NEW YORK – Looking back at breakups of some of the great pop groups, the beginning of the end can often be traced to two words: "solo project." So when Beyonce (search) — already the magnet of Destiny's Child (search) — catapulted to superstardom last year with her triple-platinum, Grammy-winning solo debut, "Dangerously In Love," many predicted the demise of the best-selling girl group.
The trio is happy to prove the skeptics wrong. Though Beyonce's solo hits are still lingering on the charts and radio, Destiny's Child — Beyonce, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams — have reunited for "Destiny Fulfilled," their first album in three years. With their new hit single, the sexy dance track "Lose My Breath," the women are picking up where they left off: on top of the charts.
"It feels wonderful being back. I know one thing that we really love is just the camaraderie all over again." says Rowland as she and her bandmates sprawl on oversized chairs in a hotel suite during a day of interviews and photo shoots.
While the album is being billed as a reunion, the women say they never stopped working as a unit — even during Beyonce's breakout year.
"People said that they broke up, but we appeared at the BET Awards together! Destiny's Child still had appearances together that we did, and people kept saying, 'They ain't together.' We we're like, 'Jerk, you just saw us,'" says Williams, as the group dissolves in laughter.
"Well, if we broke up, we were still friends!"
Friendship aside, critics are still pondering why the group decided to regroup, given the diverging interests of each member. Rowland has had moderate success with acting and her own solo debut, 2002's "Simply Deep"; Williams released two gospel albums and starred in Broadway's "Aida."
So why release another Destiny's Child album?
"Well, why not?" retorts Beyonce — pleasant, but still peeved at the suggestion. "I mean, Destiny's Child has sold millions of records, had so much success, and it goes far beyond the success we had as a group, we're friends. And we made a commitment to each other. We made a commitment to our fans. And we were all looking forward to it."
There's no denying Destiny's Child's success. Since their 1997 debut, they became one of the best-selling girl groups of all time, racking up numerous hits from "Say My Name" to "Independent Women (Part II)" to "Bootylicous."
They've had a multitude of mutations. The group started out as a foursome (minus Williams) of sweet-faced teenagers — then endured well-publicized personnel expulsions and replacements that reduced them to a trio. Although the lineup has been a stable three since 2000, they've continued to evolve.
What's most clear now is their development into young women. On "Destiny Fulfilled," their earlier sexy-but-innocent tone has disappeared. The first single talks about a guy that can't keep up in bed, and other songs have a sexual, but not graphic, tone.
"It touches on a more sensual side of Destiny's Child because we never talked about that. Now that we're older, we're more comfortable with it," says Beyonce.
"I think they're more mature now," says Rodney Jerkins, who produced "Lose My Breath" along with some of their earlier material. "They feel like they can talk about stuff that before they were too young to talk about. I think that's the place that they're at. It's not raunchy, but sexy."
Besides sex, there's also an emphasis this time around on group parity. Beyonce is no longer the focal point visually — she's rarely photographed now in the middle, like the old days. And while Beyonce's reputation as an emerging musical wunderkind continues — she was a writer-producer not only on her own album, but 2001's "Survivor" — she's brags that comrades are branching out musically as well.
"Now, they're so much more comfortable, and they're not afraid to hum the melody that it's in their head, or say the lyrics or whatever is coming in their head, which before they were way more shy about it," says Beyonce, beaming like a mother hen. "They've just blossomed. It's almost like different people. It took us kind of being away from each other and having to really focus on ourselves individually to grow."
Still, it's hard not to get the sense that somehow, the new album is a way to refocus attention on Rowland and Williams. But suggest that to the ladies, and you'll hear groans of aggravation.
"It's kind of frustrating because we always sang lead on every song since 'Survivor,' but one of the reasons we wanted to do the solo records is for people to hear us all and know our voices," Beyonce says. "And now people are realizing that we're all singing, which we did on 'Bootylicious,' on 'Survivor,' 'Emotions,' it was all equal singing."
"Plus, it ain't about who's in the middle, it's about who's outfit is coordinated," quips Williams, again breaking the trio into laughter.
What is clear is the trio's strong friendship. Even if Beyonce's star has shone brightest, starring in several movies and dating rap superstar Jay-Z, one would be hard-pressed to detect any jealousy or dissension. Even Jerkins was struck by their closeness.
"I've worked with so many different artists," he says, "(and) it just shows — their togetherness, their friendliness. As much as Beyonce is a superstar, it's still a group."
But for how long?
Although a spring tour is in the works, Rowland is planning a March wedding to Dallas Cowboys star Roy Williams; Beyonce is planning another feature film; and Williams has a third gospel album due out around Christmas.
Even Beyonce hints that this may be their last album for a while: "We all have personal things that we want to do ... things that we want to do individually. I think after this record we're going to take some time to try and figure out what we're going to do."
However, she makes it clear that even if the group doesn't record another record, it won't be the end of the trio.
"I think as far as Destiny's Child, our main focus is for us to maintain our friendship. And if in three years, five years, 10 years, whenever we decide we want to do another Destiny's Child record, then we'll do it," Beyonce says. "We just want to eventually have kids that play together."