Given that Beyonce Knowles-Carter both had two musical partners in Destiny’s Child—Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams—before she went out on her own as a solo act, and a younger sister, Solange Knowles, who is also a musician, it’s fascinating to hear Rowland sing about the difficulties of living in Knowles-Carter’s orbit in “Dirty Laundry.” What makes the song particularly interesting though is the way it chronicles the ups and downs of Rowland’s relationship with Knowles-Carter as it tracks with what Rowland says was an abusive relationship with an unnamed man, during which Knowles-Carter’s fame and success were both causes for resentment, a lifeline for Rowland, and something her ex-boyfriend invoked as part of his efforts to isolate her and dominate her affections. “He hittin the window like it was me, until it shattered / He pulled me out, he said, “Don’t nobody love you but me / Not your mama, not your daddy and especially not Bey” / He turned me against my sister,” Rowland sings on the track, in which she also describes feeling some relief that Knowles-Carter’s fame eclipsed hers, and describes a call from Knowles-Carter that encouraged her to leave the man who was abusing her:
Given Knowles-Carter’s obsessive curation of her own image, “Dirty Laundry” may be the most genuinely revealing look at her behavior and artistic circle in years. It certainly tells us more about Knowles-Carter than Beyonce: Life Is But A Dream, the documentary she co-directed and for which she provided much of the archival footage, that aired on HBO earlier this spring. Knowing that Knowles-Carter remains personally close to at least one member of Destiny’s Child cuts through the tabloid rumors about feuds and reunions. And knowing that Rowland survived an abusive relationship lends context to her efforts to establish herself as an artist independent of both the musical legacy of Destiny’s Child and Knowles-Carter’s considerable shadow.
In an age of hyper-produced pop stars, and given the myth that trauma creates great art, it’s easy to forget how artistic confidence and personal stability can be related. Knowles-Carter fired her father Matthew as her manager, and appears to have had a falling-out with him, but she’s also in a long-term, stable relationship with a partner, Jay-Z, who appears supportive of her career and her family. Solange Knowles, who’s found professional success by hopping genres so she isn’t in competition with her sister, finding a musical style that matches her vocal capabilities and her strengths as a small-club performer, married and had her first child at 17, moved to Idaho with her husband, and divorced shortly thereafter. Rowland, who for a time split her efforts pursuing a career in acting while continuing to make music, also appears to have had personal difficulties that weren’t widely known until now. Or, as she puts it on “Dirty Laundry,” “I swear y’all don’t know the half of this industry.”