“Question: tell me what you think about me.”
“that’s not a question.”
“it doesn’t matter – I’m independent!”
“right you are Beyonce, right you are.”
Looking back on this song after 10 years is odd. I admit i hadn’t heard it in a long time and it had all but slipped from my consciousness, but re-listening to it now, it is a different song to the one I remember. Without wishing to sound parochial (which, as a 15 year old boy living in rural County Durham at the time this song was released, I certainly was) when i first heard this song, there was a distinct element of the exotic and unusual about it. Coming as it did at the turn of the decade, ‘Independent Women’ and the ‘Survivor’ album from which it was taken came probably just on the right side of the apex of contemporary RnB and this country’s obsession wirth it. Mariah Carey, SWV, TLC et al had paved a way into the main artery of British culture and Destiny’s child rode the wave all the way through the first half of the decade.
This song then really nailed the colours to the mast regarding the face of popular music in the newly christened ‘noughties’. However, as RnB swept like tidal wave over Britishh music, it is harder now to pick out what exactly makes ‘Independent Women’ such a good song. The elements that once made it stand out (to me at least) are now accepted – almost expected./ they have become de rigueur and have made this song sound a bit… well commonplace.
Take the opening of the song for example. That staccato, syncopated shaker, the daring pauses giving the rhythm an angular, jutting quality, perfectly dove-tailed by the group’s dance routines. We expect that now. Take the perfection of computerised production. The digitalised decadence of a seemingly infinite number of tracks, all piled upon each other working in perfect harmony. And the vocals. Shit. Talk about perfection. Beyonce’s voice rings out with a dexterity, aptitude, and totally unique timbre as she tears through the octaves in those vocal gymnastic glissando passages. But we expect that now. What about the lyrics? I remember being genuinely baffled by the chorus lyric “all the mommas who profit dollars, throw your hands up at me”. This, to me, was such a surreal turn-of-phrase – and almost ‘Clockwork Orange’ Nadsat-esque lexicon. It took me ages to work out that it meant ‘all the women in paid employment, signal your accord with the sentiment hheld within this song’. Or something. And their accents. I remember being genuinely excited by the way they pronounced the word ‘didn’t’ in the line “girl, i didn’t know you could get down like that”, with that American version of the glottal stop. But we expect that now. All these elements are now almoseed clichéd, as is the ‘independent woman’ rhetoric.
This is not the song’s fault though – it is our fault, as music consumers, for ordering too much of a good thing. We have become bloated on a diet of American terminology, of perfect backing tracks almost baroque in their intricacies and of portamento vocals spanning all the octaves human hears can hear. However, look closer and you’ll see this song does still have the subtle nuances and genuine talent that mark it out as a classic song – one that will survive long after the rest of the generic RnB dross has been swept away. Oh, and it was in the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ film. But don’t hold that against it.