The Number Ones

August 4, 2001

The Number Ones: Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious”

Stayed at #1:

2 Weeks

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.

Some days, the sun just feels right on your skin. Some days, your hair does exactly what you want it to do. Some days, your breakfast tastes just a little bit better. And some days, Destiny’s Child spend three and a half minutes chanting ecstatically about butts over a Stevie Nicks sample, and the resulting single goes right to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. These little miracles don’t happen often enough. You just have to appreciate those moments when they come along.

“Bootylicious,” the fourth and final #1 hit from Destiny’s Child, is a towering work of glorious silliness. Beyoncé Knowles has said that she wrote the song’s lyrics as a kind of defiant response to the people who had criticized her for gaining weight. (The world was a different place in 2001. Imagine anyone having a problem with the way that Beyoncé looked then, or now, or ever.) But “Bootylicious” doesn’t sound defiant. It’s a pure celebration, a dizzy blast of joy captured on record. “Bootylicious” is barely a song, and that’s not a complaint. Instead, “Bootylicious” is a track — a mercilessly euphoric groove that throws just about every pop convention out the window. The record just whirls and twinkles and radiates energy. It never really worries about structure or narrative. Instead, it just sounds awesome. I wish we had more songs like that.

You know the riff. Stevie Nicks wrote “Edge Of Seventeen,” and she included the song on 1981’s Bella Donna, her first solo album. “Edge Of Seventeen” was Stevie’s attempt to wrestle with death. She wrote it after watching her uncle die and seeing the world mourn John Lennon’s murder. To Stevie, the song’s white-winged dove was a representation of death, though you wouldn’t necessarily get that just from listening. Instead, “Edge Of Seventeen” is Stevie, working in her grand and theatrical style, writing something that sounds mystical but also hard and desperate. A whole lot of that hardness is in the opening guitar riff, a relentlessly tense one-note pulse that drives the song toward operatic catharsis.

Stevie Nicks has said that she got the title for “Edge Of Seventeen” from talking to her friend and collaborator Tom Petty and Petty’s then-wife Jane. Jane had said that she and Tom had met at the age of 17, but Jane’s Florida accent made the word “age” sound like “edge,” and Stevie loved that phrase. Today, “Edge Of Seventeen” is the best-known and best-loved of Stevie’s solo songs, but it wasn’t her biggest chart hit. Stevie released “Edge Of Seventeen” as the third single from Bella Donna, and it peaked at #11. (Stevie has already been in this column as a member of Fleetwood Mac. As a solo artist, Stevie’s highest-charting single is another Bella Donna joint, the Tom Petty collab “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” which peaked at #3. That song is a 9, but it’s not as good as “Edge Of Seventeen.)

Almost 20 years after Stevie Nicks released “Edge Of Seventeen,” two producers sampled the song because they couldn’t find a CD copy of a different song. One of those producers was Rob Fursari, who had co-written Destiny’s Child’s first hit “No, No, No” and who’d produced Will Smith’s chart-topper “Wild Wild West.” (“No, No, No” peaked at #3. It’s an 8.) The other was Falonte Moore, who had written songs for Next and Jaheim and who was also half of the R&B duo Koffee Brown. (Koffee Brown’s highest-charting single, 2001’s “After Party” peaked at #44.) Fursari and Moore met when working on Will Smith’s Willennium album, and they kept writing songs together afterwards.

One day, Rob Fursari and Falonte Moore were using an MPC to put a track together, and Fursari had the idea to sample the intro from Survivor’s 1983 chart-topper “Eye Of The Tiger.” But Fursari couldn’t find his Survivor CD. He did, however, own a Stevie Nicks greatest-hits, and he remembered that “Edge Of Seventeen” had the same sort of tense intro as “Eye Of The Tiger,” so he used “Edge Of Seventeen” instead. Fursari figured that he’d eventually replace the sample, but the track sat on the shelf for six months. Eventually, when Fursari was submitting a bunch of tracks to Destiny’s Child, he included that beat, figuring that they’d never use it. In Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book Of Number One Hits, Fursari says, “It was different from the rest of the stuff I was sending, and I know Beyoncé likes different stuff. I never thought somebody would want to sing over it, but that’s the one that turned out to be ‘Bootylicious.'”

Beyoncé heard Fursari and Moore’s beat while flying across the Atlantic. In the Bronson book, Beyoncé says that she was “delirious from the long flight” when she started writing the “Bootylicious” lyrics. Beyoncé did not invent the word “bootylicious,” but she definitely deserves credit for popularizing it. A few years after the Destiny’s Child song hit #1, “bootylicious” became an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. Beyoncé has described “Bootylicious” as “a song of empowerment,” and it is that, but it’s also something far sillier. It’s absolute party fuel.

When Destiny’s Child decided to record “Bootylicious,” Rob Fursari wanted to get rid of the “Edge Of Seventeen” sample. In a Billboard interview years later Fursari said, “I’d learned, after sampling Stevie Wonder‘s ‘I Wish’ for Will Smith’s ‘Wild Wild West,’ that I didn’t want to lose 50% of the publishing. I vividly remember telling Mathew Knowles, ‘Mathew, you got to book me into your studio and let me replay that riff.’ It was Guitar 101! One note!” But Destiny’s Child liked the sample too much, and they didn’t want the replayed riff, so Fursari did indeed lose out on all that publishing.

I’m sorry for Rob Fursari’s bank account — which is almost certainly still a lot healthier than mine — but Destiny’s Child made the right decision. That sample gives “Bootylicious” a relentless sense of groove. Maybe Fursari could’ve recaptured that feeling on his own, but I wouldn’t bet money on it. The sample also did what samples are supposed to do. Even among the people who didn’t immediately recognize “Edge Of Seventeen,” the sample would’ve triggered some subconscious memory. Stevie Nicks got a songwriting credit for “Bootylicious” — that and “Dreams” are the two #1 hits where she’s a credited songwriter — and she also made a cameo in the video.

After “Bootylicious” blew up, Beyoncé took credit for the “Edge Of Seventeen” sample in a TV interview with Barbara Walters. Rob Fursari saw that interview, and it pissed him off. In that same Billboard interview, Fursari says that he called Mathew Knowles, Destiny’s Child’s manager and Beyoncé’s father, to complain about the slight: “He explained to me in a nice way. He said, ‘People don’t want to hear about Rob Fusari, producer from Livingston, NJ. No offense, but that’s not what sells records. What sells records is people believing that the artist is everything.'” In the credits, anyway, Fursari and Moore are listed as producers and songwriters alongside Beyoncé.

So that’s the “Bootylicious” story, but did you really need it? “Bootylicious” doesn’t depend on any kind of backstory. The song is its own context. The track’s simplicity is glorious. That guitar sample runs throughout, and the rest of the track is admirably bare — a minimal bassline, some hard-cutting percussive sounds, a few DJ-scratch bits that show up in the same places where horn stabs would’ve once been. The groove is elemental and all-consuming, and the vocals ride that groove to Valhalla.

Beyoncé might’ve been the driving force behind “Bootylicious,” but she doesn’t dominate the song, the way she dominated so many Destiny’s Child tracks. Instead, the Destiny’s Child of “Bootylicious” sound like a full-on group, with each member playing their own parts. Kelly Rowland gets most of the verses, and her gawky swagger is perfect for the song. On the bridge, Michelle Williams brings this great playful rasp: “Move your body up and down! Make your booty touch the ground!” I love all the ad-libs — the fired-up whoops, the melismatic runs, the Michael Jackson-style percussive grunts. The whole thing just bursts with fun. I’m sure that unchanging groove grated on a lot of people, but it’s been a couple of decades, and I haven’t gotten sick of that shit yet.

Lyrically, “Bootylicious” might as well be a cheerleading routine. The phrase “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly” looks terrible on paper, and it sounds absurd coming from anyone else, but Destiny’s Child had enough panache to pull it off beautifully. On the intro, they murmur their own names. Kelly’s verses are all flirty energy: “Don’t you wanna dance with me?/ Can you handle? Handle me?” Beyoncé’s parts go for disco-diva challenge: “Read my lips carefully if you like what you see/ Move groove prove you can hang with me.” The song’s whole thesis is that the members of Destiny’s Child are fly and fuck and that you’re going to need to be fly as fuck if you’re going to breathe the same air as them. And the magic of “Bootylicious” is that I feel fly as fuck whenever I hear it. Sometimes, confidence is infectious.

Maybe the sheer goofiness of “Bootylicious” should stunt the song and keep it from working. After all, there’s a break where Destiny’s Child invite the audience to “cut a rug while we scat some jazz,” one of those lyrics that just should not work. Destiny’s Child follow that line with some actual close-harmony scatting — bringing back a melody that the pre-Destiny’s Child group Girl’s Tyme had used on a new jack swing track called “Boy I Want You.” I am not trying to hear anyone attempting to scat some jazz on a 21st-century pop record, but when Destiny’s Child do it, I’m helpless.

Destiny’s Child released “Bootylicious” as the third single from their Survivor album, and I still think of it as the platonic ideal of a summer jam. Every time I’d encounter “Bootylicious” on the radio, it would change my day for the better. It sounded great in a car on a sunny day. It sounded better at a party at night. The many, many “Bootylicious” remixes were fun, too, though none of them held a candle to the original. One of those remixes got a whole lot of play, too.

Later in 2001, Beyoncé made her acting debut as the lead of Robert Townshend’s made-for-MTV musical Carmen: A Hip Hopera. Destiny’s Child contributed one “Bootylicious” remix to the Carmen soundtrack. The group recorded all-new vocals for a “Bootylicious” reworking from Rockwilder, and Missy Elliott, Rockwilder’s “Lady Marmalade” co-producer, added a cartoonish and insane guest verse. Destiny’s Child and Missy, along with some extremely young lookalikes, shot a colorful video for the remix, and they got a bunch of inexplicable cameos from New York rap luminaries.

But we haven’t even talked about the real “Bootylicious” video yet. It’s a fucking masterpiece. Director Matthew Rolston shot Destiny’s Child wearing bright colors, on brightly colored sets, doing versions of some of the dances that Michael Jackson had made famous. Kelly Rowland, in particular, throws herself into the choreography with total goofball élan. I could damn near write a book about Kelly Rowland’s facial expressions alone. I can’t really articulate why I feel this way, but Kelly just seems like she’d be a great friend. It’s a vibe thing. Kelly is the video’s clear MVP, with Beyoncé’s gold tooth coming in at #2 and the jacked male dancers with the word “Destiny” airbrushed on the backs of their briefs at #3.

“Bootylicious” was the last time that Destiny’s Child reached #1 — as a group, anyway. The trio released one more single from the Survivor album — a cover of “Emotion,” a ballad that Bee Gees brothers Barry and Robin Gibb wrote for Samantha Sang in 1978. (Sang’s version of “Emotion” peaked at #3. It’s a 7. The Destiny’s Child cover got to #10, and it’s a 6.) The Survivor album went quadruple platinum, which means it sold half what its predecessor The Writing’s On The Wall had moved. But Survivor still felt like the definitive version of Destiny’s Child. After madly shedding members, Destiny’s Child had reached their final form.

After the Survivor album cycle ended, Destiny’s Child dropped a Christmas LP and then took a hiatus. All three members released solo projects. Destiny’s Child came back together in time to release their 2004 farewell album Destiny Fulfilled. As Destiny’s Child were gearing up again, Mathew Knowles publicly floated the idea of introducing a fourth member, Beyoncé’s younger sister Solange. People weren’t into that, and Solange instead went on to an incredible solo career. (Solange’s highest-charting single, 2016’s great “Cranes In The Sky,” peaked at #74.) Destiny’s Child remained a trio.

Two different singles from Destiny Fulfilled peaked at #3. The first was the tumbling, percussive “Lose My Breath.” (It’s an 8.) The second was “Soldier,” a hard-strutting collaboration with T.I. and Lil Wayne, two rappers who will eventually appear in this column. A year after “Soldier” came out, I got my first full-time music-critic job, writing a music blog for the Village Voice website. I called the blog Status Ain’t Hood, after a line from “Soldier.” That blog found an audience, and I suddenly had a career. Years later, I started writing a Stereogum column called the Week In Rap, but some other website hit us with a cease-and-desist, so I brought back the Status Ain’t Hood name instead. I kept writing that column until this past summer. “Soldier” has a special place in my heart. (It’s a 9.)

Destiny’s Child went out on tour behind Destiny Fulfilled, and they announced that they’d break up at the end of the tour. That’s exactly what happened. Destiny’s Child have recorded a few newer tracks for greatest-hits collections, but all three of the group’s members have moved onto solo careers, and they’ve all found some level of success. Michelle Williams has mostly been working in the gospel sphere, and she’s a star there. Kelly Rowland has scored a handful of serious hits. Her two highest-charting singles, the 2005 Trina collab “Here We Go” and the 2011 Lil Wayne collab “Motivation,” both peaked at #17. As a guest, we’ll see Kelly in this column again. We’ll see a whole lot more of Beyoncé, too.

Destiny’s Child had a chaotic run, but it ended blissfully; they’re the rare story of a successful group breaking up seemingly without any kind of acrimony. In the time since then, they’ve gotten back together for special occasions, like Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied” video or her astounding Coachella performance. (“Get Me Bodied,” a perfect song with a perfect video, peaked at #46.) In 2014, Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland guested on Michelle Williams’ gospel banger “Say Yes” — another great song, another great video. In 2013, Beyoncé played one of the all-time best Super Bowl Halftime Shows, and her set included a Destiny’s Child reunion. They sang “Bootylicious,” and then the Ravens won. That was a good night.

At this point, even Beyoncé’s haters have to acknowledge that her solo career is legendary shit. But Destiny’s Child have a towering legacy, too. Every time I see all three of them together again, I get emotional. I would love to see a larger-scale Destiny’s Child reunion at some point. Nobody in the group needs that to happen, but I might. I’ll take a miracle wherever I can get it.

GRADE: 10/10

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BONUS BEATS: Here’s Soulwax’s great 2003 mashup “Smells Like Booty,” which combines the “Bootylicious” vocals with the music from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Spirit“:

(“Smells Like Teen Spirit” peaked at #6. It’s a 10, and I wrote a whole bonus column about it.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s British soft-rockers Keane doing a cringey live-in-studio medley of “Bootylicious” and Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” for the BBC in 2007:

(“Dirrty” peaked at #48. Keane’s highest-charting single, 2005’s “Somewhere Only We Know,” peaked at #50.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: On Beyoncé’s 2009 “Video Phone” remix with Lady Gaga, the two stars riffed on the “can you handle it” bit from “Bootylicious.” Here’s the video:

(“Video Phone” peaked at #65. Lady Gaga will appear in this column a bunch of times.)

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s a bunch actual of Green Bay Packers singing “Bootylicious” in the 2015 motion picture Pitch Perfect 2:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from the 2022 Pixar movie Turning Red where a bunch of hyped-up little kids, one of whom has been magically transformed into a giant red panda, dance to “Bootylicious”:

The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal The History Of Pop Music is out 11/15 via Hachette Books. You can pre-order it here.

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