23. “Run the World (Girls)” (2011)
“Run the World (Girls)” feels a bit overwhelming, with a handful of forceful hooks orbiting a central beat jacked from Major Lazer’s “Pon de Floor,” but that’s sorta the point. This isn’t simply a song that encourages women to feel empowered — it’s an anthem about seizing power by any means necessary, so of course it needs to sound forceful and militant.
22. “Video Phone” featuring Lady Gaga (2009)
This is first of two Gaga/Beyoncé collaborations about telecommunications — maybe they can make it a trilogy and do a song about SnapChat or something. “Video Phone” came out just as smartphones became omnipresent, so it was written with the assumption that people would be sending sexy videos to each other constantly. That’s only sorta true now, but the song works really well if you think about it in terms of these two women who have totally mastered the art form of the video, delighting in using that talent as a method of seduction.
21. “Ego (Remix)” featuring Kanye West (2009)
This is basically a song in which Beyoncé and Kanye West pay tribute to the greatness of Jay-Z’s penis. They’re in on the joke, and part of the fun is hearing both of them stretch an already flimsy innuendo to the breaking point. It’s also just really nice to hear these two larger-than-life personalities kick back with a very low-key groove.
20. “1+1” (2011)
Beyoncé has a great voice for ballads, but it’s not really her strong suit. For the most part, her ballads have given her room to show off her vocal prowess, but leave her little room for eccentricity. “1+1” works because she gets to be tender and also a bit weird, with odd phrasing punctuating some of the most sentimental lyrics of her career. Also, that “Purple Rain”-style guitar solo is fantastic.
19. “Upgrade U” featuring Jay-Z (2006)
Beyoncé often sings about romance in terms of pragmatism, and this duet with her husband frames their marriage like a cross between self-improvement and a corporate merger. The most amazing thing about this song is that Jay-Z, an artist who has built a career on presenting himself as the most impressive and confident man in the world, seems so eager to be “upgraded” by his relationship with her.
18. Destiny’s Child, “Survivor” (2001)
This may be the greatest anti-haters anthem in a decade overflowing with songs about triumphing over those who might doubt you. It’s as if Beyoncé went out of her way to make her own version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” that was more empowering and fierce by several orders of magnitude.
17. Destiny’s Child, “Say My Name” (2000)
“Say My Name,” a collaboration with producer Rodney Jerkins, is a flawless example of late ’90s R&B, with a clever balance of minimal melody and syncopated beats. The vocals are calm and confident as Destiny’s Child dress down a cheating bastard, and the skittering drum hits are like his nervous, guilty heartbeat.
16. “Yes” (2003)
Beyoncé pays tribute to the slooooow chopped-and-screwed beats of her hometown of Houston, Texas, in this remarkable album track from her solo debut, Dangerously in Love. The lyrics are sharp and pointed, as she criticizes a selfish, handsy suitor: “The first time I said no, it’s like I never said yes.”
15. “Diva” (2008)
“Diva” isn’t quite a rap song, but it has the feel and sound of a rap club banger thanks to Beyoncé’s emphasis on rhythm in her delivery and a towering beat by “A Milli” producer Bangladesh. This is sort of the point — she’s establishing that she can project over-the-top swagger on par with rappers like Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West while having to actually rap.
14. “Irreplaceable” (2006)
This song is sung from the perspective of someone with a broken heart, but it’s easy to forget that when you consider how much it must sting to be told on no uncertain terms that you can be replaced very easily while you’re being dumped. Also, that bit about all of your belongings fitting in one box to the left, to the left adds insult to injury. You do not mess with this woman.
13. “End of Time” (2011)
“End of Time” is one of Beyoncé’s most ambitious and bombastic songs — it borrows from classic Michael Jackson, Afrobeat, marching bands, jazz-funk fusion, and EDM, but it doesn’t sound quite like any other song. It’s also one of her most romantic tunes, with lyrics that put her love for her husband on a grandiose, cosmic scale.
12. Lady Gaga featuring Beyoncé, “Telephone” (2009)
Beyoncé and Lady Gaga are an inspired duo, and when they come together, they push each other to wonderfully absurd extremes of campiness. Bey takes second billing here, but her verse at the center of the track is a mind-blowing display of imperious diva grandeur.
11. “Why Don’t You Love Me?” (2010)
“Why Don’t You Love Me?” didn’t come out until the tail end of the I Am…Sasha Fierce era and was basically a bonus track that got bumped up to single status. As such, it didn’t quite get as big as it should have, given that it boasts an incredible beat and one of the best and most heart-wrenching vocal performances of her career.
10. “Ring the Alarm” (2006)
This is arguably the most intense song Beyoncé has ever recorded, with her sounding like she’s ready to snap into a murderous rage over the suggestion that her man is cheating on her with some other woman. This is so urgent and powerful that it’s easy to miss the fact that the lyrics are most focused on losing access to her material possessions than they are concerned with the status of her romantic relationship.
9. “Work It Out” (2002)
Beyoncé’s first major hit as a solo artist is a slice of old-school funk filtered through the modern aesthetic of The Neptunes. It’s an astounding piece of music, with Bey unleashing the full power of her voice while Pharrell and Chad Hugo firm up loose funk melodies into rigid, mechanical riffs. It’s so good that it’s pretty easy to tune out the fact that half the lyrics make direct reference to the worst of the three Austin Powers movies.
8. Destiny’s Child, “Independent Women Part 1” (2000)
Here’s another song that has aged very well despite having unnecessary lyrics tying it to the soundtrack of the 2000 film adaptation of Charlie’s Angels. This remains one of the boldest pop songs of the early ’00s, with Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child laying out a very materialistic interpretation of feminism over an impressive funk groove.
7. “Love on Top” (2011)
“Love on Top” calls back to the sunny, glossy funk of the ’80s — think Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, and Shanice — and serves as one of the best-ever showcases for Beyoncé’s voice. It’s also one of the most joyful songs, with each key change signaling a new level of ecstasy.
6. Destiny’s Child, “Bootylicious” (2001)
The sample of the guitar from Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” in “Bootylicious” is brilliant in the way it gives the whole song a feeling of unresolved tension that makes you listen and sorta worry whether or not you actually ARE ready for this jelly. What if their bodies are too bootylicious? Could that even happen?
5. “Check on It” featuring Bun B and Slim Thug (2005)
This track, produced by Swizz Beatz, threads one of the most amazing melodies in the Beyoncé catalog through an assortment of unusual beats, synth hums, and bass pulses. Bey’s lyrics are essentially a negotiation with the very concept of the male gaze, with Houston rappers Bun B and Slim Thug chiming in to make their case for objectifying women.
4. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (2008)
Tricky Stewart and The-Dream’s track is a masterpiece of tense, minimalist modern funk, but this song is an anthem for Bey’s tough, hyper-confident vocal performance. You can question the politics of this song, which assumes that marriage is the only acceptable outcome for a relationship, but there’s no arguing with how well it advocates for women to shut down any relationship where they are not getting the respect they deserve.
3. “Get Me Bodied” (2006)
“Get Me Bodied” is a club banger for Type A personalities, with Beyoncé singing about planning a night out dancing with the calculation of a military strike. Swizz Beatz’s percussion jumps and pops with a manic glee while Bey delivers one of the most fierce vocal performances of the entire 2000s.
2. “Crazy in Love” featuring Jay-Z (2003)
“Crazy in Love” is the purest essence of Beyoncé, with towering beats and blaring fanfare heralding the unstoppable voice of her voice and persona. Before this song, she was the star of Destiny’s Child, but after it, she essentially willed herself into becoming a pop deity. This wasn’t just another song about love, it was a showcase for her star power and indomitable will. Like, think of it this way: Jay-Z is one of the most charismatic rappers ever, and yet his presence on this track seems very, very small compared to that of Beyoncé.
1. “Countdown” (2011)
“Countdown” is an extraordinarily ecstatic song about love, but more than that, it’s the world’s greatest Beyoncé delivery mechanism. The song is a barrage of brain-melting hooks, each of which showcases a different quirk of her phrasing. She belts, she raps, she drags out syllables, or chews on the sound of words. Who else could possibly sing this song? Who else could make “Me and my BOOF and my BOOF BOOF ridin’ / all up in the black with his chick right beside him” sound so profound? Who else could be at the center of this song, one of the most expertly crafted pleasure machines in the past three decades of pop music, and still be the most thrilling thing about it? This is Beyoncé pushing her voice, sound, and style to the ultimate extreme, and she makes it seem effortless.