After announcing that Destiny’s Child would go on a hiatus to pursue solo projects, many assumed it was the beginning of the end for the group. Much to the dismay of naysayers, the ladies of Destiny’s Child and their manager, Beyoncé’s father Mathew Knowles, promised the group would return after each member released one solo album. Mathew spun the decision to go solo as being a way for the group to gain a larger audience from different genres before reuniting for their next album. The plan that each of the ladies would tackle a different genre: Beyoncé doing an R&B album, Kelly doing a pop-rock album, and Michelle doing an inspirational gospel album.
Michelle was up first, and her first single “Heard a Word” was released via Destiny’s Child’s remix compilation album, This is the Remix (click here for more on that!). The set was released on March 12, 2002, introducing Destiny’s Child fans to their first taste of what these solo projects would sound like, and, more specifically, what Michelle‘s project would sound like. Enter “Heard a Word.”
Compared sonically to Jill Scott and Erykah Badu by Sal Cinquemani of Slant, “Heard a Word” is a combination of an inspirational message and a jazzy R&B sound, interspersed with trademark, church-ready gospel flourishes. Indeed, the song recalls Jill’s “A Long Walk” musically, and the Badu comparisons are logical as far as vocals go. Understandably, “Heard a Word” presented a more subdued, demure image and sound, being an inspirational song, and Michelle came under fire for “being a hypocrite.” Conservative gospel audiences criticized Williams for singing “Bootylicious” in 2001, only to turn around and sing gospel come 2002. This pesky argument has continued to follow her throughout her solo career, but ultimately Williams has shown where her heart lies.
In fact, Michelle stands as the best and most genuine symbol for Destiny’s Child’s message of being sexy, yet classy and respectable. While she may not be the most vocal of feminists, her strength in fighting through the criticisms she has received deserves more respect. Michelle has always been genuine in her message and her actions. Sex and sexuality are a natural and God-given part of life, and Michelle represents that you can embrace both without being in spiritual or personal conflict. That representation started with her very first single, “Heard a Word,” 15 years ago.
The song is indeed a fitting symbol for that message. It was the perfect song to introduce the world to her as a solo artist, and as a gospel artist. Today, it is the perfect entering point for a new fan looking to explore her solo music, or someone looking to learn more about her in general. On “Heard a Word,” she sings of powering through adversity and life’s struggles, with guidance from God. I would venture to guess that it is a song that Michelle has gone back to during her own hard times since its release, as a source of encouragement. I know, as a longtime fan who is friends with many other fans, that the song has been that for us. In a way, “Heard a Word” is like the older sister to her most recent single, “Believe In Me,” her most personal song to-date.
“Heard a Word” has endured through the years as a fan favorite, and, it seems, a favorite of Michelle’s too. Though she has yet to go on a proper solo tour, she has done plenty of shows throughout the year, and of all her solo material, “Heard a Word” has been the one song she has performed most consistently. Most recently, at a Christmas concert in December 2016, she dusted off “Heard a Word” and proceeded to slay it. In the name of Jesus and all that is Holy, she had me running in circles around my bedroom like I was in somebody’s church pew slain by the Holy Spirit. Get. Your. Life:
Now, let’s rewind way back to 2003, when Michelle slayed “Heard a Word” at Beyoncé’s Pay-Per-View (gosh, remember that? #old) Beyoncé & Friends special:
You might expect that the 2003 performance would be better than 2016, but, no, Michelle only got better with time. Still, she slayed then, regardless. Here she is below, effortlessly slaying the song some more in 2015. In this performance, I appreciate that she even does a bit where she caters to the men in the crowd (no pun intended) by singing “boy, you’ll be fine!” – it’s an adorable sing-a-long moment, showing how much she loves her fans.
In short, “Heard a Word” may not be Michelle’s most popular song (that title belongs undoubtedly to “Say Yes”) but it is perhaps her most enduring so far, thanks in part to her own efforts to revive it in live performances. Fifteen years later, the song stands strong as a symbol of Michelle’s strength and as an inspirational message for all. Like any great song, it has gotten better in time – with a little help from Michelle’s updated live arrangements and vocal performances. I can only hope for two things: a tour where she performs it some more, and an official upload of the video on YouTube, because this low quality rip ain’t cutting it.