Michelle Williams knows how to keep a secret. “We’re the secret queens,” the singer tells Billboard in the wake of performing two consecutive weekends at Coachella with headliner Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland. The trio, who rose to commercial acclaim in the late ‘90s and early aughts as Destiny’s Child, had been keeping the surprise under wraps since February, when Bey reached out to her former band members and asked them to join her for a medley of their mega-hits including “Say My Name,” “Lose My Breath” and “Soldier.”
“It’s just like old girlfriends coming together,” explains the 37-year-old, who last reunited as Destiny’s Child at the 2015 Stellar Awards where they performed her upbeat gospel single “Say Yes.” “It’s something that when the three of us come together, we all know we feel safe within each other. Like I got your back. We’re good. I really love that about us.”
Since Destiny’s Child went on hiatus in the wake of their last album, 2004’s Destiny Fulfilled, Williams hasn’t slowed. She’s put out four solo full-lengths including her final release, 2014’s Journey to Freedom (which won’t be her last); starred on stage as leads in Chicago and Aida; launched her own furniture and candle line Believe by Michelle; and, more recently, got engaged to pastor Chad Johnson just prior to her Coachella performance. Still teeming with excitement from the pair of shows, Williams explains how it all came together.
There were rumors before Coachella that a Destiny’s Child reunion might happen. How did the conversations begin for this? Did Beyoncé call you and just say, “It’s time?”
Yeah, that’s really what it is. We talk all the time so when she called I just thought she was gonna say, “Hey I wanna go to lunch, I wanna come to dinner” or something. So it literally was the phone call, like yay. “Y’all know I’m doing Coachella, I would love for y’all to come out and we’ll figure out what we’re going to do.” And I’m like, of course. I love performing with the girls. There’s nothing like it. Something happens when the three of us come together. I just love the power it shows, the unity that it shows, that no matter where we are in life — personally, career wise — that we make time for each other.
It seems like you’ve always had this connection with each other. You perform together every few years.
Every few years, right? Doesn’t it seem like a cool pattern every two to three years, it just seems like we do something. I’ll never forget years ago when we announced… I wouldn’t even call it the first breakup, when we announced our first hiatus or the second hiatus, we were doing an interview and I remember Beyoncé saying we will always do stuff together, on each other’s projects, videos, tours, whatever. And guess what? We have kept that promise.
Beyoncé’s show was impeccable. Everything was thought out down to the most minute detail. How far in advance did you guys start working on this?
I know for her performance period, people started coming to town in like January. And that’s to get the music and for her to go over her ideas musically. So the music director’s in town and the musicians. It’s kind of deconstructing what you already know and trying to do something fresh, especially because she took that year off and she had a baby and she couldn’t do Coachella last year. So she was just like, “I’ve got to do something fresh that’s never been done” as far as an artist having all those people on stage with her at the same time. I’d say we started with our portion maybe toward the end of February. So it was kinda like keeping it secret all this time.
Quite obviously. Beyoncé particularly is very under wraps.
Beyoncé has been very private all of the years that I’ve known her. She’s fun, goofy, laughs, everything, but she’s always been very private. So those around her who are her friends, you kind of respect that. But even if she wasn’t that private, when you’re friends with somebody or when you call somebody your sister, they might tell you something, you don’t tell that.
How do you keep that many people from spoiling the surprise?
Well, I think it’s just a given. I don’t know what all the band members were told, but I’m assuming that people had to sign confidentiality agreements. That’s the only way that something of that magnitude was kept. I mean, even the location of where we were rehearsing, I was like okay, I just know paparazzi is gonna get wind of this soon. But no. She was able to be comfortable and rehearse without her stuff getting leaked. And that’s just a precedent she has set and I think more people can learn from that.
So you’re on stage, what does it feel like to be reunited again?
I think sometimes artists, we’re so guilty kind of just being so focused on the movement and all that stuff that sometimes you get tunnel vision. I know the first performance, I wasn’t paying attention to nobody. I was just trying to make sure I was on my two feet, still standing. For me, if I make it out alive after the first 30 seconds of being on stage, then I can say, “OK cool. We got this.” But then the second performance, I make sure I have friends and family in the audience, so I was kind of looking for them while we were up there.
You guys performed the Timbaland remix to “Say My Name,” which is a pretty deep cut. How did you guys choose the set list?
You know the coolest thing is that sometimes we’ll just sit together and we’ll kind of sing songs together and then it would be a chord or note that somebody hits that reminds you of a song. And you’re like, “Wait a minute. This would go good here.” Like, I’m a medley queen. It’s one of the best things in the world. It’s because of a chord that musician hit where you’re like, “Wait a minute. That sounds similar to ‘Say My Name’” or whether it was the foot stomps the fraternities were doing. “Say My name” had those stomps, the remix. It also takes people back to the time even before I was in the group
How did you celebrate afterwards?
The first night, we all went to bed. We just went to sleep. The second performance, there was a nice chill celebration with all the staff and people that had been working hard for months to make this happen.
What about new music? Is that something that could ever be on the table?
Anything is possible. And I’m not giving you a media-trained answer but I say this all the time. We just haven’t talked about it and it’s like one of us is thinking it and especially after this last performance coming up with a few new arrangements and harmonies for some of those songs, it’s kind of like we still can sing. I’m like, “c’mon let’s do this. I’m here for it!” There’s nothing better than singing with Beyoncé and Kelly. We compliment each other so well in that area so they know that I’m down to perform, sign, tour, record.
What’s the status of your next solo record?
I went into the studio in January and I said that the album in 2014 was my last because there were so many things that I wanted to do outside of music, but when I got in the studio this year, I was like wait a minute. I have more stuff to say. Things in my life are changing. I mean I’m planning a wedding. So maybe I have more to say, I have more developments in my life that inspire me to put into music. And things happening in the world, too.
Do you have any idea of when you’re going to be putting anything out?
I’ve got to put out a song by the summer. I’ve got to put something out.
Do you have an eye on when you want to put out an album?
The actual album? That’s probably not going to happen until next year. It’s like a full-length album. I don’t want to put pressure because it’s so funny whether it’s just one fan they all remember this interview and then they’ll tweet it out to everybody and before you know it, it will be this whole thing, “You said you were putting out an album next year. It is now 2021. What are you doing?”
Let’s talk about your engagement. Again congratulations. How’s planning is coming along?
Yes, things are coming along. We’re looking to have a summer 2018 wedding.
Wow, that’s soon.
We are not playing around. Yes.
Are you a Bridezilla type?
I’m really calm about it because I feel like when you’re working with the wedding planner, It’s what they do. So I don’t need to be all worried and turn into a Bridezilla. I want to be relaxed and calm on my day, have fun and then send everybody back home.
Do you have a location in mind? Is that all figured out?
Well it’s so crazy because we just got venue locations and all that stuff and then my fiance was like, “I don’t know honey. A destination wedding is sounding good to me right now.” So I’m not gonna argue with him about where it’s gonna be. I’d say let’s go to the court house. But I was joking. I want to have a nice intimate ceremony, of course. I don’t want to say I don’t care but you don’t want to put your whole entire life’s savings into a day that’s just going to be seven hours.
Do you have a theme in mind?
I think he’s thinking like James Bond meets Midsummer Night’s Dream.
That’s going to be a little tough.