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"Say My Name" 20 Years Later: Why The Destiny's Child Staple Is Still On Everyone's Lips
Two decades after its release, DC's late-'90s empowerment anthem continues to inspire today's pop/R&B hit-makers
Destiny's Child's sophomore album The Writing's On The Wall is the final project from the original four members of the iconic girl group: Beyoncé Knowles, LeToya Luckett, LaTavia Roberson and Kelly Rowland. It was released to a moderate response, debuting at No. 6 in July 1999 and receiving mixed reviews from critics. However, one of the LP's breakout singles revitalized the album after its initial release, assisted in catapulting the group to superstardom, and earned DC4 their first pair of golden GRAMMYs.
"Say My Name" hopscotches through various sonic elements, shifting from a slow, sexy bass to syncopated, synth-heavy strings and DJ scratches. Adlibs, vocal riffs and stunning harmonies from the Texas songbirds are peppered in throughout the over four-minute song. The track, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 after 12 weeks on the chart, permits listeners to eavesdrop on a woman confronting a triflin', good-for-nothin' type of brotha who she suspects is fooling around behind her back.
"When no one is around you, say ‘'baby, I love you,' if you ain't runnin' game," they urge their fellas, followed by the assertion, "You actin' kinda shady, ain't callin' me 'baby,' why the sudden change?"
The theme of "Say My Name" was inspired by a relationship experienced by LaShawn Daniels, who—in addition to the ladies of Destiny’s Child, Fred Jerkins III and producer Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins—is one of the song's award-winning writers.
"I would be places, I would be at work, and if [my girlfriend] would call or hear anyone laughing, or speaking, or doing anything in the background, she'd be like, 'Who is that?'" the New Jersey native tells the Recording Academy of his inspirational (yet "insecure") ex-flame. "Then she'd be like, 'Well, say my name then, and tell me that you love me.' [The song] was actually the premise of what I would go through, and we had the conversation of 'how embarrassing is that?' Beyoncé was in a relationship at that time, and she could relate well to the situation."
While Daniels notes that he and longtime creative collaborator Darkchild constructed the "perfect marriage" of instrumentation and lyricism on "Say My Name," Destiny's Child was equally as hands-on when it came to contributions that worked best for the track's overall theme.
"As time went forward, their creative input was undeniable," he notes of the quartet. "If you came up with a melody or something, and it just didn't sit well with them, or if they didn't think it was dope, their creativity would absolutely speak back. We always had a respect of each other's creativity. There were no egos to stop any idea from making it out of any of our mouths."
While the musicians involved were focused on creating the very best material for the group, they had no idea the song would amount the levels of success it eventually attained. Daniels notes, however, that Darkchild went back to the drawing board and started the track entirely from scratch, proving that there was something different about "Say My Name." Not even a "synthesizer line" from the original stayed on the track we know now.
"It wasn't until we got into the mix session of the record, [Darkchild] listened back, and the song was more dominant than the track was," he recollects. "While we were all prepared to mix down what we had, he said, 'Wait a minute, you have to give me a couple of hours. I have to make this track as exciting as the song…'"
"Once he finished and played it back, he invited the girls to come back. They were blown away," Daniels continues. "We knew we had written a great song, so much so that Rodney [Jerkins] felt the he had to redo the track."
The alterations paid off in a huge way. "Say My Name" brought The Writing’s On The Wall back into the Top 10 of Billboard’s 200 Album Chart, where it peaked at No. 5 in May 2000. It was the girl group’s second song to hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 after "Bills, Bills, Bills," and it was the sixth-biggest single of 2000. The song holds a Gold RIAA certification, and the album itself is certified 8x Platinum.
So, from where does "Say My Name" garner its allure? Daniels points to the song's universal relatability and well-fleshed out conceptualization. "The people on the other end of the phones saying 'say my name' felt like it was the anthem for them, and the people going through it felt like it was the anthem for them," he says. "I'm so glad [the song] was able to resonate with whatever the spectrum you're on."
Additionally, he suggests that "Say My Name" still resonates decades later due to the musical era whence it came. The song’s sonic freedom, authentic instrumentation and emotion-evoking chord progressions helps to classify the track as a quintessential late-'90s staple, as well as a flagship record for Destiny's Child.
"['Say My Name'] was more intimate and more detailed in their standpoint of why [Destiny's Child] don't tolerate foolishness from men," he explains of the song. "'Bills Bills Bills' and all of the other songs [were] broad strokes––this was a situation. This was a moment in a relationship where everybody would listen and go, 'Oh, dudes do that, it's not them bashing men, it's them telling the truth…' All of the elements, sonics, the lyrics... it just became a closer look as to why they were so fed up in certain relationships. It took on its own life."
Daniels has a long history of writing R&B hits with themes of empowerment. Having co-written such '90s and early-aughts hits as Brandy and Monica’s "The Boy Is Mine" and Toni Braxton’s "He Wasn’t Man Enough," his mission has always been to inspire listeners to create a change.
"I'm one of the guys who believes that women are extremely smarter than men," he chuckles after acknowledging his discographic track record. "I think if you empower a woman, you empower the world. Even the influence from a great woman can make a great man… Right now, it's my thought to just do the best I can in creating positive language, positive melodies––especially those that can be regurgitated by younger women."
Every factor put into creating "Say My Name" contributed to its accolades, which paid off in spades. In 2001, the song won Best R&B song and Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocals at the 43rd Annual GRAMMY Awards. It was also up for wins in the Record and Song of the Year categories. The pair of gramophones were Destiny’s Child's first, and, as we know decades later, they were not the last of their respective careers. Daniels says that he is "happy" that he was able to be part of a monumental moment for the talented women.
"If you look at the ladies now, it was just a stepping stone for them," he says of the group, which formally disbanded in 2006. "They have [gone] far and beyond what the call was. It's just great to have a page marker in their legacy, because it makes you feel like, ‘Hey, we were a part of the whole movement, and we started together, and we believed it in the beginning.’ Everything that we thought these ladies were, they absolutely are. It did not stop for them."
While "Say My Name" is nearly two decades old, it continues to inspire and excite R&B fans, and finds itself continually referenced in popular music to this day. Singer/songwriter James Fauntleroy sang the hit’s chorus during his appearance on Drake’s version of “Girls Love Beyoncé” in 2014. Kehlani’s 2016 video for "Distraction," off of her album SweetSexySavage drew parallels to DC's famously colorful music video. Rap superstar Cardi B referenced the track on her husband Offset's 2019 song "Clout." While no one could have predicted the legacy the song would carry, Daniels—such as the other musicians involved—is pleased beyond words with its turnout.
"You look up 20 years later, and it's like, 'Wow, I was a part of history, and didn't even know it,'" he beams. "We knew we had an opportunity to be in the studio to be with Destiny's Child, and it wasn't taken lightly. We stayed up days thinking and trying to put it together. We did everything we possibly could to make sure we were successful, and lo and behold, 20 years later, I'm doing an interview about a song that we did. I think the mission was accomplished."
Photo: Daniel C. Sims/Getty Images
Solange To Play Benefit Show For Hurricane Harvey Relief
GRAMMY winner adds her name to the list of artists who are helping to raise millions in relief efforts for victims
GRAMMY winner Solange has announced she will be performing a benefit show to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The performance, called Orion's Rise, will be held at Boston's Orpheum Theatre on Sept. 8.
"I'm committed to partnering with organizations on the ground in Houston and making contributions to uplift the city that raised me with so much love," said Solange, a Houston native.
This announcement comes on the heels of other artists pledging their support, including Solange's sister, Beyoncé. But they are certainly not the only ones.
Comedian Kevin Hart pledged $50,000 to relief efforts, and the fund he organized has earned nearly $2 million in additional financial support, with contributions from artists such as the Chainsmokers. All funds will go to the American Red Cross.
The Kardashians and Jenners, Nicki Minaj, and DJ Khaled have also announced they will make donations. Jennifer Lopez and her partner Alex Rodriguez joined in the fundraising efforts, pledging $25,000 each to the Red Cross.
In addition, GRAMMY winner Jack Antonoff is matching donations up to $10,000 for the Montrose Center in Houston, an LGBT community center. Chris Brown will donate $100,000 directly to "the people," and T.I. will donate $25,000 to relief efforts.
"GRAMMY Effect" Spikes Sales
"GRAMMY Effect" Spikes Sales
The 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards drove a 3.3 percent increase in album sales compared to last week, according to a Billboard report. The 2010 GRAMMY Nominees album jumped to No. 5 with sales of 71,000 units, a 55 percent increase. Top GRAMMY winner Beyoncé's I Am…Sasha Fierce rose to No. 14 with sales of 32,000 copies, a 101 percent increase. Other GRAMMY performers experiencing sales increases include Pink (up 234 percent), Dave Matthews Band (up 114 percent), the Zac Brown Band (up 82 percent), the Black Eyed Peas (up 76 percent), Taylor Swift (up 58 percent), and Lady Gaga (up 17 percent). Lady Antebellum, who also performed on the telecast, remained at No. 1 for the second consecutive week. (2/10)
Grainge Promoted To UMG CEO
Universal Music Group International Chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge has been promoted to CEO of Universal Music Group, effective Jan. 1, 2011. He will succeed Doug Morris and report to Jean-Bernard Lévy, chairman of the management board of Vivendi. Grainge will relocate from London to New York to serve as co-CEO of UMG in tandem with Morris for six months starting July 1. Morris, who has served as UMG chairman and CEO since 1995, will remain as company chairman. (2/10)
Stars Align On Capitol Hill
Music at presidential inaugurations provides entertainment and unifying moments of patriotism
(On Jan. 21 President Barack Obama will be inaugurated into his second term as president of the United States with a celebration in Washington, D.C., featuring performances by GRAMMY winners Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Brad Paisley, Usher, and Stevie Wonder, among others. This feature is taken from the fall 2012 issue of GRAMMY magazine and offers a brief history of notable musical performances at past presidential inaugurations.)
Being elected the leader of the free world is a pretty good reason to strike up the band. Ever since George Washington first danced a celebratory minuet after his inauguration in 1789, music has played an ever-increasing role in the gala events surrounding presidential inaugurations.
In 1801 Thomas Jefferson had the U.S. Marines band play him along as he made his way from the Capitol to the White House after taking the oath of office. James and Dolley Madison threw the first official inaugural ball in 1809. Jumping to the 20th century, in 1977 Jimmy Carter invited such music luminaries as John Lennon and Yoko Ono to his inaugural ball and allowed rock and roll — or at least the Southern rock variety — to become a part of his inauguration backdrop when he invited the Marshall Tucker Band and the Charlie Daniels Band to share a concert bill with Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians. (Lombardo's group was something of an inauguration ball house band, having played for seven presidents.)
Today, inaugurations are presented as both massive public live events and televised productions, complete with a concert featuring a roster of star talent. The musical performances at inaugurations not only provide entertainment, they also help set the tone for a new presidency and bring the country together in a unifying moment of patriotism over partisanship.
"It wasn't about one side or the other. We just had this overwhelming feeling of being proud to be American," recalls Ronnie Dunn, formerly of the GRAMMY-winning duo Brooks & Dunn. He and then-partner Kix Brooks performed their hit "Only In America" at a concert as part of George W. Bush's first inauguration in 2001.
"Right away you could feel it was an emotionally charged crowd, and when you're standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking across to the Washington Monument, you can't help but tear up a little," says Brooks. "I remember there was this chaos during the big encore when all the musicians and all the presidential VIPs were onstage together. I turned around and there's Colin Powell shaking my hand. It turned into one of the wildest photo ops ever because all the music people and all the political people were pulling their cameras out to take pictures of each other."
One of the most memorable unions of political and musical star power at an inaugural gala occurred in 1993, when a reunited Fleetwood Mac performed "Don't Stop," a hit from their GRAMMY-winning album Rumours, for President-elect Bill Clinton. Clinton had used "Don't Stop" as the theme song to his presidential campaign, but the payoff live performance almost didn't happen.
"At that point we were as broken up as we'd ever been," says Stevie Nicks. "When our management received the request for us to play, they said, 'No.' I heard about that and thought to myself, 'I don't want to be 90, looking back and trying to remember why my group couldn't play the president's favorite song for him.' I told management to let me handle it."
Nicks successfully coaxed her bandmates into a one-night, one-song reunion, a performance she remembers as truly exceptional.
"For one thing we'd never seen security like that," she says. "The Secret Service makes rock and roll security feel like a bunch of grade school hall monitors. But the performance felt really important. It felt like we were a part of history, and that the song itself was becoming a piece of American history. It was a fantastic night in all of our lives, and I'm really glad the band was able to come together for that one."
The Beach Boys played Ronald Reagan's second inauguration after a somewhat confused relationship with the White House. The band had headlined a series of Fourth of July concerts at the National Mall until 1983, when U.S. Secretary of the Interior James Watt accused the group of attracting "the wrong element" and booked Wayne Newton in their place. Watt later apologized, and the Beach Boys were reinstated and invited to play Reagan's inaugural gala in 1985.
"What I remember most about that night is that I got to meet Elizabeth Taylor," says Jerry Schilling, the band's then-manager. "But I also remember being extremely proud of the group. Things had been hard for Brian [Wilson], and the group wasn't always getting along. But they stood there together in front of the president and sang perfect five-part a capella harmony on 'Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring.' It was a big moment — we all felt that. It wasn't just another gig. The guys were truly honored to be there and they brought it when it mattered."
A new musical standard for inaugural events may have been established in 2009 when Barack Obama's presidency was kicked off with the "We Are One" concert. The patriotic spectacular featured a who's who of performers ranging from Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen and U2 to Usher, Sheryl Crow and will.i.am. An all-star lineup usually adds an all-star production element, but this particular concert was unique.
"Dealing with top artists, there's usually a lot of negotiating," says Don Mischer, one of the concert's producers, whose list of credits also includes Super Bowl halftime shows and Olympics ceremonies. "Who needs a private jet? How much does their 'glam squad' cost? What kind of security do they need? Putting together 'We Are One,' we said to every artist, 'This is a historical moment we'd love for you to be a part of, but you have to pay your own way and take care of your own security.' Right away, people like Beyoncé and Bono and Springsteen and Stevie Wonder all said, 'Yes.' They wanted to be there. There was a true camaraderie right from the start, and it turned out to be one of the greatest experiences any of us have ever had."
While Washington's minuet may have simply been a matter of dancing, Mischer says music has become as powerful a symbol of America as any other part of Inauguration Day.
"When you bring the music and the significance of an event like this together, it really reflects the strength of our cultural diversity and the strength of our country," he says. "In fact, at times when we seem to be going through confrontational political campaigns, I wish we would listen to the music a little more."
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)
Wild At The GRAMMYs: It's Miller Time
David Wild has written for the GRAMMY Awards since 2001. He is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, a blogger for Huffington Post and an Emmy-nominated TV writer. Wild's most recent book, He Is…I Say: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Neil Diamond, is now in paperback. Follow him on Twitter.
The GRAMMY Awards broadcast is the biggest show on earth — or at least the biggest show on television. At least that's the way it looks from my admittedly subjective and sweaty point of view in the GRAMMY trenches.
Think about it for just a moment: There are more moving parts on the GRAMMY show than any other television event that I can think of. See, most of the big TV events are based around actors walking out on a stage in a theater and speaking, and then showing film or video clips. Other shows may feature a number of performances, but no show features more performances than the GRAMMYs. And in search of great GRAMMY moments, performers tend to push things to the limit on the GRAMMY stage, and sometimes slightly over the limit too.
Capturing all of those moving parts on camera in an artful and appropriate way is largely the job of the person in the truck calling all the shots for the camera operators attempting to cover all the musical action — namely, the director.
For the last 29 years, my friend Walter C. Miller has directed the GRAMMY Awards television show. That's not a typo — that's a fact: 29 years. That means every great GRAMMY moment most of us remember, we remember the way Walter wanted us to remember it. I've personally been there and witnessed him take every performance seriously, from Eminem and Elton John, to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and Prince and Beyoncé. "You get to be a part of a lot of musical history on the GRAMMYs," Walter told me recently. His historic track record is remarkable for any business, but much more so in an entertainment industry where survival is more often measured in intervals of 15 minutes than 30 years.
When GRAMMY Co-Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich first brought me in to help write the GRAMMY show a decade ago, he introduced me to Walter, who immediately insulted me in some witty yet somehow warm way. Being a lifelong Don Rickles fan, I liked the guy immediately. He is super sharp with a long lifetime of stories and a singular ability to tell them with fresh wit and the sting of truth. Just between us, Walter reminded me of my father. I remember seeing another director friend after meeting Walter and asking if he knew who Walter was. "Yes, David, Walter Miller basically invented live television,” he told me.
Having Walter on the GRAMMY team has meant the world to all of us lucky enough to work with him.
"I've learned so much from Walter," says Ken Ehrlich. "Wally had been and continues to be like a brother and a father to me. It's been like Butch and Sundance, and we're always ready to yell 'St' and jump off the mountain together."
"In his 30 years with the GRAMMY Awards, Walter Miller has not only created the look for our show, but for all other music award shows too," says GRAMMY Co-Executive Producer John Cossette. "He created the template for everyone else to follow."
In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to find myself down in Nashville working as the writer for the Country Music Association Awards, another very big and distinguished show Walter executive produced and asked me to write after we first met at the GRAMMY Awards. One Sunday afternoon, the two of us had a few hours off in Music City, and decided to go see the new George Clooney movie Good Night And Good Luck. As we left the movie theater, I stupidly said something to Walter like, "Wow, can you imagine being in TV then." Walter looked at me, and said, "David, I was."
And so he was.
This year, Walter decided it was time for him to step back from directing the show, and he's been consulting on the show instead. Another legendary TV director, Louis J. Horvitz will be in the truck calling all those camera shots, and I have no doubt he'll do a great job. "Walter is the king of live television event directors," Louis told me the other day. "He's one of the founders of the whole form."
This year, Walter is also quite rightly receiving the Recording Academy's prestigious Trustees Award. He's earned it, because every time you look at the GRAMMYs for these past 30 years, you could rest assured that the great Walter C. Miller was there.
Walter C. Miller is still here, and thank God for that — and for him. The King lives. Long Live The King.
(Click here to read Wild's other GRAMMY blog installments.)