hip-hop is the content of the words, not the beats, flows and hooks. And even then, the same basic notion (as noted ‘Despite what anyone claims, I’m fucking awesome’) can be expressed in ways that are charming or charmless, funny/bullying, original/hackneyed etc. Lots of ‘I’m the king’ hip-hop lyrics bore me, but sometimes they will grab me. When a friend of mine is having trouble with colleagues who try to undermine, I often send her a text encouraging her to be more like Jay-Z: ‘He who does not feel me/Is not real to me.’

    It’s more the survivor bit of the lyric that annoys me, anyway. Just what has Beyoncé overcome here? Very little. And I’m not inclined towards shouty survival songs, in general – I hate I Will Survive. Weary, just-hanging-in-there survival songs (e.g. Big Star’s Ballad Of El Goodo) are a different matter.

    Re30: For purposes of argument, Rabin appears to be attributing lines sung by Kelly – the ‘I’m too much of a lady to…’ section – to B (who may have written it, but that’s not what’s being claimed).

    And I’m enjoy the broad lyrical thrust of pretty much every song Rabin cites – apart from this one.

  35. 35
    Tommy Mack on 18 Oct 2015 #

    #33 Cruelly swiping at people you’ve kicked out of the band definitely more Mark E Smith or Morrissey or Beefheart than Clash. I suppose Joe Strummer did eventually kick Topper and then Mick out of The Clash but that was for being fucked up on drugs rather than for having qualms about his Dad managing the band. He was similarly unapologetic about it though.

    With Complete Control, I’d say the comparison is in petty beefs being extrapolated to something anthemic which transcends the circumstances behind the song: you don’t have to know about the Clash’s beef with CBS to get CC and it positively helps you enjoy Survivor if you don’t know its ugly backstory (I had no problem enjoying it back in the day when I couldn’t have named other members of DC though as I’ve said no-one seemed to rate it as much as IWpt1 or Bootylicious which I remember getting a lot more dancefloor action)

  36. 36
    Ed on 18 Oct 2015 #

    Quoting Greil Marcus, for the last time, I promise, he was fantastically scathing on the self-congratulatory use of “survivor” by 60s rock stars still working in the 70s:

    “These days such people refer to themselves and to those with whom they feel some political or cultural kinship as “survivors,” as if, for one with certain access to most of the privileges of white middle-class life (for that is the sort of person who regularly turns up as a “survivor”), merely to have made it into the mid-Seventies in any form other than that of a corpse or a vegetable is to have accomplished a feat so remarkable as to deserve the approbation of all men and women good and true. It is hard to imagine a more timid betrayal of the doomed, utopian spirit of the 1960s than that.”

  37. 37
    Chris Barratt on 18 Oct 2015 #

    I wanted to like this at the time, really I did. I’d bought the two DC albums, several cd singles and in terms of new stuff R’n’B/Hip Hop was, if forced to choose, my favourite genre. Albums, singles, compilations – all on almost constant rotation at home and in the car.
    The track is so contrived and joyless though, so full of steely-eyed platitudes and the rent-a-quote selfisms that would soon become de rigueur in pop & r’n’b (in lieu of charm and nuance) that I found it not only unlovable but, after it was playlisted everywhere for the next year or so, downright objectionable.
    Though DC would release a couple more decent singles in their time (not including their painful rendition of the Gibbs Brothers’ once delicate Emotion) and Queen Beyonce herself deliver the peerless Crazy In Love a couple of years later, though I didn’t know it at the time, what this represented was both a full-stop for Destiny’s Child as anything other than a springboard for a brand-heavy solo career and the beginning of the end for R’n’B as an edgy innovative mainstream musical force.
    Post-Survivor, the ‘brands’ took over and R’n’B (and, within 2-3 years, Hip-Hop) morphed into little more than formulaic focus-group cliches, meaning & tone substituted by the endless stream of nonsensical paeans to braindead consumerism that all but swamped pop music entirely by 2007 – so much so that the whole mess would lend credence to otherwise utterly preposterous tales of ‘Illumati’ skullduggery within the music industry emanating from Planet Internet.
    It’s hard not to see ‘Survivor’ thus as not only as the full-stop on Destiny’s Child but calling-time on the cross-genre constant progression of intelligent pop music over the second half of the 20th Century.

  38. 38
    mrdiscopop on 19 Oct 2015 #

    What I really remember Survivor for is that Destiny’s Child performed it as the opening number at the 2001 Brits, rendering the rest of the ceremony redundant.

    Yes, the song is brash and spiteful, but I find it impossible to hate. For the first time, the band go “full Beyoncé” – with a tidal wave of vocal riffs and OTT production. I’m a particular fan of the timpani that herald the first verse. Nothing about this record was supposed to be subtle.

    And yet, despite some previous comments, I think there is a moment of vulnerability in there – when Kelly sings “after all of the darkness and sadness, soon comes happiness.” To me, that’s a plea, rather than a fait accompli. It turns the song from a massive “fuck you” into a motivational speech. I *will* survive. I *must* survive. I am mecha-Beyoncé.

  39. 39
    pink champale on 19 Oct 2015 #

    Don’t let them do it to you, cause they’ll overdo it.

    I hadn’t realised the backstory to this until now, and it certainly does make it even less likeable. But Beyonce doesn’t need me to like her, she needs me to bow before her magnificance. And I do.

  40. 40
    thefatgit on 19 Oct 2015 #

    I don’t think I’m the first person to compare Beyonce with Ayn Rand, but judging by other people’s comments “Survivor” appears to be her Fountainhead.

  41. 41
    Tommy Mack on 20 Oct 2015 #

    Sounds to me like the girls are really shoehorning the words in on the verses. It’s almost MSP-like in it’s determination to weld awkward scansion to asymmetrical rhythms. Actually, to my ears it’s way more rhythmically intricate than anything MSP have done while it shares their brazenness (You Love Us) if lacking their dualism of meaning “I am an architect, they call me a vulture” indeed.

  42. 42
    Phil on 20 Oct 2015 #

    Bloody hell, that’s horrible. To put it another way, the backing track is brilliant, and specifically brilliantly relentless – the beats and the bass hitting a stuttering, syncopated rhythm whose name I don’t know (I was already too old when this came out) & absolutely nailing it, the endlessly circling synth strings like Wendy Carlos playing Pachelbel’s Canon. But everything about the vocals is just awful – the stupidly shouty chorus, the hamfisted rapping, the sheer aggressive unpleasantness of BK’s lyrics and the outrageous bad faith of Michelle’s. Please let me never listen to that again. I’ll give it a grudging 2, which is 7 for the track and -5 for the vocals.

  43. 43
    Adam T on 20 Oct 2015 #

    An album track that got promoted to a single because a TV show with the same name became a hit. 5/10

  44. 44
    Ed on 21 Oct 2015 #

    @40 Maybe if Rand had had Mark Feist as her musical director instead of Neil Peart, she’d be a lot more popular today.

    But seriously…. I can see why people say that, but surely Beyonce’s project – asserting her right to self-determination as an African-American woman – is a lot different from Rand’s ubermensch-worship. Isn’t it?

  45. 45
    Andrew on 21 Oct 2015 #

    #43 the song was written after the show; in fact directly in response to the media making jokes along the lines of “who’s going to be the next Destiny’s Child to be voted off the island?” Beyoncé has said herself that she used those jokes as fuel for the song (i.e. completely confirming that it’s about Luckett and Roberson).

    #38 it was Independent Women at the BRITS https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRSPyb8khRg

    (and it’s Michelle who sings “after all of the darkness and sadness, soon comes happiness”)

  46. 46
    thefatgit on 21 Oct 2015 #

    @44 Yes, absolutely Ed. As far as fandoms are concerned though, the Beyhive is just as protective of their idol as the card-carrying Neolib objectivists that stalk the halls of Conservative Central Office are protective of theirs. Beyonce simply tells a better story than Rand ever could.

  47. 48
    The Arn on 21 Oct 2015 #

    Sorry, I’m going to completely Godwin the thread here. I don’t think Beyonce’s ‘fuck you I’m fabulous’ schtick is anything particularly objectionable, indeed the celebration of the ego’s powered some fabulous pop records of every stripe – it’s pretty much what powers The Wicked & The Divine for instance. Plus the theory that that’s *all* she’s about deliberately casts at least one future bunny as an anomaly. She’s a modern diva in the grand tradition of Bassey, Ross, Streisand, Carey and so on and pop always finds room for those.

    As for Survivor… well, this is where the Godwin bit comes into play. It’s bombastic to almost Wagnerian levels, seeking to persuade and ignore some maggoty nastiness at its heart by overwhelming rather than coercing. It’s a sort of pop Triumph of the Will in that respect – it’s genuinely impressive in artistic terms with the synth strings over the relentless rhythm and I’m a sucker for the vocal interplay Tom mentions. But it’s art in the service of a superstar punching downwards at bandmates who look shabbily treated., so we’re supposed to take the bully’s side. And the music reflects the lyric, the beat and strings pound at you relentlessly, trying to compel you to give in. Even with the line about surrounding herself with positive things it’s a titanium ego reinforcing and asserting itself. And it’s a bit terrifying that it’s so compelling, even if it’s probably the weakest single from the parent album.

    Mind you, if you count this as Destiny’s Child becoming Beyonce plus backing singers you can see it as an indication of her early imperial phase.

  48. 49
    weej on 22 Oct 2015 #

    There’s a good argument to be had about bad intentions and when they can spoil a song (and of course when they don’t matter) – pretty sure it’s been had round these parts somewhere but can’t put my finger on where right now. In this case I’m afraid it ultimately spoils it for me, there’s a certain lack of generosity here – the ‘survivor’ doesn’t seem to include the listener (but who knows what other people get out of it) and the bit about “I’m not gon’ hate on you in the magazines / I’m not gon’ compromise my Christianity” is shocking in its level of bullshit. And after almost a decade in China I’m also naturally suspicious of exhortations to “work harder.”

    There are positives, though. The production is of their usual extremely high standard (though it’s a bit too busy at the start), the harmonies two thirds of the way through are just wonderful and the “If I surround myself with positive things” reminds me Linda Jones’s desperate pleading on ‘Your Precious Love’, a rare thing to hear in pop music.

  49. 50

    This is an exhausting slog, and the sentiments leaves a sour taste in the mouth, but it’s the sound of Beyonce ready to take on the world and it’s great to have some genuine attitude in a rather bloodless year, the hooks and repetition beat you into the ground but in a good way, like going to Blackpool Pleasure Beach with your mate’s fit townie older sister with hoop earrings bigger than her head. I can push to a 7. It must be good if I loved a cover version of this on Planet Rock radio which might have been third-rate emo/screamo!

    I also have two great memories of this:

    1. Doing the Coast-to-Coast walk with my dad in August 2002, when after climbing up a sodden hillside in Kirkby Stephen thinking I was going to drown, yelling “I’m a survivor!”

    2. Writing a song (aged 18, exhausted after working a night shift at the A59 McDonald’s) called “Tony, Tony”, essentially about how Blair let the world down. I can’t remember the full lyrics, but basically, the chorus was like the verses of Survivor, and the verses were like the verses of, er, Slipknot – Wait and Bleed. I’ve never performed it live, but if anyone wants to take me up on this offer, you know who to call…

    Surviving lyrics:

    I remember back in 1997, dear God, had I died and gone to heaven?
    Great, good, great fantastic Tony, and Eurovision victory

    Nowadays it’s all “get pissed” and getting lucky
    I can’t do either very well, life’s fortune cookie
    Blur of an Oasis beaten to a Pulp now
    And we’ll never, ever pull out of the Gulf now

    I have it in my head as Black Sabbath meets the Supremes for the 21st century. Your mileage may vary.

  50. 51
    James BC on 28 Oct 2015 #

    Is this the first number 1 to boast specifically about record sales? It’s quite a hip-hop thing but I don’t think any of the few rap number 1s up to this point do it. RnB and hip-hop are well on the way to splurging together completely at this point anyway.

    I’m happy to confirm that in live performances, Beyonce has been known to update “nine million” to however many extra millions she’s sold at that moment. Not like Chas and Dave who have been singing Snooker Loopy about the same 80s players for 30 years.

  51. 52

    “i’m happy to report that beyoncé [blah blah], unlike chas and dave [blah blah]” is my new favourite mode of exemplary comparison :)

  52. 53
    Mark G on 28 Oct 2015 #

    I note that Beyonce was prepared to replace the members of Destiny’s Child when they dropped out or were pushed, unlike Chas and Dave who went into hiatus when Dave dropped out for a bit.

  53. 54
    Tommy Mack on 28 Oct 2015 #

    #53: Did they? I saw Chas and his band at Ally Pally (playing a beer festival, they hadn’t filled the place themselves!) during this period. Perhaps they were just fulfilling a contractual obligation?

  54. 55
    Mark G on 28 Oct 2015 #

    That would make it Chas. As opposed to Chas and Whoever.

  55. 56

    Chas-Tiny’s Child

  56. 57
    lonepilgrim on 28 Oct 2015 #

    O ahm a Serrrrr-vyffer! Oi!

  57. 58
    Tommy Mack on 28 Oct 2015 #

    #55/56: they were doing Chas and Dave songs obv. It wasn’t ‘here’s the IDM stuff I’ve been sitting on all these years’

  58. 59

    margates of delirium

  59. 60
    mapman132 on 5 Nov 2015 #

    As I often don’t, I had never really listened to the lyrics closely or known the backstory to this song, so after reading through this thread, I’m going to amend my initial 6/10 all the way down to 3/10. Punching down at your former bandmates just doesn’t do it for me.

  60. 61
    cryptopian on 19 Feb 2016 #

    This one’s hard work for me to listen to. For all that it is “rammed with hooks,” the aggression with which they come really grates. It feels like the songwriters had lots of musical ideas, and, rather than finding some way of focusing them all towards a sharp kind of aggression, just laid them out one after another and let them get in the way of each other.

  61. 62
    Erithian on 13 May 2016 #

    Hmmm … given today’s news that LeToya is to play Dionne Warwick in the forthcoming biopic, one looks forward to Beyoncé’s response. Probably not as slack-jawed as our collective response to the news that Cilla Black is to be played by Lady Gaga. This could get interesting.

  62. 63
    Cumbrian on 13 May 2016 #

    Well, I’m expecting Beyonce not to diss her on the internet, at least.

  63. 64
    flahr on 20 Jun 2016 #

    #8 update: playground version definitely contained the lyric “I’m a survivor / I found a fiver”

  64. 65
    Phil on 22 Jun 2016 #

    Anyone else mentally singing that to the tune of this? (Skip to 2:07 if patience-impaired – but really, it’s only two minutes.)

  65. 66
    Gareth Parker on 28 May 2021 #

    Can’t take to this I’m afraid. I would echo much of Cryptopian’s sentiments (#61). I’m sorry but I just don’t get it and I can only go to a 2/10 here.

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