The biggest hit of 2000, this song followed the winning formula of accessible hip-hop/dance attached to a blockbuster movie. In the late '90s, this was the forte of Will Smith, who did it with "Men In Black" (1997) and "Wild Wild West" (1999).
"Independent Women" was featured in the movie Charlie's Angels; the stars of the film, Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu, are mentioned in the song.
The production team Poke & Tone (Jean-Claude Olivier and Samuel Barnes) produced this track and co-wrote it with Beyoncé and Cory Rooney. Poke & Tone were known for crafting Will Smith's hit sound on "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" and "Miami." They also had some girl group experience, having produced Allure.
Beyoncé came up with the song after having an argument with her boyfriend. She thought to herself, "I don't need a man, I'm independent," and with that went into a studio on her own and recorded vocals for the first version of this song, which promoted female independence, both financially and relationally. A team of producers - Eric Seats, Rapture Stewart, David Donaldson - put the track together using a sample from the Peabody's Improbable History theme song. This version was later used on the 2001 Destiny's Child album Survivor as "Independent Women Part II," but a radically different rendition became the hit.
Destiny's Child's label, Columbia, whose studio division was distributing the Charlie Angels film, decided that it would be a great fit for the movie, which portrayed the lead characters as tough, liberated women. They wanted the hit sound of Poke & Tone, however, so they commissioned the duo to remix the track and have the group alter the lyrics to suit the film. Instead of remixing it, Poke & Tone completely reworked the song, earning lucrative writing credits in the process. This second version of the song was released first, so it was labeled "Independent Women Part I."
There is no mistaking the meaning of this song, which Destiny's Child wanted to make clear following their 1999 hit "Bills, Bills, Bills," where the chorus ("Can you pay my bills? Can you pay my telephone bills?") led some listeners to believe they were golddiggers looking for a man to support them. They left no doubt that they could take care of themselves on "Independent Women."
Shortly before this was released, Destiny's Child went from four members to three when Farrah Franklin left the group, leaving them a trio of Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé and Michelle Williams. This solved a logistical problem, since they could now make the video where the girls in the group took the roles of the three Charlie's Angels.
The song was released as a single on September 14, 2000 in advance of the movie, which opened on November 3. It hit #1 US the week of November 18, and stayed at the top for 11 weeks, a record for an all-female group. The song was still echoing on playlists in February 2001 when Destiny's Child issued the title track of Survivor as the first single from the album. That song kept the female empowerment theme going, which continued with the next single, "Bootylicious."
"Independent Women Part I" appeared as the first track on the Survivor album, which was released on May 1, 2001.
The video was directed by Francis Lawrence, who went on to direct the Hunger Games movies (featuring one of the more independent female characters in fiction: Katniss Everdeen). Scenes from Charlie's Angels are incorporated into the video, but the bulk of it is original footage, showing Destiny's Child in boss mode, calling the shots at a conference table in between dance routines.
Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" (from The Bodyguard soundtrack) spent 14 weeks at #1 in the US, but "Independent Women Part I," with 11 weeks at the top, is the longest-running #1 original song from a soundtrack - "I Will Always Love You" was written and originally recorded by Dolly Parton.
In 2013, Destiny's Child shared the stage at the 2013 halfime show, where Beyoncé was the featured performer. After playing some of her solo selections, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams joined her for part of this song.