Equating celebrities to the divine is something that has beleaguered figures in pop culture for pretty much all of modern history. But if anyone truly deserves such a comparison, it can only be Beyoncé. Across a career that began in her single digits, Mrs. Carter has displayed not only a remarkable body of work (one that somehow keeps excelling in quality) but a poise, elegance and sense of professionalism that is enviable. She is the pop star of our millennium, a title that few others seem half as qualified for.
Today, being her birthday, feels as apt as any to take stock of the icon’s work. And since we zeroed in on her work alone, we chose to discredit any of her work with Destiny’s Child or any song in which she was the featured artist by another musician. So without further ado, here are the 25 Best Beyoncé Songs. All hail Queen Bey, long may she reign.
25. “Video Phone” ft. Lady Gaga
Remember crunk music? While “Video Phone” isn’t the most ubiquitous Beyoncé song, the Gaga collab evolves from an eerie Western sample into a mainstream crunk cut. The two divas get a bit weird on this one, singing about filming naughty videos on a cellphone.
24. “Run the World (Girls)”
Expertly flipping a Major Lazer song on its head, Bey seriously delivered on the ‘frenetic booty-rave front’ that her album 4 was in need of. She would do call-to-arms songs bigger and better after this one, but the visceral thrill of “Run the World” hits especially hard in its simplicity; girls really do run this mother.
23. “If I Were a Boy”
In this powerful, gender role reversing guitar-jam, Beyoncé assures us all that she’d be a way better boyfriend than the wastemen she’s encountered over the years, and we believe her. Where do we sign up?
So maaaybe this one doesn’t quite have the immediacy it did when it first arrived on her game-changing self-titled album (truthfully, it sounds more and more like a Coldplay B-side with each new listen), but damn if this song can’t make you feel some feels. And in a career full of ways to express love, “baby love me lights out” ranks among Bey’s sweetest, most pure offerings.
21. “Baby Boy”
Another amazing cut from her debut album, “Baby Boy” is a Beyoncé essential. Bey outlines her fantasies incorporating dancehall, reggae, and Arabic music into her typical R&B sonic palette. She also specifically requested Sean Paul to feature on the track, which is easily one of her sexiest songs.
20. “1 + 1”
Beyonce makes her case for rockstar in the slow dance-worthy “1 + 1.” The wailing guitar solo accompanied by strings make for a seriously sublime R&B power ballad, not to mention perfect song to finish a boxes of Kleenexes crying into.
After the blistering clapback of tracks like “Hold Up” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” early on in Lemonade, “Sorry” arrives with a welcome air of positivity. Sure, that boy is still a piece of shit. But Bey is wise enough to know that after the rage comes a feeling far more sweet and rewarding: the joy of letting go. Oh, and don’t even think about interrupting her grinding.
18. “Ring the Alarm”
Rumored to be directed at Rihanna back in the day, “Ring the Alarm” is Beyoncé at her most fiery and fierce. Her rage is palpable through whatever speaker system or headphones you’re listening from; never has the thought of Bey coming for you been such a frightening prospect.
17. “Check On It” ft. Bun B & Slim Thug
Beyoncé recruited dirty South rappers Bun B and Slim Thug for this B-Day cut, an ode to booty shaking, to looking but not touching, and another track to add to the ever-growing list of “Sexy Beyoncé Songs.” Fun fact – it was originally supposed to be on the soundtrack to The Pink Panther movie – hence the all-pink music video – but it was scrapped. Their loss.
16. “Best Thing I Never Had”
Just when you thought the world didn’t need any more ‘power through that break up girl you don’t need him’ anthems, along comes “Best Thing I Never Had.” Bey went full-on Alanis Morissette power-pop with this 4 highlight, layering in spiky guitars underneath her towering chorus. Whoever the ‘he’ she address is, it really does suck to be him right now.
15. “Beautiful Liar” ft. Shakira
After wanting to collaborate for years, Beyoncé and Shakira finally linked up for this midtempo, female empowerment banger in 2007, incorporating Shakira’s Latin and Middle Eastern sounds, with Beyoncé‘s hip-hop and R&B sensibilities. Did someone say dream team?
Why is this song so good? It is nothing more than two beats strung together (tbf, really dope beats) and Beyoncé walking us through a beginner-level aerobics routine. It goes to show you that even a standalone single dropped in a year without a full length that rhymes the phrase “kick it with you” with “kick it with you” eight lines in a row can be a career-best in her hands.
It seems insane to think there was a time before we knew that “a diva is the female version of a hustla,” but prior to “Diva,” we were in the dark. Thank goddess Sasha Fierce graciously bestowed this information upon us in the form of a rousing, bass-heavy hip-hop track in 2009.
12. “Hold Up”
Interpolating a line from one of the most iconic love songs of the last decade, Bey brilliantly turns the tables on a paean to yearning into a nuclear armageddon of a takedown track. Twitching strings and air raid sirens provide a sonic backdrop for what the lyrics express with crystal clarity: do not fuck with her.
11. “Sweet Dreams”
“Sweet Dreams” is a triumph. That gurgling bass line? Those soaring synths? That flawless vocal performance? Pinch me, because this Beyoncé song is in fact too good to be true.
10. “***Flawless” ft. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
True artistry, nay artistic genius, is taking a million-dollar trap beat and collaging it with an artifact of your childhood and a sample of a TED Talk from an internationally renowned Nigerian novelist, all in the service of producing – in its simplest form – a message of neofeminism to the masses. The only proper response? Bow down, bitches.
“It takes me back to when me and my husband first meet, and he’s trying to scoop me, and he thinks I’m the hottest thing in the world” Beyoncé says in a making-of for “Partition.” That the finished product is among the most giddily naughty, elegantly trashy and downright filthy songs in her repertoire tells us everything and more about the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. Carter.
8. “Love on Top”
“Love On Top” is the funky, old school-inspired Beyonce track we didn’t know we needed so desparately. Its opening seems fairly low-key, but Bey soon crescendoes into one of the most impressive vocal high-points (see what we did there?) of her career.
“You must not know about me,” Beyoncé asserts in this early Yoncé feminist anthem. “Irreplaceable” has become an iconic break-up song, and the look of pure joy on her face as she sings “everything you own in a box to the left” accompanied by her all-female band in the music video is -honestly- inspiring.
One of the most interesting Beyoncé tracks production-wise, mixing the ’90s with the ’70s, and killing it with the horns yet again, “Countdown” is probably her most impressive song in the sense of sheer vocal athletics. It’s a manifesto of her ability to combine a variety of disparate influences while constantly innovating her sound.
“Okay ladies, now let’s get in formation.” If we’ve learned anything in our current political era, it’s that the personal is always political, perhaps even more so now than ever before. And with “Formation,” Beyoncé delivered a battle cry for the ages, one that only continues to grow in strength and purpose. When black bodies continue to be uniformly targeted by authorities, when our heads of state pardon self-described ‘concentration camp’ leaders and outright identify with Neo-Nazi groups, we have never needed “Formation” more than we do now.
4. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”
For better or worse, “Single Ladies” will be haunting us for the rest of our lives, be it at weddings or barmitzvahs or high school proms or retirement parties. For Bey’s sake, let’s only look at the better. Here is a track that not only is one of the best displays of her vocal prowess (that bravura section during the bridge tho) but is among her most immediately memorable melodies, all tied together with a message of stepping your game up if you want to keep that girl who’s worth it. And gurl, that doesn’t even begin to address the video which, fortunately, speaks for itself.
There may be two songs ahead of it in this countdown, but let’s make one thing clear: this is the number one best vocal performance Bey has put to tape. And yes, we know “Love on Top” is good too. But “Halo” is a track that, like its title suggests, reaches for and transcends into divinity. Her voice is a fluid chariot, riding every skyward into the most soprano notes her vocal chords can muster. There is a reason that grown men have cried real tears to this song, it is in its essence, holiness.
2. “Drunk in Love” ft. JAY-Z
In the four years since its release, “Drunk in Love” has managed to become so iconic, so ubiquitous in pop culture that it becomes hard to assess the track as a track. Was there ever a time in which “surf bort” wasn’t part of the lexicon? But there’s a reason this song has stood the test of time beyond its memeable lyrics. As a testament to her relationship with JAY-Z, “Drunk in Love” makes abundantly clear that the tidal waves of bass line, the colossal vocal flourishes and the promise that we will indeed be all night, don’t even come close to expressing just how much love Bey has in her heart.
1. “Crazy in Love” ft. JAY-Z
A masterpiece of a pop song, the lead single from Beyoncé‘s debut solo album Dangerously in Love was heralded an instant classic by critics upon its release back in 2003. With Young B and the R-O-C, some insanely catchy trumpets, and equal parts romance and sex appeal, Beyoncé proved she was more than ready for a solo career, with pop music canon-worthy “Crazy in Love.” Not even 14 subsequent years of hit-making can dull the power of this one. And no shade to Destiny’s Child, but this is where Bey well truly began, an origin story for the ages.
For more like this, take a look at our ranking of the 40 Best Kanye West Songs right here.
- Text: Jake Boyer & Bianca Guilione
- Cover Image: Larry Busacca / Getty Images