How You Doing Honey Baby?
It’s hard to imagine a time when Beyoncé wasn’t a one-name, larger-than-life superstar in her own right. Now, her infectious hits, iconic dance moves, irreplaceable vocals and Internet-breaking Instagram posts are ubiquitous parts of pop culture… but it wasn’t always that way. Yes, while today, any song that Beyoncé drops becomes a cultural moment whether its a radio hit or not… it wasn’t always that way. Beyoncé’s solo career actually kicked off with a rather, well, humble beginning. 2002’s “Work It Out,” her debut solo single from the Austin Powers in Goldmember soundtrack, was released 15 years ago today. It premiered on AOL.com, because AOL was actually still a thing then (does that make anyone else feel old?). Anyway, “Work It Out” is a significant milestone in Beyoncé’s career for more than just the fact that it was her first solo single.
When the ladies of Destiny’s Child embarked on their solo projects, they were designated by dictator daddy Mathew Knowles to make music in three very specific yet different lanes. The purpose of this was so that they would avoid direct competition, and try to garner some new fans for the group upon their return. Michelle Williams was regulated to making a Gospel album, Heart To Yours. Kelly Rowland took the task of doing Rock-tinged R&B (to quote their 2002 autobiography, she had “Lenny Kravitz ambitions”). And Beyoncé wanted to make 70s, Soul/Funk-inspired R&B.
“Work It Out” was the poster-child for that mission, and Beyoncé worked it well. Very well, in fact. Enlisting one of 2002’s hottest production teams, The Neptunes, Foxxy Cleopatra found her muse and delivered some pure funk (long before Bruno Mars was even a thought). Beyoncé originally cited Shuggie Otis as a major influence on her sound when talking about creating her debut solo album, and his influence is clear on “Work It Out,” among other 70s soul artists. “Work It Out” was completely different from anything she had ever recorded with Destiny’s Child. Plus, being recorded for the soundtrack of a 70s themed film was the perfect excuse for it, if it wasn’t well received.
While critics enjoyed it, “Work It Out” sounded nothing like any of the other hits on radio in the summer of 2002. Because of that, the debut single from the leading lady of Destiny’s Child was surprisingly, a flop. However, in true Beyoncé fashion, she did not give up on it. Beyoncé soldiered on, making promotional rounds for the film and song, and continued to perform it for years to come. Over the years, “Work It Out” has found its way into the setlist of Beyoncé’s tours on more than one occasion, cementing its status as a highlight in her career.
No doubt, the lack of success for “Work It Out” was a blessing in disguise for Beyoncé. She was able to test out the sound without its failure being harped upon; it was simply a soundtrack song after all. Beyoncé was originally slated to release her debut album at the end of 2002. However, that plan changed as “Work It Out” failed to pick up steam and Kelly had a runaway hit with Nelly, on “Dilemma.”
Instead, Beyoncé, went back into the studio and recrafted her debut album, Dangerously In Love, for release in 2003. It is because of “Work It Out” that we got the more subdued, but still slightly funky, R&B album that is Dangerously In Love. The soul is there (see: the Shuggie Otis and Bootsy Collins sampling “Be With You,” the ethereal “Gift From Virgo,” or the horns of “Crazy In Love”). While still risky, Dangerously In Love became something “Work It Out” unfortunately did not: a bonafide smash.
Though “Work It Out” won’t go down in history as Beyoncé’s breakout hit, or even a hit at all, it still remains one of the best songs in her catalogue. It introduced the world to a whole new Beyoncé. Her vocals were electrified and dripped sensuality. Her grit was unfettered and raw. She exuded funk, soul and pure diva attitude. It was with “Work It Out” that she found her voice, both musically and vocally. She would not be resigned to making anyone’s standard pop fare. She would push the boundaries and innovate her sound until it was both uniquely her own and unstoppably successful.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the music video. Check back in a few weeks for that, on the anniversary of its release: June 7th.
Stream “Work It Out” (and a few remixes) here: